Robert Coles, in describing Simone Weil, once suggested that what she really suffered from and what motivated her life was her moral loneliness.
What is that?
Moral loneliness is what we experience when we ache for a soul mate. We are lonely in different ways: We always feel some distance from others, always feel some restlessness that cannot be alleviated even within our deepest experiences of intimacy, and always feel an inchoate nostalgia for a home we can never quite find. There is loneliness, a restlessness, an aching, a yearning, a longing, an appetite, a disquiet, a nostalgia, a timelessness, and a sexual inconsummation inside of us that never quite gives us easy rest. We are, in the words of Toni Morrison, soul-chained to deep things outside of ourselves.
Moreover, this dis-ease lies at the center of our experience, not at its edges. We are not restful persons who sometimes get restless, serene persons who sometimes experience disquiet, or fulfilled persons who once in a while get frustrated. Rather we are restless beings who occasionally find rest, disquieted persons who sometimes find solitude and serenity, and dissatisfied men and women who at times find satisfaction.
And, among all these multifarious yearnings, one is deeper than all the others: What we really long for, beneath everything else, is a moral partner, someone to meet us in the depth of our souls, someone from whom we don’t have to hide what’s truest inside of us, and someone who understands and spontaneously honours all that is most precious to us. Someone like that would be a true soul-partner and more than we long someone to sleep with sexually, we long for someone to sleep with in this way, morally. What does this mean?
Scripture and the mystics, unafraid of earthy and sexual images, express it best. What we ultimately long for is soul-consummation. Here is an image from the Song of Songs (3, 1-4)
On my bed at night I sought my beloved:
I sought but could not find him!
So I got up and went through the city;
in the streets and on the squares, seeking my beloved.
I sought but could not find him!
I came upon the watchmen-on their rounds in the city:
“Have you seen my beloved?”
Barely had I passed them when I found my beloved.
I caught him and would not let him go,
until I had brought him to
my mother’s house,
to the room where my mother had conceived me!
It is hard to come up with an image that is more intimate than this one: What we most long for is to take someone home, to our mother’s room, to the most intimate of all places, to the very bed on which we were conceived. But that is a place in the heart, the ache of moral loneliness.
What exactly is being said here?
Each of us, beyond what we can name, has a dark memory of once having been touched and caressed by hands far gentler than our own. That caress has left a permanent mark, an imprint of a love so tender, good, and pure that its memory is a prism through which we see everything else. The old myths express it best when they tell that, before we were born, God kissed our souls and we go through life always remembering, in some dark way, that kiss and measuring everything else in relation to it and its original purity, tenderness, and sweetness.
This unconscious memory of once having been touched and caressed by God creates the deepest place inside of us, the place where we hold all that is most precious and sacred to us. When we say that something “rings true”, what we are really saying is that it honours that deep place in our hearts, that it coincides with a deep truth, tenderness, and purity that we have already experienced.
From this place all that is deepest and truest within us issues forth – our own caresses, kisses, and tears. Paradoxically this then becomes the place that we most guard from others, even as it is the place that we would most like someone to come into, providing that entry respects precisely the purity, tenderness, and truth of the original caress of God that formed that tender cavity in the first place.
This is the place of deepest intimacy and the place of deepest loneliness, the place where we are innocent and the place where we are violated, the place where we are holy, temples of God, sacred churches of reverence, and the place that we corrupt when we willfully lie. This is our moral center and the aching we feel there is rightly called moral loneliness. It is here that we long for a soul mate.
And it is in this longing that we experience what is deepest inside of us, namely, an unyielding ache that drives us out of ourselves where, like the author of the Song of Songs, we desperately search for someone to sleep with morally.