Finding Intimacy

Being male, it has taken me the best part of 20 years of marriage to learn that intimacy begins in the kitchen. Having been bombarded with the artificial images of romance generated by Hollywood and numerous television studios, I had been lead to believe that intimacy could be switched on at any moment - often surprising - and was only celebrated in the bedroom. The discovery that intimacy is built in many places during the day, and over time, and could be celebrated almost anywhere and in diverse ways, has been one of (at times) painful discovery – particularly when I have unwittingly deconstructed that warmth by neglect or the detritus of emotional distance during the day.

Intimacy, I have learned, is shaped while we are out driving, in my responses to the casual chit-chat which often takes place in the midst of other events, in my awareness of events in my beloved’s day or week, and in the contributions I make to the running of the household and the interactions with our children. Intimacy levels have been well and truly determined long before the children are settled into bed and we begin to wind down.
There are some nights when my beloved and I are content just to lie in each other’s arms, content that the day’s journey has been enriched by our togetherness. We occasionally share at a deeper level of vulnerability: offering insights on ourselves or our children, on the events of the day, or in reflection on our hopes and dreams. The deepest intimacies we have shared at such points – whether they be physical, emotional, social or spiritual – have been the culmination of a day, even days, weeks, months, or years of building intimacy together over particular issues and ideas that we have nurtured.

Strangely enough, I have also been slow in learning that the journey of faith travels a similar path: intimacy with God begins in the strangest of places, often finding its culmination in prayer, reading of the scripture, in sharing insights with one another in the faith community, and often in much more unpredictable places. Having origins in a traditional Western individualistic christianity, I have been steered in the direction of a similar intimacy-dissociation. I was taught that intimacy with God came through the discipline of a daily “Quiet Time” which stocked me up for the day. Low moments could be addressed with a little more fuel of prayer or Bible Reading – as if these were the bedroom moments in a journey with God.
To my delight I have discovered that my spirituality also begins in the kitchen, in the car, while taking a run, walking through the city streets – in fact in every place I travel. To be aware of and often surprised by a divine presence in different settings and circumstances during the day has enriched those quieter moments at the bookends of the day. To realise that my care for a garden, my response to an encounter with a stranger, and an awareness of the impact of my car on the well-being of creation, builds a level of spiritual intimacy has helped me to plumb greater depths and soar to greater heights in the journey of faith. I have learned to see more of God at work in all of life, and more of the impact of my own choices and actions in the disintegration or integration of self, community and creation.

Which is not to say that my married life or my walk of faith is constantly orgasmic. In fact, it has probably meant a deeper experience of grief and suffering in both, alongside more tranquil and unfathomable experiences of wonder and joy – I have experienced the extremes much more, faced the deeper and more disturbing questions of life, self and hope; felt more acutely both the fulfillment and the disappointment of a trust given. I have been emboldened to ask more probing questions, and opened myself up to deeper examination, thus increasing my own sense of vulnerability, which in turn has – for the most part – increased the intimacy.

It is one of life’s ironies that those who seek greater intimacy and act to build deeper connections open themselves up not only to more wondrous levels of joy and ecstasy, they find themselves vulnerable to greater degrees of pain and suffering – for the places in our lives which bring these two experiences are one and the same. Those who offer themselves in deepest trust open themselves up to being let down more heavily. But an indicator of intimacy is our willingness to hear and share these pains – both in our human relationships and our spirituality. Any relationship which cannot bear pain lacks depth and integrity, and will remain stultified. But what joy and delight there is in embracing each other with our open wounds, realising that we are not airbrushed figures of beauty, but battle-scarred and weather-worn vessels of love and passion, as is life itself.

So when I arise in the morning, the sheets and pillows having etched their intimacy on my face and hair, I find myself greeted and greeting with love, and invited to build a new and renewed intimacy each day with my beloved. And when during the day I find my schedule being hijacked by unplanned and unwelcome events, or when I take a few moments to reflect on the presence of God in an infuriating day, I realise that each presents an opportunity to build intimacy – with myself and with all the “other”s in my life.

It’s taken me nearly two decades to learn it. God knows how long it will take before I learn to practice it consistently and constructively, both in my marriage and in my spirituality.

Gary Heard
January 31, 2003

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