The creation story in the Bible tells us that God made us, humans, in God’s image. Male and female God created us. And in our passage from Genesis today, we hear the story of the creation of woman as a suitable partner for man,. And it concludes with the phrase, “the two shall become one flesh.”
Think for a moment and put the two key points together:
The two shall become one flesh . . . made in God’s image.
I can only conclude that we reflect the image and likeness of God not by ourselves, not individually, not in isolation, but rather, in relationship. Our relationships, particular the most intimate and close relationships of our lives, have the power to image God and reveal God to the world.
Now, consider Jesus’ response to the Pharisees about divorce, “Because of the hardness of your hearts . . .” Moses permitted a bill of divorce. The implication here is that the most intimate relationships of our lives ought to be driven by soft hearts, not hard hearts.
If we want to truly reflect the image and likeness of God, we must have soft hearts, not hard hearts.
What does that mean? Well, hard implies brittle, and therefore easily broken. Whereas soft implies elastic and therefore pliable, and not easily broken.
Bring to mind the most important, most intimate, most meaningful relationship in your life. For many, I suspect, this is your beloved, your life partner, your spouse. But it might be your child, or your parent, or your grandparent, or a lifelong friend. Think of the person who means the most to you, the one you carry in your heart every day.
I think of Rene, my beloved, my wife.
As most of you know, I have been married to Rene for a long time. Forty years next August. I am grateful for the many ways God continually blesses us with soft hearts. Allow me to briefly describe our love and commitment in three ways: good day, okay day, bad day. Perhaps you can resonate.
On a good day in the life of Leif & Rene, I am deeply committed to Rene . . .
- a part of me lives her day
- we carry each other in our hearts
- sharing and connection is easy, natural
- we’re best friends, partners, lovers, etc.
On a good day, it’s easy to be committed to Rene.
On an okay day in the life of Leif & Rene, don’t ask me to be committed to Rene . . .
- Rene bugs me
- do, say, failed to say or do
- evening at Mt. Angel
I remain committed to our vocation of marriage.
On a bad day in the life of Leif & Rene, don’t ask me to be committed to . . .
- Rene – can’t see her at all
- Marriage – can’t feel the call to that vocation
The best I can do is remain committed to commitment . . . it’s like I am blinded. But I know this much. I said yes on Aug 25, 1979 and I really meant it. I have said yes every day since then. And I meant it. I can’t see it today, I don’t understand it, I don’t really want to, but still I say yes again . . . and mean it. With the hope that tomorrow’s yes might be a little easier and clearer. That there might be some light in the darkness.
Point is, if we expect good-day commitment, good-day feelings everyday, all the time, from the other or from ourselves, it can only lead to hard hearts. The relationship has no elasticity, and becomes brittle, and is easily broken.
But if we give each other permission to have okay days and bad days, keeping soft hearts, trusting in our ability to reconcile, then the relationship is elastic, pliable, and capable of absorbing enormous amounts of stress. And truly reflective, I believe, of the image and likeness of God.
But I need to say this, as you consider that most important, intimate relationship in your life, if today is a bad day, and yesterday was bad, and last week was dark, last month, last year . . . it’s time to get some help. As Pope Francis alludes to in his exhortation, The Joy of Love, it’s time to determine what is the faithful response in this relationship. It is time to discern, with some help, how to move forward in, or perhaps from, this relationship.
At our GIFT session after mass you will have the opportunity to learn a bit about nineteen people, heroes of faith, who responded to God’s call in their lives. Each one of them learned, I believe, how to soften their hearts, and each in their own way discovered the lesson that Jesus teaches us today: that God has planted faithful love at the very heart of what it means to be human.
So, in that most important relationship in your life, in what ways might you need to soften your hearts so that together you can reveal the image and likeness of God?