Inside the "Me" Vortex.
Sometime ago, a woman named Nadine Schweigert (ND) married herself in a commitment ceremony where she exchanged rings with her “inner groom.” There was an actual gathering of family and friends who were encouraged to “blow kisses to the world.” One can imagine the theme song of her wedding with a slight variation: “Nobody Loves Me Like I Do.”
Schweigert had been through a painful divorce in which her two children opted to live with her ex-husband. She drank, smoked and was 50 pounds overweight, according to her own testimony. At the suggestion of a friend, she married herself, and now feels “happy, joyous, empowered.” She says she has come a long way from where she was. She now takes herself on dates, in order “to invest in this relationship.”
We might ask what is going on here. Is it pure narcissism? Or is something else at work? The
surprising thing is that with a bit of honest examination, we might have to admit that the only difference between Nadine and ourselves is that we haven't thrown ourselves a wedding party. How many of us are married to our own opinions, our own thoughts, our own routines, our own preferences, likes, dislikes, ways of doing things? She simply made visible what many of us live.
At the same time that Nadine arrived at this solution to her unhappiness, more and more young people come to a different kind of resolution: suicide. Almost nothing is more distressing than hearing that another young person has taken their life. It always elicits shock and dismay. How many times do family and friends say they never saw it coming? The son or daughter, sister, brother, friend, had such a promising life ahead of them, and so many people who loved them.
Why is the incidence of young suicides increasing? Why do so few young people really seem to have the joy of their youth anymore? These are questions we must answer. Back in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas stated categorically that man cannot live without joy. He cannot live without joy! When he is deprived of true spiritual joys he will necessarily become addicted to carnal pleasures. We are not living in a society or culture that knows what true joy is. And we are dying in myriad ways because of it. Addictions of one kind or another have to be the most prevalent affliction of the modern age. And it is a spiritual problem. Addictions lead to obsession, compulsion, depression, sadness, enslavement. These temporary joys not only don't touch the soul, but actually harm it, bind it, strangle it.
Perhaps the false bravado of many youth today is an armor against some of the most profound insecurity the young have ever had to experience. Maybe it's harder than we think for a young person to believe that he is unconditionally wanted and loved; that he is a source of deep, spiritual joy to God and his own family when contraception and abortion are so freely used, so prevalent even in their own families; when an addiction of one kind or another takes precedence over his own needs or welfare; when the self- interest of parents and the adults around him eclipse all else. Perhaps he cannot see how his life has unique meaning when it could be as much a matter of chance as a roll of the dice. Perhaps he cannot understand how he can be genuinely connected to anything when there seem to be no absolute relationships in his life, nothing he can depend on to be there, no sacrificial love that will reveal him to himself from the outside. One wonders what the psychological effect must be as he watches "adults" not only sterilize themselves but all creation for their own selfish reasons.
Relationally we no longer have set constellations in our lives. There is less and less order in the universe of our interpersonal lives, fewer predictable rotations or orbits. The universe of relationships in many lives changes before one can even map the constellations. That is the experience of young people today. No center of gravity. No orderly solar system. Just free- flying, unpredictable bits of mass crashing into other bits of mass, knocking orbits and axes off..
Perhaps youth experience more quickly that the direction of our culture leads nowhere. It's movement does not solidify into anything stable. It spins into self- destruction...
It took mankind centuries to understand the earth was not the center of the universe and that the sun did not revolve around us but rather we around the sun. Scientists tell us that life on earth flourishes because of how we orbit the sun. If the orbit were a fraction off, the planet would easily become incapable of sustaining life. Likewise, if our personal orbit is around ourselves, or in our self- centeredness we think everything else revolves around us, we become like an earth spinning on it's axis in nothingness, with no warmth or light or atmosphere to sustain us, only cold blackness surrounding us.
We have to come to an understanding in our individual lives. Just as the natural world has a center of gravity, so too do our lives have forces at work that move us toward or away from life, true life. We need a center of gravity to hold the movements in balance.
If Jesus is our center of gravity and we understand Him as the center around whom we both spin and revolve, we begin to coalesce, to be defined; we become integrated. We come to understand who we are and how we are related to everyone and everything else. Our world makes sense and is guided by very real rules of existence. If we are knocked out of that orbit, if our center is off, or non- existent, we have grave trouble. We spin off by ourselves, into fragments of what we should be and out of relationship to all the other bodies orbiting the true center.
There is in this, also, an answer to our existential need for joy. Pope Benedict says that real joy comes from friendship with God. Is this really possible? Jesus draws us to Himself and calls us friends. How many saints attest to the fact that friendship with God is not only possible, it’s a deep need. It’s absolutely real, and in fact, the thing that centers us and holds us together. Jesus is a real Person, and He wants us to relate to Him that way. The Father is a real Person and He too wants us to relate to Him that way. The Holy Spirit is a real Person Who also wants us to relate to Him. The Heavens are filled with these relationships, from Mary to the communion of saints to the angelic hosts. They all have a living relationship with us and long for it to be mutual.
We live in age where the whole world has been knocked out of its true orbit. We are disintegrating, breaking apart, turning into lots of individual vortexes swirling about with greater or lesser force and causing unprecedented damage to everyone around us because self-centeredness creates of us this vortex which makes us small, narrow, unable to embrace people or things around us without harming or destroying them.
Nadine said she was waiting for someone to come along and make her happy. (Perhaps her husband was too busy swirling inside his own vortex.) She must have decided that no one was coming and that she had to do that for herself. One wishes they could warn her that ultimately this will not work either. We just aren’t fashioned that way. An exclusive relationship with oneself has no place to go. At the center of it is a great, gnawing loneliness, like a black hole. “It is not good for man to be alone." If you try to save yourself ... you implode, you self-destruct, you lose yourself. It seems with the rise of superstorms, multiple tornadoes, microblasts, etc., even nature herself is reflecting back to us our own state.
When I hear of another suicidal youth I want to reach into the vortex within them and reset them into the orbit of Christ's love. I want to pull them out of themselves and throw them quickly into His embrace so that they can become more than formless matter drifting about, so that they can coalesce into the magnificent being they are created to be, so that they can know true joy! Alot of strength is required to come up against the momentum of these energies, but we know in the end, faith, hope and love are forces that can move mountains and will re-create the world, forming it into a Kingdom of love, joy, peace and justice.
There is a struggle for the spirit of man today. He has been knocked out of orbit and now has to decide what His orbit will be? Sports? Food? Wealth? Prestige? Fame? Sex? Alcohol? Drugs? Gambling? Modernism? Materialism? Ecology? Politics? Science? Other manifestations of self?
The drama of our age is to see whether man will realign himself. Will he return to his true center, and come back to an ordered rotation around the true Sun, the Son of God Who is Light, Love and the pure Joy that is Life-giving? Or, will he continue to blindly spin off into massive self-destruction?
Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
September 5, 2013