If you’ve never read Christopher De Vinck, you owe yourself a favour. He is, I believe, one of the truly moral essayists writing today. Like Henri Nouwen, with whom he was a friend, he often uses his own story as a springboard to highlight something universal within the human condition.
Several years ago, he wrote an essay, Faith in Marriage, within which he shares this story:
As a young college student in New York City, he found himself at one point particularly lonely. Part of that loneliness, understandable in itself in a young person, was the dream he nurtured about marriage. He idealized about the woman he one day hoped to marry, a woman who would not only take away his youthful loneliness, but would be like the woman described in the Book of Revelations, clothed with the sun, have the moon under her feet, and a crown of stars on her head.
College life is not kind to that type of idealism and one day, submitting to peer pressure, he consented to go along to a river party, not knowing exactly that this was an arranged tryst between a number of hormonally over-charged college boys and some bored working girls from a neighbouring town. The mathematics had been carefully done and there was a girl, Linda, selected for him.
As everyone else disappeared into secluded spots, Chris was left by himself with Linda, a decent enough girl, probably as ambivalent about what was expected as he was. As she began to undress, he took a step back, then another, and suddenly, impelled by something deeper in him, he (in his own words) ãran and ranä, away from the party and away from that particular initiation.
But his essay doesn’t end there. He adds this brief, but brilliant, commentary: ãI did not know that I would be married six years later, that Roe [my wife] and I would be married for twenty years, that we would have three children, but running away from that river that night I hoped that someday Roe would be there, my Roe, clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.ä
Another friend shares this story: during his last year in high school he had been painfully and hopelessly obsessed with a girl who looked upon him with disdain. Helpless to fight his obsession, hoping against all hope, he devised a rather elaborate (but pathetic) scheme to try to impress her at a public gathering. It backfired and he was left humiliated, a laughing-stock. The rejection shredded his self-image and left him depressed for months. In that dejected condition he left his hometown for college.
Ten years later, now happily married, he brought his wife back to his hometown and they went one evening and sat at the place where he had been so humiliated. He retold the story as they sipped on sodas and he nursed a cigar and they laughed as the reliving of that painful memory made something suddenly clear, namely, that those moments when we are young and foolish and obsessed are seen in an entirely different perspective and are healed when we are held, feel more whole, and are secure beyond the dangerous loneliness of youth with its in-built temptations against chastity and the future.
I’m not sure exactly how we need to challenge our age, especially our youth, in terms of the beauty and importance of chastity. I only know that it needs to be done. Virtually everything in our culture and within youth today militates against it. Chastity is seen as a naivetŽ, a timidity, a stance against life, not one for it. Our culture has unconsciously inhaled, and misunderstood, one of William Blake’s, Proverbs from Hell: ãSooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.ä
We try all kinds of approaches to try to convince the world that chastity is important: It’s worth waiting until marriage. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are worth more than this. All of those are right, and important. Deep down, beyond the bravado, people actually know the truth of these. At our core, we all intuit the value of chastity.
But that inchoate moral sense, it seems, isn’t always enough to make a young man walk away when there’s a river party. The deep-down sense that something is not best for us doesn’t always, nor often, make us resist temptation when our loneliness and insecurity are high and the time and temperature are right.
What does? I’m not sure, but perhaps the clue lies in Christopher De Vinck’s appeal to idealism, to a vision, to a dream deep inside each of us for a soul mate who will come into our lives and be so clothed with the sun that we can renounce a momentary compensation for a future within which we can sit with someone at the place of our youthful longing and humiliation, sip a soda, and laugh about how painful it once was.