This piece is the op/ed version, which appeared in several newspapers in Virginia, of the longer essay that is the third installment of my “Better Human Story” series.
This past year, feeling depleted – even damaged – from looking so long into our national “heart of darkness,” I wanted to turn to explore something good and whole. Some part of our human lives worth celebrating.
The celebratory project I found myself most inspired to pursue is one I call “The Sacred Space of Lovers.” That is, the space that lovers can create to inhabit together—a space that, ideally, is one of open-hearted intimacy of body and soul, of romantic passion, of deep love and attachment.
How much is there in life that brings greater fulfillment than experiencing – to whatever degree one finds it possible to achieve it – that kind of space with one’s beloved?
In looking for something in our lives worth celebrating, one could of course have chosen other positive dimensions of our experience:
- One could choose the experience of giving and receiving kindness among people. But of course, in the ideal of the relationship of lovers, such kindness is a basic element of what is given and received.
- One could choose those moments in our lives when we are moved by beauty. Oh wait, this is part of what can go into making “the sacred space of lovers”– for lovers tend to perceive the beauty of their beloved, and to have their hearts moved by that perceived beauty. (In the words of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?”)
- One could choose to celebrate the value of honesty and authenticity in human interaction, that solid foundation of people’s connections being built upon truth and integrity. But this, too — the cultivation of honesty and trust — is part of the means by which lovers can create such a wonderful place of security in which to be intimate together.
- One could choose the dimension in human community where the spirit of fairness is honored. But fairness supports also achieving the ideal space that lovers can create, where each is inspired to make sure to do right by the other.
That all these different dimensions of “the good” come together in “the sacred space of lovers” tell us two things:
First, it shows something basic about the nature of Wholeness: that the many components of the good tend to converge into something Whole.
And second, it helps to explain why it is that “the sacred space of lovers” is an especially rich source of human fulfillment, for it is an ideal comprised of diverse elements each one of which we experience as being of great value.
One might ask: Why call that “space” of lovers “sacred”?
The answer starts with the widely shared belief that “life is sacred.” Therefore – as our traditional religions have generally recognized — those things that sustain life partake of the sacred.
The relationship of “lovers,” of course, is profoundly connected with life—for it is through that space that life survives into the future, being passed from one generation to another.
But the space of lovers that best serves for the perpetuation of our kind – of humankind — involves a lot more than mere “reproduction.”
That’s because — for us humans — the task of passing along life is about more than conceiving and bearing young. It is also about the formation of families so ordered to be able to nurture those young to grow up whole.
For humans, it is a loving and stable family that best perpetuates life. And the space of lovers serves life, and thus is sacred, because the lovers can lay the foundation for such a family to the extent they can embody the ideal of that space – whole in all those dimensions.
Lovers, ideally, inhabit a space that’s safe for intimacy and vulnerability—which pretty well captures the inevitable circumstances into which the human infant is born. Lovers support each other in being their best selves, which is also the task of parents in raising children best able to flourish in their world. And lovers experience together the feeling that life is good, and our feeling an attachment to life makes not only for happiness but for survival as well.
The more that lovers can realize together the ideal of that “sacred space,” the more they can provide a template around which children can grow up to be whole, with the strength and soundness conducive to navigating life’s challenges well. And the more they can carry in their own hearts the ability, when they are grown up, to establish a lovers’ relationship that will provide the same for children of their own.
This ideal “space of lovers” is sacred, then, because life is sacred, and because the space of lovers –in all its dimensions– is at the heart of how our human form of life has perpetuated itself.
And we experience that wholeness as sacred because our nature has been crafted to find fulfillment and beauty along those paths that have best served the life of our kind.
It is one of life’s richest experiences when, as lovers, we can bring together kindness and pleasure, integrity and beauty, body and soul, an experience with the potential to open us to a depth that enables us both to perceive and to feel the sacred at the heart of our lives.