Fostering Intimacy

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As a seminarian, I used to visit a Red Cross Home for ex-servicemen in Bangalore. The majority of them suffered from spinal injuries which left them paralysed. Most of these patients were in their twenties. They did not live long, due to kidney failure. They were generally depressed and sorry for themselves. I spent a few moments chatting with them.

One Hindu man from Rajasthan, a desert area, always asked me to say a prayer with him and bless him. He was disappointed when I was out of town. To him I was an "avatar", one who gave others an experience of God's presence, because I was a "man of God", dressed in a white cassock. He compared my visits to that of a man in the desert who comes to a spring to collect water and refresh himself for a while. One day when his journey through life was over, he would come to the sea of eternal refreshment, when he would be one with God. But till then, he needed me to visit him.

Intimacy, ultimately is seeing God face to face and being united with Him in the fullness of life and love. St Augustine summed it up in his prayer: "Our hearts are made for Thee, O Lord and restless will they be; until O Lord, this grace accord; until they rest in Thee". But in our journey through life, we can be "avatars", springs that bring divine refreshment to weary travellers. God is love. Love is life-giving.

Of course intimacy is more than giving. It is also receiving. It is mutual loving and sharing of life, that is human and divine. In marriage, a man and woman make a total and unconditional gift of self to the other, until death do them part. Each one is enabled to know, love, experience and be one with the other in body, mind, heart and soul. But one can only give and receive totally and unconditionally, when one is invited, respected and welcomed by the other. If you do not value yourself and your spouse, you cannot be life-giving to each other. You may just use the other as an object to satisfy yourself.

The act of love is related to the over-all relationship of husband and wife. In this relationship, there may be collaboration or competition, needing or taking each other for granted, respecting or disregarding the other's feelings, kindness or uncouthness. When husband and wife share a life-time together and truly love and respect each other as persons, each one will want to reach out in love, tenderness, gentleness, kindness, patience and understanding to the other. At the beginning of a marriage, this is evident in the way man and woman, revel in the other's love. Very naturally, they will experience intimacy and passion in their sexual union that will enhance the rest of their lives together.

I treasure a letter written to me by a widow after her husband died. They were 63 years married. They had intimacy as husband and wife all through their life together, because each one valued and respected the other and treated the other with love and kindness. Are they an exception? Have you fallen out of love? Are you out of relationship?

Intimacy allows each one to have space as a person and respects the other's need for solitude. One should not live in the shadow of the other, used like an object, toy or servant, when needed and then discarded. So sensitivity to the other is important. Conversely, one may have to sacrifice oneself in love to be involved when the other has a need for intimacy and union. You can decide to be present to the other, listening, concerned, comforting, appreciative, encouraging, forgiving and involved as fully as you can be. In marriage, spouses can truly give each other a God-experience, for God is love.

While intimacy in Marriage is of the highest order, we can experience various kinds of intimacy, with family and friends that is not genital but truly loving. We share with a good friend or confidante, our hopes and dreams, our anxieties and fears, our losses and regrets. Such sharing creates a bond between persons. We feel loved, appreciated and needed and there is a bond between us. We may often experience this intimacy with parents, siblings, children, spiritual directors, relatives and friends. Life is worth living when we feel loveable and loved and have a sense of belonging and of achieving something worthwhile in life. We feel needed and have high self esteem at such times. There is no need to boast or impress others or play games to experience pseudo-intimacy. One does not need thrills or variety, false and quick substitutes and fixes to fill the hollowness of empty lives.

God is always waiting with outstretched arms for the prodigal son to return to his embrace. Sometimes he borrows our arms. I heard this story of a conservative couple who visited a hospital where their son in his thirtys, was dying. They were sitting near his bed, masked, gloved and covered with overalls. Their son told them that he was gay and had contracted AIDS and he was sorry if he caused them pain. He then said he felt lonely and longed to be comforted in an embrace. His mother took off her outer gown and mask and gloves and got into bed with her son and held him close to her. The young man sobbed and felt relieved that he was still loved by his mother.

All of us meet people, who are unloved and act unlovable, experience loneliness, shame and guilt, fear and anxiety, hurt and rejection , despair and ridicule. If Jesus walked our streets today, he would surely go in search of them and would welcome them to the Father's embrace. He would not care for his reputation or being misunderstood or laughed at for befriending them. He has no other hands and voice but ours today.

If every home could welcome such people to be part of their family meal sometimes, this world would be a better place. If everyone of us, from an experience of intimacy with God in prayer, would reach out to bring love, relief, warmth and concern to someone who is a precious child of God, our joys would be redoubled. "It only takes a spark to get a fire burning and soon all those around will warm up in its glowing. That's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it. You spread his love to everyone. You want to pass it on."

One day, we will see Him face to face in intimacy. Now we can give others a foretaste and glimpse of God's life-giving love, as we allow Him to make us "avatars" of his love and presence to others.

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