Alleluia: I-Thou

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
August 12, 2022

Today’s Readings:

Alleluia, alleluia.
Receive the word of God,
not as a human word
but, as it truly is, the word of God.

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings are hard-edged with images that can scrape the heart rather than warm it.

Ezekiel, with typical passion, describes God’s ardent love for Israel in a drama of abandonment, rescue, desire, tenderness, rejection, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It’s like a biblical soap opera filled with lines fit for the silver screen.

As for your birth, the day you were born your navel cord was not cut;
you were neither washed with water nor anointed,
nor were you rubbed with salt, nor swathed in swaddling clothes.
No one looked on you with pity or compassion
to do any of these things for you.
Rather, you were thrown out on the ground as something loathsome,
the day you were born.

Ezekiel 16:4-6

Guess what. Our lives are like soap operas too. But the script is usually not squeezed into one biblical passage or TV half hour, so we might underestimate the intensity of our own relationship story with God and with God’s Creation drawn out over the length of our years.

Both our readings today incline us
to consider the nature of relationship in our lives
– how do we meet, encounter or objectify the “other” – even the “Other” who is God.

I read many years ago that once we are in relationship with a person or thing, that relationship can never end. It may change. It may even be denied. But as long as we have memory, the relationship exists.

I can’t recall exactly where I read this, but I believe the concept came from Martin Buber, venerable teacher and author of the masterpiece “I and Thou”.

Buber describes an I-Thou relationship as a mutual, holistic encounter between two beings. It is characterized by openness, authenticity and reverence toward the other.

An I-it relationship, on the other hand, does not include “encounter”. Instead, the individual treats other beings as objects to be understood only within one’s own mental framework.

This may sound like a lot of philosophical jargon, but we see the two concepts concretized in today’s readings. 

The Gospel Pharisees see marriage as an “I-It” relationship that must fit into their own mental framework and definition. Jesus calls them out for their hard-heartedness and reminds them that God created human beings for encounter not objectification. Buber said it this way:

Marriage, for instance, will never be given new life except by that out of which true marriage always arises, the revealing by two people of the Thou to one another. Out of this a marriage is built up by the Thou that is neither of the I’s. This is the metaphysical and metapsychical factor of love to which feelings of love are mere accompaniments.” 

Martin Buber – I and Thou

In our first reading, Ezekiel describes God’s “I-Thou” relationship with us, giving and responding to us in immutable loving encounter. The relationship changes under various circumstances but it never dissolves. Buber saw it this way:

That you need God more than anything, you know at all times in your heart. But don’t you know also that God needs you—in the fullness of God’s eternity, you? How would the human person exist if God did not need her and how would you exist? You need God in order to be, and God needs you—for that which is the meaning of your life.” 

Martin Buber – I and Thou

Poetry: A Long Faith – Renee Yann, RSM

This is the way of love, perhaps 
near the late summer,
when the fruit is full
and the air is still and warm,
when the passion of lovers
no longer rests against
the easy trigger
of adolescent spring,
but lumbers in the drowsy silence
where the bees hum --
where it is enough
to reach across the grass
and touch each other's hand.

Music: This beautiful song captures the insoluble nature of true relationship. Ezekiel understood it. Buber understood it. Certainly, Jesus understood it. And I think wonderful Dolly Parton, in her own inimitable way, understands it. Anyway, you all deserve a pretty song after reading all that philosophy! 🙂

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