Monday, 12 May 2008

Aspiring to Longevity?

Longevity in itself is not something worth aspiring to. Which sounds a little counter-intuitive in a society like ours. We are obsessed with it, and with the avoidance of death. But the real question is what we live for, and who we are in that life. The alternative to longevity is not an early death, but self-giving. Who we are is realised not in saving ourselves, but in giving ourselves. This was one of the key insights of Jesus and embedded in the faith of the church in its eucharistic practice of Holy Communion, and doctrinally in the belief in God the Trinity.Person and relationship are not inversely related (the more relationship the less personal identity). Exactly the opposite is true.

How do we work that out in our lives? It can be tough, especially in a society afraid of death and obsessed with longevity. And especially tough if one does not know to whom to give oneself. Jesus teaches us to give ourselves not just to each other. To do that would be to give ourselves to those who cannot, ultimately, carry our self-giving. As much as each of us struggles to truly give of ourselves without strings attached, so too we each struggle to receive the self-giving of others. No wonder a sense of betrayal or frustration too easily follows the great moments of our lives where we try to offer ourselves to others! (Think of the divorce rate, which is greatly increased if de facto breakdown is included.) Jesus thinks that we are to give ourselves to God, for it is only God who can carry such a self-offering in a non-possessive and disinterested way (by which I mean without self-interest). But Jesus teaches us to make this self-offering to God through others. Without God our self-giving can too easily end up self-seeking or an expression of self-hate. Without others, our self-giving to God ends up bloodless. And with self-offering to God through others longevity is neither here nor there.

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