He Sent Two of His Disciples
Here is a link to this week’s readings.
Recently, I attended a community theater production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town. (It is being performed frequently this year in honor of its 80th anniversary.) In Act II, Mrs. Gibbs says, “Yes… people are meant to go through life two by two. ‘Taint natural to be lonesome.” Earlier the Stage Manager (a character in this play) had also noted, “Almost everybody in the world gets married, you know what I mean? In our town there aren’t hardly any exceptions. Most everybody in the world climbs into their graves married.”
In our own more complicated age (though, admittedly, the “simpler times” were never as simple as they seem), with marriages ending in divorce more often than not and young people often opting for other living arrangements other than marriage, this simple wisdom is a healthy reminder about human nature and human happiness. Mrs. Soames is onto something when she says, in an aside to the audience at the wedding, “Aren’t they a lovely couple? Oh, I’ve never been to such a nice wedding. I’m sure they’ll be happy. I always say: happiness, that’s the great thing! The important thing is to be happy.” Studies indeed indicate that married people are happier people, by and large, especially if the couple are best friends.
The wisdom conveyed in the play reflects the earliest anthropological insight we are given in Scripture: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). For most of us, as the Stage Manager noted and Genesis goes on to establish, that will lead to marriage. Jesus raised it to the level of a sacrament, saying “they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matthew 19:6). Still, for those among us who are not married, the wisdom nonetheless remains: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Willa Cather once noted, “Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship.” Of course, she meant friendship as opposed to spousal love, not thinking of spousal love as the deepest form of friendship. Her point is well taken, though: there are no truly “single” people. Teachers know this. If we send a student off on a “mission,” how often do we hear the student ask if they can bring a friend with them? Only the grouchiest teacher would say no! We live on relationships. Created in the image and likeness of God who is Love, that is, Relationship—perfect Trinity and Perfect Unity—we cannot exist as atomized beings in rugged individualistic terms. Married or not, “it is not good for the human person to be alone.”
This is an important detail from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus sends not one, but two of his disciples ahead of him. We have seen this before. He “sent them in pairs before him to every town and place he intended to visit” (Luke 10:1). And we will see it again, just before the Last Supper: “He sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him.’” (Mark 14:13). Most poignantly, he doesn’t want his own mother to be alone after his death, and so he says from the Cross, “‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).
This same two-by-two theme is evident throughout Christian history. Think of St. Paul and St. Timothy, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, St. Pope John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Even a cloistered nun like St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a brother in the seminarian Maurice Bellière. (You may enjoy the late Bishop Patrick Ahern’s book, Maurice & Thérèse: The Story of a Love.) Christ, above all, knows it is not good for us to be alone.
In Celtic spirituality, there is a word for this close spiritual friendship. It is the anamchara, which means “soul friend.” In his book Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, Edward C. Sellner writes, “An anamchara is someone with whom we can share our greatest joys and deepest fears, confess our worst sins and most persistent faults, clarify our highest hopes and perhaps most unarticulated dreams.” To get at the importance of the anamchara, Sellner quotes Celtic literature about St. Brigit, who said, “anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”
As we enter into Holy Week and leave Lent behind, take a moment to consider whether you have a soul friend. If so, give thanks for such a blessing. If not, pray for the gift. It seems that Jesus wants to send us in pairs, and whether married or single, he has work for us to do… together.
 Shadows on the Rock, Book III, chapter 5 (1931). Some sources attribute this quote the President Warren G. Harding, but it seems to me an erroneous attribution. Please let me know if you have evidence otherwise.
Photo credit for the Spanish nuns: https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/Gannet77?mediatype=photography
Photo of the children by Trinity Kubassek from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/2-girls-hugging-each-other-outdoor-during-daytime-225017/
Wedding Photo credit:
CherylPosted at 12:10h, 28 March
What a thought-provoking post. Watching “Our Town” recently, I wondered about those lines, and specifically how modern audiences might react to them. I really like your take on the sentiment expressed, and how you relate it to the “duo-dynamic” found in Scripture and the anamchara of Celtic spirituality, The concept of the “soul friend” reminds me a lot of the “kindred spirit” Anne was always seeking in “Anne of Green Gables,” an idea I’ve always loved (and a phrase I’ve co-opted!).
Kevin DowdPosted at 15:16h, 01 April
Hi Cheryl! Thanks for your words… I’m not familiar with Anne of Green Gables, but I know the dynamic duo. Oh wait, you said “duo-dynamic” haha. Happy Easter to you and your kindred spirit!!