Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fairy Tale Romance - Stories

Part 2 of 5
Cupid, or as he is called in Greek, Eros. This one also lives in
London (it's a great place for sculpture!)
I’ve been reading through Genesis and this week I rediscovered a truly beautiful story: the romance of Jacob and Rachel. Here’s the semi-abridged version from the ESV:
Genesis 29:9 While he [Jacob] was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherdess. …Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud.13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister's son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, "Surely you are my bone and my flesh!" And he stayed with him a month. 15 Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" 16 Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. 18 Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." 19 Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me." 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
The story gets better, and there’re lots of lessons to be drawn, but the one I want to focus on is the last verse. But the big idea is that this guy, Jacob, sees a beautiful woman, falls in love with her, and within a month of first meeting, commits to work for her sake for seven years. It’s a beautiful story. Jacob loved Rachel (Hebrew: אָהַב – Ahab, as in, “Thou shalt [ahab] the Lord thy God” and “[Ahab] thy neighbor as thyself.”). And he sacrificed incredibly for her, seven entire years. Then he gets cheated by Laban later, and is willing to work an additional seven years for her.

The incredible feature of this story is the strength of his commitment contrasted to the shortness of their acquaintance. This isn’t two years of dating before he ‘pops the question.’ It’s one month. And it’s not a six month engagement, it’s seven years. The cost to him wasn’t an expensive ring, but seven years of labor. Think about that in modern terms. Seven years of average wages today would be on the order of half a million dollars. He promises Laban all that within only one month of meeting Rachel. What on earth could drive a man so crazy as to make such a commitment? Woman, it would seem.

As a more contemporary caricature of this relationship, consider the following dialogue from Disney’s “Enchanted” between the princess Giselle and the New Yorker Robert:
Robert: So, what's the deal with this prince of yours? How long you been together?
Giselle: [wistfully] Oh, about a day.
Robert: You mean it feels like a day because you're so in love.
Giselle: No, it's been a day.
Robert: You're kidding me. A day? One day?
Giselle: Yes.
[wistful again]
Giselle: And tomorrow it will be two days.
Robert: You're joking.
Giselle: No. I'm not.
Robert: Yeah, you are.
Giselle: But I'm not.
Robert: You're gonna marry somebody after a day? Because you fell in love with him?
Giselle: Yes.
Giselle: Yes!
The princess has such a love for the prince after simply meeting him. She has given her heart to him, and he to her. And they are very serious about getting married and staying married (there is no divorce in Fairy Land, after all). And the prince/princess marriage still wears the clothing of the medievals. And at its center is a very strange idea to us moderns: making ridiculously brash and often silly promises, and then giving one’s life rather than violating them. This is the “Happily Ever After” stereotype. But what can possess a man to make such a brash promise to a woman? What god or spirit can so possess him? Eros is his name. CS Lewis’ work, “The Four Loves” gives a wonderful description of Eros:
To be in love is both to intend and to promise lifelong fidelity. Love makes vows unasked; can’t be deterred from making them. “I will be ever true,” are almost the first words he utters. Not hypocritically but sincerely…And yet Eros is in a sense right to make this promise. The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory…Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (toward one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves…It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival…Eros is driven to promise what Eros of himself cannot perform.
The early promises seem to be a characteristic part of this romantic love; it was the Eros of Jacob drove him to make what we would call a very hasty promise for Rachel. Lewis describes such love in a more positive light than I think we would. In Eros, Lewis argues, we have tasted true love, Agape. We are driven to behave selflessly, sacrificing our will for the sake of our beloved through promise. In Lewis’ account, this seems to be a good thing, but only when it acts as the spark to light the everlasting Agape.

So we have a dilemma. We have these ideas floating about in the human imagination, behaviors demonstrated by some of the earliest of our patriarchs, exciting us as children and tantalizing us still as adults. And then we have real life, where these things don’t happen like that. Sex and the City’s Carrie, reading to a little girl, finishes a bedtime story, “’Cinderella and the prince lived happily ever after.’ You know that this is just a fairy tale, right? Things don’t always happen like this in real life. I just think you should know that.” The human dilemma is in the child’s response: an enthusiastic “Again!”

We have these nice ideas, and then we have reality. What happens when they collide? Is romance something we’re ought to desire, something built into us, or is it a fiction to be dispensed of like Santa Claus, a pleasant lie of childhood and nothing more?

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

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