To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable — C.S. Lewis
A few weeks ago, a friend of the Marin Foundation (and now of mine), Chris Heuertz, came to talk to a group of us about his recently released book, Unexpected Gifts, in which he talks about the blessings (and challenges) of living in and creating community. I cannot speak to the book much as I'm currently in the early stages of reading it. But I can speak to the content of his presentation that Monday night.
Of all the brilliant and poignant things Chris had to say to the rag-tag group of us gathered, most insightful was the differentiation he made between transparency and vulnerability. Think of it this way: transparency is the red cape (muleta) used by a matador when bullfighting. It presents the illusion to the bull that the matador is closer than he actually is. In reality, the matador maintains control in the encounter, and by way of the cloth, is able to keep the bull at arm's length.
This is transparency. It gives one party the illusion that they're closer than they really are, all while the person being transparent maintains control over the exchange, over the relationship
Transparency is safe
Transparency does not equate to intimacy
Vulnerability is an entirely different story. When the matador drops the muleta, he becomes vulnerable, a word whose origin actually means "woundable." Vulnerability, at its core, is risky. When you are vulnerable, you stand the chance of getting hurt, of becoming wounded. Whereas transparency lessens the emotional proximity of one party to another, vulnerability increases it. When you enter into the space created by vulnerability, you realize that vulnerable relationships are anything but sterile environments. They're messy and potentially painful. But without vulnerability, true community cannot thrive. It cannot be sustained.
Without vulnerability, community dies. Relationships die. Love dies.
The very nature of love is vulnerable. In the creation narrative, God breathes God's own life force into Adam and Eve (yes, I know the story only includes Adam... sue me, I'm a queer feminist who think the authors just wanted to subjugate women). In doing so, the Creator becomes indelibly tied to her creation. Furthermore, rather than creating Adam and Eve as mindless robots who have no choice but to love the One who created them, God offers them choice. God offers relationship. Now we can debate over whether or not God knew what the couple's choice was going to be, but that's not the point. The point is this: in the very act of creation, God proves God's own vulnerability. God doesn't carry the muleta of transparency, faking closeness with creation. God drops it on the dirty, dusty ground and waits for us to make our move.
God is love. Love is vulnerable. God is vulnerable.
When we are vulnerable, we make love, the First Love, manifest. When we hide behind the red cape of transparency, we stifle the ability for the love poured into us to flow out of us. We stopper it up. Vulnerability means letting go, even at the risk of suffering, of facing excruciating pain. Rejection. Abandonment. Heartache. These are some of the more terrifying possibilities of being vulnerable.
However, the alternative is no better really...
Hiding behind transparency, refusing to risk being wounded, hardens us. We don't just build up a thick skin.
The barrier we create around ourselves when we utilize the shield of transparency is impenetrable. Hold onto it for too long and it becomes a part of our very person. This goes for our relationships with other humans, and also with God.
Hearing this lesson from Chris just three weeks ago, I realized that I have been holding onto the cape of transparency for a very long time, at least in most of my relationships. I have moments of vulnerability, but more often than not, they're flukes. Accidents. Brief periods where I've dropped the muleta and made myself vulnerable to the emotional responses of those around me. For my friends who read this, do me a favor: if you get the sense that I'm being transparent but not really vulnerable, call me out on it... for both our sakes.
One last thing. As I write this, I realize that sometimes vulnerability can be just as misleading. Sometimes the person who drops the muleta of transparency and stands firm in vulnerability wants to be wounded. They feel they deserve it, both from fellow humans and from God. When you encounter this person, love them, at first from a safe distance, and then slowly move closer and closer. I say this having been this person. I stand in the presence of the bull thinking that whatever pain or death inflicted upon me is deserved.
Wherever you're at today, take a good hard look in the mirror. Think about the words you've read. Think about your relationships. Do you embrace vulnerability, allowing yourself to love and be loved by both human and God? Or do you see red? If it's the former, know that you do not stand alone. If it's the latter, drop the veil, love, and be loved.