Everything that we have said in the previous meditation (“In the Bosom of Love”) about our original experience of love and communion hopefully provides a foundation for understanding the words and the message of the Gospel more deeply. Our goal in trying to “make contact” with our original experience was to cast light on what it really means to be a person. To be a person is not to be an isolated and autonomous subject, closed in on oneself. Rather, it is to be essentially in relationship. We come into existence from another; our existence is a gift from another. And it is in and through a relationship with the other that we awaken to full personal consciousness and also grow to maturity.
This inherent relation that lies at the core of our personal being, however, does not mean that we do not exist in our own right, and for our own sake. There is a space in our interior being where solitude and communion are indeed inseparably united—where our personal uniqueness and our relationship to another are inseparable. We see this in the fact that the necessary relationship that we have with our parents (and with others) points its way back to our foundational relationship with God, which transcends all external relationships while also enabling them. It is in our relationship with God that we touch the true substance of our personal being. Here we come to the innermost truth of our identity. And this identity is not a mere accumulation of external characteristics or personality traits, nor a mere accumulation of our experiences and our life story, nor is it even our subjective consciousness, our “I.” Rather, the identity of each one of us is the unique and unrepeatable person whom God sees when he looks upon us. This is what, most fundamentally, makes us a person: to be loved, seen, and known by God, created as someone who bears his own image and likeness.
The very “root” of my personal being is therefore even deeper than my conscious awareness. I cannot grasp it and comprehend it fully, for it is my very relationship with God who unceasingly holds me in existence in his love. And God, as Saint Augustine says, is more interior to me than I am to myself, while also being higher than my highest self. To enter into the authentic truth of who I am means to enter into his presence, to enter into the place where I am essential relation to him. Said in a less philosophical way: to be a person is to be in a relationship of childhood with the heavenly Father in Christ. It is to be a child before God. Who am I, therefore, in my deepest identity? Who am I in that sacred place at the depths of my being, that place that no one can destroy, but is sheltered by God? I am a beloved child of God.
This profound interior mystery of my identity, the truth of my personhood in the eyes of God, is what Saint John Paul II points to in speaking of “original solitude.” This solitude is a fundamental element of my original experience of life, abiding at the core of my existence and my being. In a real way it is the fundamental element. But did we not earlier say that our most fundamental experience is not of solitude, but of communion? Yes we did. Original solitude does not mean that my most basic identity is isolation or aloneness. Rather, it means that my most basic identity, rather than a “horizontal” relationship with another human person, is my “vertical” relationship with God, who unceasingly holds me in existence. It is precisely this vertical relationship with God that enables all of my other horizontal relationships, and from which they flow and to which they return.
Each one of us is deeper than any of our concrete relationships within this world, for we come directly from the loving hand and heart of God. The very reality of the conception of a child bears witness to this. When the man and the woman come together to share themselves, the moment of a child’s conception that follows is something hidden, secret, and silent. It is a moment that is known to God alone, and is indeed the direct work of God. It is he who brings into being an immortal soul and unites it with the body in the mother’s womb. This moment is a reflection, an expression, of his own eternal love, in which he looks upon each one of us and wills us absolutely. “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” says Psalm 2:7. Though these words are most perfectly applied to Christ, who is begotten of the Father in the “Today” of eternity, they also apply to each person. My being finds its ultimate origin not in my parents alone, but in the direct and loving action of God, who wills me—me and no other—to be his precious and beloved child.
What does this mean for the way that I live my life? For the way that I experience myself and my personal identity in this world? First of all, it means that I cannot know myself as I am merely by looking through the eyes of others, nor “navel-gazing” at myself and all my qualities, those I like and those I don’t like. I can only truly experience who I am when I open myself before God and allow him to gaze upon me. When I look trustingly into his loving gaze upon me, I will come to see reflected in his eyes the authentic truth of who I am. This is because, as we said, my very identity is my foundational relationship with him. Further, what God sees is always the truth. To see as he sees, to let him look upon me and unveil before me his vision, is to see myself as I really am.
But let us say more. God always sees the truth, we affirmed. But it is also the case that for God to look is for God to love. And for God to love is for God to give himself. My being, therefore, is not merely a static and enclosed substance (though it is most definitely a substance!), but a ceaseless communication of the generosity of the Father. Here there is a paradoxical union between the “gift-already-given” and the “gift-always-being-given.” It is sometimes said that God is always creating the world at every moment, because if he was not then it would cease to exist. There is much truth to this. My being ceaselessly flows from God’s love at each and every moment. To live my being fully, therefore, is to accept this gift that is being given to me: a gift which is simultaneously my own existence and also the Father’s love for me. Or more properly, it is my own existence enveloped within the Father’s love.
On the other hand, the nature of a gift is that it is completely given in such a way that it cannot be taken back by the giver. It is delivered over entirely, in love, to the recipient. In this sense, my being subsists in itself as something that is my own, something that has been placed within my own hands. It is entrusted into the care of my own freedom. But does this entail that I can live it without reference to the Giver, without reliance on the One who ceaselessly gives me life and sustains me in his love? Absolutely not. For it is a gift fully given, yet a gift that is, in its inner nature, a relationship. To refuse the relationship is to fracture the gift at its very root, in its most essential meaning.
This, we see, is the basic meaning of sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were created in a state of complete openness to God. They remained before him in trusting and childlike dependence, receiving in gratitude and freedom the gift of his love, and the gift of their own existence cradled within this love. In a word, they dwelt in the authentic truth of original solitude: in the inner sanctuary of the heart where they were united to God in trust and love, in an intimate filial relationship. They received the gift and lived it as it was meant to be lived, in a profound relationship with the Giver. As we have said, the gift itself is precisely this relationship to the Giver.
But when the serpent comes and tempts them, he makes them believe that what flows from God’s creative hands is not a pure gift of love, but rather a burdensome and arbitrary responsibility. He tempts them into believing that God is an autonomous and power-hungry taskmaster, rather than a Communion of Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit united in the joy of eternal self-giving. Adam and Eve therefore, when they yield to the lies of the devil, fall into believing that God is withholding things from them. Indeed, they come to believe that dependence on God and relationship with him is a hindrance to their being, a limitation of their freedom, rather than its safeguard, and the place where alone it can fully blossom. They want to “be like God” by grasping for power, pleasure, and possession as their own, and through the strength of their own autonomous will. But this is precisely not who God is or what he does!
God is a Family of Love in eternal intimacy. When Adam and Eve were created, they were created in the image and likeness of this God of love. This means that they were fashioned on the very “model” of the eternal Son of the Father, whose very existence is to receive the gift of the Father’s love and to abide in relationship with him. The Son’s unique Personhood is identical with his relationship to the Father, his belovedness before the Father. And he is free in his personal mystery precisely because he never seeks to separate himself from the Father whose Beloved he is. He lives eternally in communion, in relation, in the bond of intimate love. The same is true of the Father and the Holy Spirit, each in their own proper way of relating to the other Persons of the Trinity. In God, to be a Person is to be in relationship. And precisely because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are totally and eternally in relation with one another, they have all things in common: they share one being, one substance, one life, one endless joy. When the gift is totally given and totally received, and totally given back in love, then those who share are united together in the most perfect way.
This is what Adam and Eve (and each one of us) have been created to participate in. We were made to share in the openness, the self-giving, and the intimacy of the Trinity’s life. But sin is directly opposed to this: for it is the closure of the heart, the refusal to receive and to give, and the isolation that results from this. When Adam and Eve turned away and grasped for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they fractured human existence away from its union with the Creator. It is as if, before sin, humanity was united to God like the threads of a seamless fabric; but through sin this fabric is violently torn apart. Now there is an ugly tear, a lack of communion and communication between God and humanity. The human heart has now become closed in upon itself and no longer lives in a vivid and dynamic relationship with God. Yes, it has lost the fundamental bond of communion with the Trinity that is grace.
We can see the fundamental difference between these two attitudes—love and sin—in the Prologue of John’s Gospel. He separates them radically from one another, calling one openness to the light and the other the darkness. He uses two different Greek words to exemplify the difference between these two attitudes, and their corresponding effects. In chapter 1 verse 5, he writes: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome (κατέλαβεν) it.” And then later, in verses 9 through 13: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received (παρέλαβον) him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The root word that he uses is lambano (λαμβάνω), which means to actively take or receive. But in the different cases he uses two different augmenting beginnings to change the implications of the word. In the first case, in verse 5, the word translated as “overcome” is katelaben (κατέλαβεν). Kata (κατα) means “down” or “according to,” and as modifying lambano it means: to take tight hold of, to overtake, and in this case, to grasp possessively, reducing to one’s own size. This, we see, corresponds exactly with the attitude of sin we spoke of above. On the other hand, the word translated as “receive” in verse 11 is parelabon (παρέλαβον). Para (παρα) means “from close to,” or “alongside.” Therefore, the meaning here is: to receive in such a way that I let myself be drawn into relationship with the Giver.
In the first case, when I try to grasp possessively for the gift apart from the Giver, I find myself collapsing into narrowness and isolation. I find myself remaining in the darkness and unable to comprehend the light. In the second case, when I open myself to welcome the gift and let myself be drawn into relationship with the Giver, then I am illumined by the light and expanded in love. Indeed, I pass over into the light, as verses 12 and 13 say: I become a “child of God” by letting myself be irradiated with divine grace. I allow God to establish me in a living relationship of love with him—a relationship made possible not by any human means—“not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man”—but by God’s gracious gift given in Christ.
I let myself be inserted into the filial relationship of the Son with his Father, this relationship in which, from the very beginning, I was created to share. This is what is made clear in the next verses: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father” (1:14). We have turned away in sin and refused to remain in loving relationship with God, and because of this we find ourselves immersed in the darkness. Even though the Word is “in the world” (1:10), we do not recognize him and receive him. And so he comes to us in the flesh, as a human being. In this way he can penetrate into our loneliness and isolation, into our enclosed hearts, and reopen them from within. And he does this by unveiling to us, in himself, the ineffable Beauty of the Father: “we have beheld his glory.” “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (1:18).
Yet this intimacy is not a mere external beholding, as beholding gives way to touching, and touching allows a profound abiding. For as the Son is always turned toward the bosom of his Father, abiding in his most intimate embrace, we are invited to turn toward the incarnate Son and to recline against his bosom. God wants it to be said of each one of us: “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the bosom of Jesus” (cf. 13:23). In the heartbeat of the Son, against whose breast we rest, we can hear the heartbeat of the Father; and by gazing upon him in love, we can see the unspeakable Beauty of God, who made us to share in his life for all eternity. It is only necessary that we open ourselves to receive this gift, to welcome it with open hands and open heart…and that we trust God enough to surrender ourselves to him in return, so that he may take us up into his care, carrying us back into the eternal embrace of the Trinity.