On Obsession, Addiction, and Provision

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  I was invited to deliver the homily (gasp!) at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas, on Sunday, July 26. This is what I said:

When I was eighteen, on a hot summer day in Austin, Texas, I met a boy-- a sandy haired, green-eyed musician. And I fell madly in love. The truth is I didn’t really meet this boy before I fell in love with him. I saw him. I saw him loading gear into a van that his band was packing up for a show, and I knew, at that moment, that he was for me. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know his story. But something struck me when I saw him, and it didn’t let me go. When we hear the story of David and Bathsheba, and we come to that line about David watching Bathsheba bathing on the roof, we know that he was struck, too. Let’s try to separate ourselves from what we know happens in that story, the tragedy that quickly follows, and instead look at the beginning. Can you relate?

Maybe it was the first time you laid eyes on your spouse, or maybe it was the first time you saw someone who would later break your heart, but I’ll guess most of us have had some experience with this feeling of being struck, being mesmerized by another person. It took about ten years before the musician and I finally got together. A lot of back and forth, and throughout that time, I pined. I whined. I cried. I was “obsessed.” I complained to my friends, and I listened, on repeat to a song that I bet many of you know—Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen (but of course, Jeff Buckley's version.) Long before I considered myself a spiritual person, before I knew the story of David & Bathsheba I knew this song, and I could relate. At 18, romantic obsession was something I understood - and that song, and that story, is about romantic obsession gone terrible wrong. Romantic love is so tricky because so often we experience Gods love through other people. We get a glimpse of Gods love when we love someone else, so when we fall head over heels in love it feels divine, doesn't it? What could possibly go wrong?

For the last 25 years, in one way or another, I've been a part of the 12-step recovery community. The fellowship I've found there has helped me through some rough times and it has allowed me to face parts of myself that I otherwise wouldn't face. Lately, I've been hearing a lot about the ways that our relationships, romantic and otherwise, can become a kind of addiction. Drugs, alcohol, even gambling- it's easy to see how folks could need help getting a hold of those addictions. But what about love? Can we be addicted to love, like another famous song those of us who were around in the 80s might remember? A definition of addiction I like explains it this way: Addiction is something we use to relieve an uncomfortable feeling. It’s something we go to again and again, to avoid feeling something we just don’t want to feel. Maybe I’m sad, and I eat when I’m sad. Maybe you’re nervous, and you smoke when you’re nervous. Maybe I’m lonely, and when I’m lonely I go looking for another person to relieve my loneliness.

What we see in the scriptures is a beloved King, beloved by God and Israel (his people,) standing on the edge of a major addiction episode. Maybe it’s the guilt David feels for not being in battle with his troops (we know it was the time of year when kings were at war, but David was not.) Maybe it’s the sense of isolation that his fame and acclaim have resulted in. Whatever emptiness he was feeling, when David sees Bathsheba, all of that disappears. Rather than face the discomfort, and look honestly at himself, he avoids it-- as I have, as many of us do. David's addiction wasn't alcohol or drugs or money or even power. It was love. David had Gods love, had Israel’s love, he had it all. But he needed more. Why?

This is where I want to take a left turn and I’ll ask you to make this leap with me, and look at the passage we read today from John. We so often look at this passage and read it as simply about material provision. As being about God providing food, or money, or shelter when we need it. And it is about that. But in this context, I read this passage as a metaphor for God himself. God is saying "I know that you’re sad, but I am enough. I know that you’re lonely, but I am enough. I know the hole in your heart feels like a hungry mob. But I am enough. I know that it feels like this fear, or this sadness or whatever it is, is going to swallow you whole, but I am here, and I am enough." Saint Augustine of Hippo also knew a little bit about romantic obsession. This prayer is known as the Love Canticle, and is taken from his Confessions: What do I love when I love my God? What is it then that I love when I love you? Not bodily beauty, and not temporal glory, not the clear shining light, lovely as it is to our eyes, not the sweet melodies of many-moded songs, not the soft smell of flowers and ointments and perfumes, not manna and honey, not limbs made for the body’s embrace, not these do I love when I love my God.

Yet I do love a certain light, a certain voice, a certain odor, a certain food, a certain embrace when I love my God: a light, a voice, an odor, a food, an embrace for my inner-self, where his light, which no embrace can contain, floods into my soul; where he utters words that time does not speed away; where he sends forth an aroma that no wind can scatter; where he provides food that no eating can lessen; where he so clings that satiety does not sunder us. This is what I love when I love my God."

I know that you’re sad. And I am enough. I know that you’re lonely. And I am enough. I know that the hole in your heart sometimes feels like an angry mob. And I am enough. I know it feels like this fear, or this sadness, or whatever it is is going to swallow you whole. But I am here. And I am enough.

Amen.