I’ve had a few days away on the north coast of NSW near Tweed Heads and have spent some time whale spotting. Australia’s east coast is a migration path for humpback whales as they make their way from Antarctica to the warm waters of northern Australia to give birth.
To see a whale you need to be in the right location and even then it takes some patience and there is no certainty that you will see anything at all. When you do see something it is often just a plume of spray in the distance, sometimes the glint of the sun reflecting from the wet torso or tail of the whale, but if you are lucky you see a whale rise up almost vertically as it breaches the surface.
This great migration of whales happens whether we see it or not. It happens mostly beneath the waves, out of sight. We understand little of what happens beneath those waves. We wonder at their motivation, their memory and intelligence, their communications and songs. Mostly these things are known only to the whales. But every now and again they break into public view and the watching crowd exhales a collective “Ahhh”
Similarly, the love that underpins a long-term committed relationship mostly happens out of public sight. It’s mostly a private affair, the intimacies and intricacies only known to the lovers.
In the ancient creation story of ‘Adam and Eve’, it is written, ‘the man and the woman were both naked, but they were not ashamed.’ It is love that creates the conditions for such intimacy and security where each partner can be naked yet not ashamed. In public we still get dressed and made up and are very selective in what we reveal.
Love and belonging and intimacy are the holy grail of living; it’s why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. But as the story of Adam and Eve continues it reveals that something which absolutely unravels our sense of love and belonging. That thing is shame. Shame is the fear of being unloved and unworthy of love. It’s that feeling that there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of love. It’s universal; we all have it to a greater or lesser extent. For I am not who I seem. I am damaged. I am fearful. If I show you who I truly am, will you still love me?
But for true lovers, there is no shame. The shiny, bubbly well-dressed me of first dates must give way to the nakedness of the tearful heart to heart talk. Beyond the nakedness of the bedroom, is the willingness to be naked emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. It is in this most intimate relationship that the person who knows more of our faults and failings, our fears and follies –loves us the most. We are naked but not ashamed.
In the midst of our whale watching was a wedding, which I and my wife, Cynthia, were privileged to preside over. Weddings are a public celebration of love and commitment. The happy couple had been together for 37 years. The great journey had taken them on many great adventures. Their love didn’t need our presence or that of the other guests for it to be real. It happens whether we see it or not. Like the journey of the whales it happens mostly beneath the waves, out of sight. We understand little of what happens in the privacy of love. We wonder at their resilience, their dreams, their secret sharing and commitment to each other. Mostly these things are known only to the themselves. But every now and again, like at a wedding, the private love they share breaks into public view and the watching crowd exhales a collective “Ahhh”.
May we all know the joy of relationships where we can dare to be truly ourselves and free, without fear of embarrassment or vulnerability. This is gift. This is grace. It is a glimpse of the kingdom of God in our very midst.
Brian Spencer, Minister