This blog post is more of an update than my typical reflection on unity. Those who follow me may have noticed I took a big hiatus throughout August. I have a good excuse. I got married!
I’ve just come back to the office and the life of the parish after a month of celebrating my last new sacrament and then traveling on a Mexican honeymoon with a good, good, good man. I’ve entitled this post “unit” rather than “unity” because my current reflections on unity are, naturally, right now reflective of the unique requirements of unity when we choose to become part of a “unit” with someone or with many someones.
Brief pause while I share a picture. You wanted to see a picture, right?
I believe the world is created for unity. This doesn’t always look like the kind of “official” unity expressed in a relationship like family or spouse. But it sometimes does. Church and intra-Christian unity might sometimes look like kindness, charity, and respecting the diversity of faith expression without any official outward sign. And sometimes, it will look like declarations of shared communion and official moves against the divisions of the Reformation. Those two things support each other.
I’m only a wife of 3 1/2 weeks, and here’s what I’ve learned that’s pertinent to unity: the human drive for individuality and control doesn’t disappear with an official sacrament or decree. Our vows did not guarantee selflessness and charity. They don’t guarantee anything. They invite something, and they express a commitment to working on it together, but they don’t guarantee it. Learning to operate as an “us” is a conscious choice and it requires much effort. Our love for each other does not override our differing opinions on whether to throw away the painting the only one of us likes. (The married readers may pause here to laugh and say, “Duh.”)
Marriage is one of the most potent locations for the kind of unity humankind is made for, but it is not the only one. Humans are called into unity with each other in every relationship and on a larger, multiple-person scale. Married persons are not more inclined than non-married persons to know how to achieve that, although marriage is a great place to practice.
I’ve begun with what marriage doesn’t do. It doesn’t erase anything that makes two individuals be individuals. It doesn’t remove the human instinct for self-interest. It doesn’t make unity easy. It doesn’t mean two people in a unit have achieved unity, despite the similarity in words. In other words, being a sacrament does not mean it’s magic.
However, being a sacrament does mean it brings grace. Grace is available all the time to all of us, even outside the sacraments. God offers – pours fourth, even – his abundant grace on his people. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
What is grace? It’s the power that enables us to act in a way that’s higher than our base instincts. It raises us above our humannness. Humans are replete with weaknesses. Our division from one another weakens us and feeds behavior that further separates us.
Grace helps us overcome that separation, that weakness. It points us toward what we were made to be and not what we are. It helps us see beyond ourselves to the whole unified humanity. It helps us act gracefully toward others, extending the kinds of things that create unity: forgiveness, empathy, understanding, humor, curiosity. To open the self to act in these ways is not easy, and it is only by grace that we do it.
Marriage is one place – probably one of the safest – to practice the exercise of grace. It is not the only one. The world is full of such places, and I pray that we all utilize them as such. Parent-child. Siblings (both the hardest and perhaps one of the most readily available, especially before age 18!). Friend-friend. These are more of the most obvious and – in good circumstances – safe places to practice the grace required of unity.
My hope is that more and more people find more and more people to practice with. I pray that this happens continually until our human relationships of grace cover the face of the earth.
We are a giant jigsaw puzzle begging to be put back together. When two people practice grace on each other, it is as though two pieces find their way together. Two people cultivating a grace-filled marriage in which charity and kindness and forgiveness are extended represent a strong, permanent joining of two pieces.
And don’t believe pop culture when it says there is only one match to your puzzle piece. Whether or not one has found a wonderful spouse with which to connect, most puzzle pieces still have three remaining open sides. The two may join with other pieces, or with other pairs, or with whole other sections.
I express my gratitude for the match God has sent me. And I express gratitude for all of the matches in the world – spousal, friendly, familial – that aid in the piecing together of the human puzzle. We all hold a piece, and all pieces are precious. I’m looking for more and more ways to connect through grace to others, and I am grateful for all of the ways I will witness that in my life.