Monday, August 11, 2008

Love Affair

Swing at Laity Lodge

I can't believe he did that.

What a jerk.

I don't claim to understand it.

These words came 'round the corner. Thoughts on the Edwards affair.

Usually I ignore these kinds of conversations. Like when Ted Haggard had his challenges. And now John Edwards. Famous people facing infamous situations. It seems sensationalistic to join the conversations.

But it just so happens I've been reading Robert Farrar Capon. (I do that. If I read one book by an author and I like it, I go on to read others, all in a row. So I'd been reading Supper of the Lamb; Health, Money and Love; Bed and Board.) Anyway, when I heard this conversation about Edwards, I was reminded of Capon's clarity and compassion on the issue of love affairs.

In Health, Money and Love, he tells a parable about a King and a Parlormaid. It's enough to irritate just about anybody who claims not to understand how a love affair could happen. But Capon says that a love affair has the power to place the participants squarely in the roles of Lover and Beloved. (I would add that this goes for any kind of love affair, between singles or marrieds.) And these roles of Lover and Beloved are particularly powerful because they stir our desire to experience the ultimate, eternal Lover/Beloved relationship with the Divine.

This is a radically different frame than that of the 'lurid affair' that the media loves to paint. It should give us pause.

Now someone will say that Edwards had the chance to play out the Lover/Beloved role in his own marriage. And of course that is true. To this, I want to share a Capon quote I've been saving, because it fascinates me to consider what degrades intimacy and what builds it.

Says Capon, People admit it's hard to pray. Yet they think it's easy to make love. What nonsense. Neither is worth much when it is only the outcropping of intermittent enthusiasm. Both need to be done without ceasing; and that puts a premium on the minor manifestations. Obviously the sexual act itself is central. But the circle that is drawn around it consists of a thousand small passes and light touches. What they lack in moment they more than make up for by sheer weight of numbers, and it is a poor bed that sees only the grand piece of business that really arrives. It is precisely the unconsummated nonsense that makes the main absurdity fruitful. Bed and Board, p.76

I love that phrase a thousand small passes and light touches. Who knows if Edwards had lost this with his wife and found it with someone new. Maybe that's how it went. Or maybe it was altogether different. In all this, I find myself quoting the conversation I overheard, I don't claim to understand it. Still, it doesn't hurt to try.

Swing at Laity Lodge photo, by L.L. Barkat.


Ann's Looking for Love

LL's Hand

Erin's kind of related post: Made for More


Ted's book club post: Seedstone: Healing

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

L.L.! I've got some catching up to do on the blog! What a challenge to briefly respond to this post. I'll say: "small passes and light touches" really can add up to a woman's face being plastered across the front page of the NY Times for her role in an affair. When I recognized that I am too easily enthralled by charismatic men, I prayed long that God would keep me from such adulterous relations. What great Grace I have received. Too bad about Edward's lies though.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

LL, I've had this window open for at least half an hour and I keep coming back to it...I can't figure out quite how this hits me, but it does, deeply. I love the idea of intimacy in the quotation above...the gentleness and light it seems to note. Wow. I'll munch on this for a while and see what comes.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is why I think the concept of "emotional affairs" is so helpful and why it is so important to avoid them. My husband and I have a standing agreement to tell each other when we have an attraction to someone (not just a passing notice, but a pull that feels dangerous). Doing this enables us to see if something has gone wrong or stale in our marriage and also to examine what other forces might be at work. It's difficult to be that honest with a spouse, but it's easier in the long run than repairing a marriage after adultery.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Ok, that first quote from the book is staggering. What an understanding of the nature of our human need! I have never thought about affairs from this perspective before, but it is so dead on. I feel it in my bones- we long for a Loved/Beloved intimacy.
I do not think, though, that an extra-marital affair delivers an honest Loved/Beloved picture. All parties will be haunted by the elements it lacks, damaged by taking something holy into their own hands.

I've also been thinking about how a Christian's longing for the consummation of all things is paralleled in the betrothal period of a man and woman.
The tension we feel in our engagement period is a weird kind of committed-but-not-yet-fully-married feeling.
I can't think of another real life example of that spiritual tension we find ourselves inhabiting, and yet, it is such a SHORT time in our lives (engagement), that I wonder how many of us really have our heads about us to know what a profound spiritual parallel it really is. I was more concerned with seating charts and gift registries.

So my next thought (still half-formed since it came to me just yesterday) is what we might do to short circuit a spiritual lesson when people elope? No condemnation on anyone who has eloped; I just wonder if there is an aspect of the Bridegroom's character reserved only for those to whom He is betrothed.
And how does that change my present longing for eternal consummation?
Like I said... I'm only half-baked today so I don't have an answer or even know if my questions make sense.

Finally, the thought that prayer and love affairs are similar in nature (and function?) hits me like a ton of joyful bricks. What an exhilarating idea that my "unconsummated nonsense" of prayers and thoughts toward my Beloved is building up toward the final wedding day of wedded bliss!

Gonna have to think on this a TON.

(And just today I wrote a SoulPerBlog post about consummation. We are knocking on the same door.)

2:36 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Long Island... in a way, I feel sorry to have used Edwards as an example. It's just that it's an obvious example, and it IS the conversation I overheard a few people having. As for the small passes and light touches, I imagine these go both ways... not just man to woman. What I'm interested in is the underlying dynamics. What makes these things so powerful? Is it as simple as being enthralled by charisma? (Maybe it is. I don't know.)

Sarah... I'm pleased that you had the window open for so long. In my experience, we quickly open and close the book on these conversations because we are either afraid of or confused by them. What I like about Capon is his unquestionable bravery in examining such things with a clear eye and a compassionate heart. As for the intimacy quote, wasn't it great? I think of it often.

Ruth... wow. That's about all I can say!

Erin... I love how your thoughts go off in all sorts of amazing directions. Here's a question I had when you said that an extra-marital affair couldn't deliver a real Lover/Beloved relationship... Can any relationship do so? Or, to go with your language, is there any such thing as true consummation in this life?

2:57 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I had the same thought too, L.L.
I think the Bible clearly answers us both.


Which makes heaven all the more anticipated. I don't think I can even conjure what true consummation will look and feel like. I put up with so many disappointments, inconveniences and minor aches and pains (not to mention the major ones) as a normal course of life on this planet that I barely give them a glance.

Like a virginal bride on her wedding night, I'm going to be surprised in the most tender, blissful, passionate, never-knew-it-could-be-like-this way.

Makes me blush just thinking about it.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

These are such difficult, painful questions. It hurts just to think about the pain that Edwards' family is experiencing and the fact that this is one thing that cannot be undone.

That said, I don't think we can ever err on the side of too much compassion while we are still imperfect humans. By that I don't mean excusing sin and minimizing its very real impact on lives, but we are foolish and prideful if we really believe that any kind of sin is outside the realm of our personal capabilities. Even if we do manage to avoid this sort of sin, there are sins enough in every heart to keep us from perfect communion with God and those we love.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Sorry, I intended to add that, like Ruth, I also find the concept of "emotional affairs" incredibly helpful, and my husband and I have a similar agreement. In relationships where that kind of transparency is possible, it can be an amazing gift, both in that it keeps us from the delicious secrets that are the beginning of the end and it increases our trust in each other. We trust that we will know of the threats to our relationship while they are just threats and we can help each other overcome them. This honesty is painful but priceless, in my experience.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Laurie A. said...

ooooh l.l. where my little birdie wings keep hovering but really want to come in for a landing is, here ...

"it fascinates me to consider what degrades intimacy and what builds it."

if i may ... i think i will take up this fascination and considering with you. it is that important in general and with respect to Mr. Edwards, surely a far cry more compassionate than pointing the barrel of my long finger at him.

perhaps someone will thank him one day for giving them the opportunity to witness his private-made-public debacle and so take more than a few breaths as they do a little considering of their own before ......

all this access to information should be put to better use i think. surely this is a teachable moment in all our lives.

in another vein, i want to think some on the thousand small passes and light touches of God that are meant to awaken us to our own migration, subtle or not so, off course.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Laurie A. said...

postscript: and by migration i mean anything and everything. not just talking affairs here.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Michelle Gregory said...

thanks for sharing. i liked the quotes.


9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that a lot depends very much on how each person grows into the meaning of Love over their lifetime.

each person is continually having to decide, to accept the truth of what love is or what they would like their own truth to be, even if it is not love.

these decisions affect all relationships, even the relationship with God.

10:43 PM  
Blogger christianne said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

I think the thing that I take most from this post is the idea that it's good to remain open to the possibility of understanding others.

It can be a relief not to understand how somebody could do something wrong. It excuses you from having to deal with the possibility that you, too, could err in such a way. Sometimes, though, being willing to understand what might make you do such a thing can be a good way to learn how not to do it.

Moreover, if we are to deal with each other then we must understand each other. Understanding is valuable and not to be lightly cast aside.

It's true that understanding is also dangerous. It changes us. Perhaps it doesn't always change us for the better; certainly, in weakening the tendency to condemn, it can weaken your sense of right and wrong!

This is where I love the fact that I trust my moral sense. I trust myself. If greater understanding makes me think something isn't as wrong as I thought it was, then maybe it isn't as wrong. Besides, understanding can also work the other way, helping you to understand that something is wrong when before you wouldn't have thought it was at all important.

I guess the important thing is to be aware that the fact that you can understand why you might do it doesn't make it right. That is, you have to understand that you, too, are capable of doing wrong!

2:42 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent post, L.L.
For the past couple of years I've been working on a second manuscript that addresses the motives behind our behaviors - not just affairs, but all of our "migrations" (as Laure put it). The proposal is that every bad act is ultimately connected to our longing for elements of the Kingdom.

It makes me wonder lots of things, like, How magnetically alluring is God that we are willing to harm ourselves and others, risking the loss of health, family, security and reputation, to have even a fragment of him in the now-but-not-yet waiting for the Kingdom?

I will have to check out Health, Money and Love. Thank you.

9:54 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Erin... so here's what I'm thinking then. Maybe new things sometimes seem more consummation-oriented than old things because of that "not yet", anticipatory feel. Maybe this is part of the attraction. Which means that someone like J.E. hadn't necessarily developed a poor relationship with his spouse but that he somehow perhaps had begun to long for a clearer vision/experience of consummation. Even, may we venture it, a deeper longing for the Divine (though he may not have understood it that way).

Sam... Okay, I'm going out of order here, but Sam, your comment reminded me of what I was thinking when I read Erin's comment. And that is that we generally frame these things as if something had gone wrong in the marital relationship; whereas, as you note, maybe it is more about something going "right" in another direction. I don't mean morally right but rather the realization that beauty is suddenly palpable in a particular "migration." In an odd way, this makes for a moment of opportunity, if the potential "migrant" can understand it as a call to embrace the Divine and not simply the reflection of the Divine.

Nikki... okay, back to the original order of comments. I like your realistic perspective. Kind of the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" approach. Also, I'd ask both you and Ruth, if you feel comfortable to tell us if you've ever actually gone through with your agreement. In other words, has there ever been occasion where either you or your spouses have told such things to one another, and how did it go? (No pressure to share if you don't want to!

Laure... yes, about access to information. As I said in the post, I don't usually get in on discussing these kinds of public failures. But I had just read Capon and it struck me that one could actually have a helpful conversation regarding this issue. So here we are. Hopefully having a helpful conversation. :)

Michelle... Capon is one of a kind, I'll tell you. Brave, insightful man.

Nancy... your definition of love? Curious.

Lynet... so many interesting points. Really! I think I was particularly impressed with that fine line between condemnation and personal moral practice. In other words, is it possible to be compassionate, noncondemnatory and still be a person who maintains his/her own moral conduct? Also, I'm just generally curious about the atheist point of view on the particular issue at hand. (Not that you can represent all atheists, but I'm thinking there might be a general thought you could share.)

4:55 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Christianne... oops, I missed your comment. I have to say that when I heard of J.E.'s activity I actually felt it made even more sense that this happened at such a time. Imagine the emotional turmoil he may have been going through, the desire for comfort, for a sense of the eternal (in the face of the threat of death). Not to excuse him, as Lynet notes, but I guess I have a small new sense of understanding. And of course I love you for your passionate response! You always make me smile.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Laurie A. said...

just checking ... i hope you did not think that by writing this ...

"all this access to information should be put to better use i think. surely this is a teachable moment in all our lives."

that i was judging you by your post. quite the contrary. the door you've opened here ushers in a breath of very fresh air. forgive me for my lack of clarity.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

So then, we can also say that our human propensity toward materialism and consumption are somewhat couched in these longings for the-now-and-not-yet.

Our old-ish and breaking things remind us that this world is in decay and therefore we, probably subconsciously, desire to surround ourselves with "new and improved" as much as possible.
It arouses a near-consummation experience when we possess something that is unspoiled.

I see where this is leading. I've got to say I like the connections we're making. I've got to say I don't like the conviction I am feeling. :)
Going off to think some more...

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, i am not sure how to put it into words.

i think...

that love can be seen as we live out our lives. at some point in our life we are probably shown a little bit at a time what love is, and our heart recognizes it. and we make a choice for ourselves in a direction. and each time our heart knows it, we either choose love or we choose another way that looks like it could get us something better or quicker, but, it is false. and there can be a point that a heart becomes too hard to recgonize the truth of love.

God can change our expectations of others and our own desires to gain sight of the meaning of love.

love can look different in every situation. it seems that some choose not to accept it, and suffer the loss.

i think that it has a lot to do with listening to God and looking into the eyes of children.

love in the form of our ultimate fulfillment in Jesus...well, that is why we have to continue to make the choices to to live in the Love of God, because i believe that we want that total fulfillment for ourselves, right now. but, the only way to see it right now, is not to try get it for ourselves, but in giving up of the desires for this to God.

i have to go peel potatoes.

9:27 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Laure... absolutely no offense here. I love these conversations and I took your comment in a very positive light. I felt like you "got it." And that made me happy.

Erin... oooo... I really like that. I think you're on to something. (Conviction all 'round. :)

Nancy... looking into the eyes of God and children. What a great prescription for learning the art of love. Thanks for that poetic, insightful observation.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Since you asked if confessions have ever been made... the answer is yes. I feel free to answer because I am the one who had to do most of the confessing. Also, I asked my husband and he said he didn't mind if I shared.

I would preface this all by saying that I am apparently exceptionally easy to talk to, because people I don't even know just talk to me at a soul-baring level almost from the first meeting. I very often also have deep and correct intuitions about people. This is, I have learned, a liability sometimes, because it creates an instant intimacy. The first time, I found myself in over my head before I had any idea what had happened. I thought it was a chaste friendship, but I soon came to realize that I had developed a sort of reliance on this other person that was unhealthy. There was no talk of love or anything, but I just knew in my heart that something was wrong when I wanted to keep this friendship to myself.

Instead, I brought it to my husband and was honest about it. I know it was painful for him, and that it was excruciating for me, but he was grateful for my honesty, very kind to me, and we talked about what I needed to do. In short, I needed to quit interacting with this person. I did so immediately, before matters got any worse.

I think our marriage was stronger for it in the long-term, and it impressed upon me the importance of being transparent. I still have an open ear and find people who are different immensely fascinating, but my husband and I talk so openly about our relationships with other people that we can make decisions together well before any stronger feelings have a chance to develop.

Emotional attachments are isolating and intriguing and just a short step from other indiscretions, but sharing them with someone you love and trust and have pledged your life to means you don't face it alone. When it isn't a secret anymore, it loses some of its power. In the end, we each feel unworthy of the other, but we both feel loved and accepted enough that we can be real and flawed and that's okay.

The best part? I had spent the first year of my marriage feeling deeply superior and indignant about a woman who was married to another but in love with my husband at the time we met. My husband was oblivious, but this person actually told me directly that she was "in love" with him. I cannot tell you how deeply humbling it was to find a year or two later that I had no right whatsoever to judge her. None. So, if I encourage the more forgiving route, it is largely because I discovered in my own life that pride is at least as enormous a sin as any infidelity, and it creates a blindness to ourselves that allows us to walk right into the sin we profess to hate.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

I think it is possible to be compassionate and still keep your idea of right and wrong. Indeed, compassion is at the heart of morality. Supposing me to be married, compassion for John Edwards would only make me lose my sense of the wrongness of infidelity if I failed to have compassion for my husband.

I think, further, that if compassion cannot make you understand the wrongness of a thing, it is very likely not wrong.

From my perspective, being unfaithful to your spouse is wrong for two reasons. The first is that it hurts your spouse; the second is that it breaks an agreement (compassion for the whole of society indicates that it is wise to keep agreements, because by keeping agreements we become more able to trust each other, which is good for everyone).

This raises the possibility that sex outside of marriage would not be wrong if neither of those conditions applied -- that is, if you had an open marriage (and your partner didn't mind), or if you were not married or otherwise pledged to one particular person. Open relationships can require a great deal of communication and trust, but that doesn't mean I would never consider entering one.

Communication being the first rule of all relationships, I commend John Edwards for admitting the affair to his wife. From my point of view, his infidelity means he failed, but telling his wife indicates that, having failed, he tried to do the right thing from there on. As regards lying to the media, well, as a general rule I'd avoid lying, but it is still considerably less wrong when you are lying to someone about something that really doesn't concern them, as in this case. People might well be interested in the state of John Edwards' marriage, but that doesn't mean we have any special right to know about it.

Dear me! You give such lovely openings to speak further. I'm afraid the temptation to ramble has been too much for me :-)

3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, LL -- I can't believe how thoughtful you are about things that others (READ: I)gloss over with judgment and criticism. So difficult to imagine such betrayal -- and yet, I have seen the beginnings of such infidelities in my own heart. Oh, how we all need forgiveness and redemption.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What makes these things so powerful?, you ask. (and only because you asked...:-))

"[It’s] our desire to experience the ultimate, eternal Lover/Beloved relationship with the Divine." Compelling. But this doesn't quite capture the whole of it for me. What happens in an extra-marital attraction is that our elemental need to know and to be known is fed.

Adam was drawn to Eve because she was like him, she could know him, and he her, in a way that was not possible with the other creatures. This craving to be known is one reason why we become so enraptured with God—He knows us best. And loves us with abandon still. He Himself desires to be truly known by us, and loved with all our being.

A wife may know her husband--his likes, habits, pet peeves--but there are moments when she does not know what is kindling his heart. Or when she knows, but does not nurture the flame. In such moments as these a husband may indulge in small passes and light touches with a transient female. He likes it when she looks at him with eyes that say “I hear you. What you are saying and thinking matters.” He thinks this woman knows him, sees him, “gets him,” in a way his wife doesn’t.

Likewise with God, there are moments when, though we know Him-- His likes, hates, ways--we are blind to what is kindling His heart right now. Instead of walking with Him, hearing and knowing Him, we read our devotions, we work things out, we resist suffering, we cast Him as our enemy and nail Him to a cross. He lets us, because He loves us and we are His. But at the same time He is drawing to Himself, with small passes and light touches, others who see Him and hear Him and know Him.

He made us in His image. He wants to be known and so do we.

Also, I love Nancy's thoughts on love. And now I'm going to bed.

1:12 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Nikki... I agree that you are exceptionally easy to talk to. But it's more than that. You have depth of insight and sweetness of heart and compassion. Indeed, there have been times when I've thought, "I should call Nikki about this!" (Not that I have your number. :) In any case, thank you for sharing this tender, vulnerable part of your experience. You and Daniel have both been very generous for the sake of others here. I was thinking that some couples cannot or might choose not to handle things in the same way, but along the same lines, they could at least share the "secret" with a trusted friend.

Lynet... no problem. You know I love your ramblings, right? :) I was struck by the practicality of your reasoning. And I must say it mirrors my own practicality in these matters. I wish I could be as romantic as some... to see fidelity as purely a romantic ideal... but I am a terribly practical person, and it has always seemed to me that fidelity is part of the "social contract" aspect of marriage. Maybe even more practical than your own reasoning, which focuses on agreement making. It seems to me that one reason we make such agreements is to prepare a safe and open physical space. In other words, when we stay with one partner exclusively, we keep disease in check and make it safe to happily indulge physically without fear. (Okay, so now you know how practical I am! True confession. :)

Charity... thank you, sweet friend. I must say I always feel sorry for these public figures, who face so much pressure from day to day. And then when they "fail", we delight to take them down. That has always made me sad. You are brave to admit your own heart. It makes me smile to know you feel comfortable enough here to do so.

Long Island... I really like how you've put that. I agree that there is an incredible pull to know and be known. Maybe we could also add, to know and be known with graciousness. Because I was thinking about something else Capon said too... when considering what makes new relationships so wonderful. He talks about how there is this period where the participants suspend judgment about one another. It is more celebratory in nature, more gracious. Sometimes, when a relationship has been going on for a while, the participants can no longer see each other without judgment. So. A problem, yes? I do think that Capon's advice about the small passes and light touches helps keep a couple more in a state of grace and celebration. And now I'm thinking it would be delightful to hear from all you quiet ones who have not related to this post. What actual things do you do to keep a sense of grace and celebration in your relationship? (Mine's a little mundane... but I like to send morning love notes by email.)

4:41 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

a thought-provoking post, one that grips me in the gut.

i am one of those who, when i hear of an affair like this one, think what a jerk. how could he? but then moments later i remember how easy it is to slide, to justify, to find myself not wanting to resist those seemingly innocent temptations.

capon's quote grabbed me: a thousand small passes and light touches. yes, i understand maybe a little of why an affair can happen.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

If I may add ... I don't think the way Daniel and I interact is the only way to be, but it is the only way for *us* to be because of who we are as people and the deep foundation of sharing that has existed since the beginning of our relationship. I don't think confession of every dark secret to a partner is always wise, but it becomes essential if you are in a relationship that relies on openness and in which the worst betrayal is that of being the last to know that you have been shut of the life of the other.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

I have to laugh about my practicality, LL, because you're right, I am absurdly practical sometimes. That said, neither you nor I are entirely without romanticism, are we? Your blog is full of romantic notions and, well, at least I write sonnets ;-)

Mind you, part of me immediately wants to justify romanticism by explaining that it can be a nice way to show love. Is that too practical? Well, so be it! I guess I'm just going to have to go with the theory that there are ways that romanticism can be practical, and practicality, romantic.

4:53 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Kirsten... so good to hear from you. And that's my favorite phrase you picked out. And yes, it surely gives us a sense of the power of these things.

Nikki... what a tender thing. Thank you so much for saying that.

Lynet... yes! I realized after I wrote that response that I made it sound like I was not a romantic. Of course, you are right that I am. :) And you are too! In retrospect, I think I meant that when romance fails me, which it can, practicality generally saves the day.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Well, I didn't come to talk about romantic stuff... I'm just here for the food. Did I see guacamole dip over there?

12:53 PM  

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