They say animals imprint themselves upon their owners as if we were their parents. This creates a special bond that is similar to the human infant bonding with his or her mother and father. Evidence of this imprinting reveals itself when your cat sitter tells you that the babies are missing their mommy and won’t snuggle up with him even though when I am at home my cats are glued to every part of my anatomy – stomach, lap, breasts, head – you name it. They find a place to cuddle into me. They are imprinted.
Human lovers also imprint upon one another. We learn each other’s scents, nooks and crevices and claim them not only as our own but as home. In an ideal world we would do this only once in our lives and within the context of marriage where spiritual and physical union combine two into one in a covenant as sacred as that between the Lord and his people. However, many of us miss the mark. We may unite prematurely and without the sacramental elements of marriage or we may marry and then divorce. Yet even when these occur, imprinting still transpires as does a spiritual union contained within the physical.
But just what does happens where there is separation? Or divorce? When our human flaws sever relationships and/or we realize we did not enter into things with our eyes wide open and as a result we exit? What happens when the curse of the fall seeps into the Garden of Eden tainting everything with a sense of numbness, anger, fear or sorrow or that somehow a mistake was made along the way?
I’ve always heard people who are divorced share how excruciatingly painful the process is even when separation is still preferred and even when a relationship has become abusive or toxic. They are faced with the terrible task of unraveling a shared history, child rearing, finances and household. They also have to reconcile how a sacrament became unholy and unclean. If two became one how does the flesh divide without tearing? This is a pain I’ve never experienced because I’ve never married but I know the endings of relationships are rough regardless, particularly when they rupture. Whether the love spanned many years or a brief moment in time, we still imprint. And even when we don’t exchange marital vows, bonds still form. The severance leaves one walking around like we have a phantom limb.
Like my cats, I don’t imprint easily. It will be some time before I snuggle up again next to something human. However, I have learned that something else imprints on us that is bigger than any human or animal relationship and that is Christ’s love for us. He is the one who saves and redeems us from our falls. He is the one who restores the kingdom and brings a little bit of Eden back into our hearts. He is also the one who returns our memories of love when we were Adam and Eve – shameless, naked and trusting in our safe haven.
Genesis 3 is complex – a text often misunderstood yet when we eat from the Tree of Knowledge, we do indeed fall, inheriting a resolved sadness. “But at the cross, He beckons me. Leading me, gently to my knees.” He is the one I have married and although I break his heart over and over again, he is always there for me. His is the love that ultimately endures for an eternity. And that is Good News.