Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Body's Grace

This semester, I've had the joy of reading Rowan Williams' exquisite essay "The Body's Grace" more than once. For my ethics class, I signed up to lead discussion group for the week that the class discussed human sexuality and Williams' essay was assigned. Today, a dear friend of mine brought up Williams' essay during a conversation about human relationships. And it reminded me why I love Williams' words so much. During the group discussion a few weeks ago, other students were concerned that Williams does not offer clear standards for relationships. His seeming inclusivity became a worry that any type of relationship between two consenting individuals would be deemed acceptable. However, I actually thought that Williams offers an extremely exclusive picture of relationships since, ironically, his words are those of judgment over most human relationships that are embedded in a desire to control, manipulate, and dominate the other. But Williams compels others to see the radically fragile, life-giving, and beautiful nature of human relationships that are rooted in vulnerability. His essay goes beyond sexuality to describe what happens when two human agents seek to be in true relationship with one another. To know the other and let oneself be known is simultaneously the most terrifying yet grace-filled act human persons can choose. I'll let the good Archbishop tell you himself:

All this means, crucially, that in sexual relation I am no longer in charge of what I am. Any genuine experience of desire leaves me in something like this position: I cannot of myself satisfy my wants without distorting or trivialising them. But here we have a particularly intense case of the helplessness of the ego alone. For my body to be the cause of joy, the end of homecoming, for me, it must be there for someone else, be perceived, accepted, nurtured; and that means being given over to the creation of joy in that other, because only as directed to the enjoyment, the happiness, of the other does it become unreservedly lovable. To desire my joy is to desire the joy of the one I desire: my search for enjoyment through the bodily presence of another is a longing to be enjoyed in my body. ...

The discovery of sexual joy and of a pattern of living in which that joy is accessible must involve the insecurities of "exposed spontaneity": the experience of misunderstanding or of the discovery (rapid or slow) that this relationship is not about joy - these are bearable, if at all, because at least they have changed the possibilities of our lives in a way which may still point to what joy might be. But it should be clear that the discovery of joy means something rather more than the bare facts of sexual intimacy. I can only fully discover the body's grace in taking time, the time needed for a mutual recognition that my partner and I are not simply passive instruments to each other. Such things are learned in the fabric of a whole relation of converse and cooperation; yet of course the more time taken the longer a kind of risk endures. There is more to expose, and a sustaining of the will to let oneself be formed by the perceptions of another. Properly understood, sexual faithfulness is not an avoidance of risk, but the creation of a context in which grace can abound because there is a commitment not to run away from the perception of another.

- Rowan Williams, "The Body's Grace"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Post a Comment