Thursday, February 10, 2011

Side-by-Side in a Partnership of Mutuality and Equality

Today's first reading from daily Mass relates the "primeval" story of the creation of woman and how man and woman came to be united as "one body" through marriage (Gen. 2:18-25). The word "primeval" means that the story refers to something that predates recorded history and therefore doesn't intend to communicate an "eye-witness account" of the creation of the human person and the institution of marriage but, rather, points to the meaning of relationships between male and female.

At the beginning of today's story, God notes that, "it is not good for man to be alone, therefore, I will make a suitable partner for him." (Gen. 2:18). God than creates various animals from the earth, presents them before man for naming, and than sees what kind of relationship unfolds between them. The Genesis author notes that, "none proved to be a suitable partner for him." God's next move is to "put the man under" by casting him into a deep sleep and removing a rib from his side - from which he forms a woman. The man responds with, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." (Gen. 2:23). The explicit moral of the story is explained as, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." (Gen. 2:24).

Again, to reiterate, since this account from Genesis relates a primeval story, it doesn't intend to communicate facts but meaning. So than, what meaning might we derive from this ancient story about the relationship between male and female, man and woman? Without exhausting the meaning that can be derived from this story, what stands out are three primary points 1) animals did not make a suitable partner for the man 2) a suitable partner was formed directly from the man and 3) it is the man who leaves father and mother and clings to his wife (rather than vice versa).

To begin with, the fact that animals were not a suitable partner for man and that this was only realized by woman being formed from man's side indicates that partnership is forged through mutuality (interdependence). It is quite significant that it was precisely a bone taken from man's side that God than formed into a woman. This is symbolic of the fact that partnership is constituted through a mutual, "side-by-side" dynamic in which the interests of one occupy the concern of the other. As important as mutuality is in any real partnership, so is equality. The equality between man and woman is highlighted by the fact that it is the man who leaves father and mother to be joined to his wife (one would normally expect a woman to leave her parents and be joined to her husband). This part of the story offsets the temptation to see the woman as partly indebted to man for her existence and therefore overly dependent. The overall gist of this fascinating and symbolic story from Genesis is that love between persons is most fully realized side-by-side in a partnership of mutuality and equality. Pat, TOR