“Alone – You Are Not”
This is not a quote from Yoda. It is a simple statement concerning the nature of our existence. The fullness of existence is only found in communion, a mutual indwelling in which our lives are known and experienced not just in their self-contained form, but in their Interrelation to others and everything around us. True existence is a connected-ness. It is also the very place where the instability and fragility of our lives is most revealed. If we can withdraw into ourselves, it is possible to imagine that we are fine, and that the things and people around us are just noise, sometimes enjoyable and other times annoying. But we do not think of the things and people around us as if our lives depended on them.
Against this withdrawal are the words of St. Silouan: “My brother is my life.”
At the very core of Christian belief is the Trinitarian God. Trinity is not just a revelation of how we speak about God. It is also the revelation of the very character of existence. The monotheism of Islam substituted God as individual for God as Trinity. As such, it might be the first modern religion. That many modern Christians struggle with Trinitarian belief and expression is evidence of how far removed modernity is from classical Christian roots. For us, “relationship” is a word that describes how we are getting along with another individual. For the Fathers, “relation” is an expression of mutual indwelling and coinherence. This exists because that exists, and they exist in one another. That is the true meaning of relationship (or, better, interrelationship).
When Christ says, “No one comes to the Father except by me,” modern Christians take it to mean that non-Christians go to hell. It is, in fact, a statement about the nature of Trinitarian existence. No one can come to the Father apart from Christ because there is no Father apart from Christ. The Son is “Son,” because of the “Father.” But the “Father” is not “Father,” except for the “Son” (and so on).
This is true of God but is equally true of us. The limit within human existence is that we experience our personal existence as individual existence – or the temptation to do so is always present. It assumes that who we are only refers to what is within the boundaries of our skin.
A meditation: The breath we breathe. Is it part of us or is it something else? We cannot live without it. When we take it in or breathe it out, it is “our” breath. The only human existence without breath is a lifeless corpse. God “breathed” into the dust and it became a living soul. But the “breath” is also inherently the air around us. When does the air around us become “us,” and when does it cease to be “us”?
Of course, this is just a meditation on breath and air. But the same meditation could be extended to everything else around us. It could and should be extended to every person around us. If there were no relationships whatsoever, we simply would not exist. There is nothing within us that isn’t something existing in interrelationship. Nothing.
We do not create relationships, nor do we have them. We are relationships and we either perceive this and pay attention or we do not. Inasmuch as we do not, we begin moving towards non-existence – death. This is not a description of massive and universal extraversion. It is possible to be very quiet, even a hermit, and yet be profoundly aware and responsive to our existence as interrelationship.
The Scriptures say that “God is love.” They do not say that God simply “has” love. God “is” love, which makes love a matter of ontology. That God is love is perfectly consistent with His existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What we do not see clearly is that we are love, just as truly as God is love. Love is a mode of existence, indeed, the mode of existence.
“My brother is my life.” Consider the fullness of such a statement in Christ’s words, “I have come that they might have life and that more abundantly.”
I will add a note of apology and explanation. I have previously written articles that criticize the use of the word “relationship,” and, yet, here I am using it myself. The earlier articles stand, but I am here seeking to recapture the word “relationship” and use it in its older, theological meaning. Despite that vast vocabulary of English (the largest language in existence), words still create limits. I hope the reader will understand and be patient with me.