I’m sure anyone reading this has already seen Fifty Shades of Grey to the point of saturation; a myriad of images, quotes, stats and rants on their Facebook and Twitter feeds about the “groundbreaking” film that has put sex toys in Target department stores (true story). In case you haven’t heard, it’s the tale of a dominating billionaire who seeks to obsessively own a college student, luring her into his sadomasochistic world where her pain brings him sexual pleasure. It opens not on the eve of Halloween as you might expect, but Valentine’s Day. Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey is being painted as a love story. However, the dominant color on its palette is still grey.
I don’t want to talk about the movie anymore. I don’t want to dwell in that murky grey any longer than we have to for the purposes of this piece. I want to make a heartfelt appeal to you all as men and women, first to my dear sisters, then my brothers, about what might be the reason this story has become so popular and how, I hope, a greater good can come out of it.
I think Fifty Shades of Grey is the blurred negative of what every feminine heart is really thirsting for, and literally made for: obedience and submission to a man. Let’s qualify that phrase, then turn to the men. The man the ladies are really longing for is not Christian Grey (or any other man for that matter) but Christ. Not a fallen man who dominates them, but the Risen One who divinizes them.
To my brothers:
I think Fifty Shades of Grey is wildly popular because we have not truly loved women as we ought. I take the onus on myself as much as any man. Sadly, it is we who have led women to this “red room of pain” by not truly feeling theirs. It is the failure of men to listen, really listen.
Our refusal to put ladies first, to honor and empathize, to feel deeply their inner ache and to offer tenderness to them has led women to seek such torturous extremes in their thirst for love. In a word, it’s the failure of men to be the Man. To love all women as Christ loved the Church, giving himself up for her.
This is a hard saying. This is a bitter pill to swallow but in the end I think it’s good medicine. Let’s try and understand each separate sex now by looking at both together, as it was “in the beginning,” and hopefully we can shed some golden light on these shades of grey.
There is a cosmic dance that we were all meant to learn at our genesis. We still hear snatches of the tune that inspired it in childhood, and catch the melody in our more vulnerable moments. The song was first piped in the primordial freshness of Eden. It then reached a crescendo on the hill of Calvary. The words to this music are the same in both the beginning, the climax, and in the end: “This is my body given up for you.” And the response,”Be it done unto me according to your word.” The first word holds the blueprint for masculinity, the second for femininity.
In Eden, when we first saw one another, we were naked but felt no shame. We looked with a mutual fascination upon our wondrous differences, on all the curves and all the edges of our sexual complementarity and saw there a glorious plan for oneness. And behold, it was very good. When the Song played, the woman internalized it and invited the man into her heart to listen. And the man felt a longing, and yearned to give himself to her mysterious heart.
Those first steps in the Dance were of initiation and reception, his offering and her accepting. Those movements were meant to mirror the Great Dance, the giving and receiving that hovered all about them, in the heavens and on the earth, on the land and in the sea, from the day into the night; each created reality was singing the Song too. Still today, every created reality sings to us “Give, receive, be made new.”
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the works of his hands.
Day unto day pours forth speech;
night unto night whispers knowledge…
He has pitched in them a tent for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom…
and like a hero joyfully runs its course.
– Psalm 19:2-6
This Love Song flows from the heart of a Triune God Who is Himself a mystery of personal loving communion, of giving and receiving, eternally, in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we learn this music and sing it in the visible world, the love we make as spouses becomes flesh and fills the earth. In God’s plan, this human love was meant to image that bright light of Divine Love in the Trinity.
Enter the shades of grey…
What happened to this music of self-giving love? We stopped singing the Song. The notes were bent, the gift grasped, the person turned into a tool. The jarring discord of humanity’s sour notes is our attempt to rewrite the Song, changing it from a harmony to a cacophony. From a duet to a monologue. Sin is a sundering of what God joined together, and its lust for self turns the counterpoint of two voices into a singular, dominant cry “I will not serve.”
Dear sisters, the proposal that every feminine heart is truly thirsting to be obedient and submissive to a man makes sense only in the light of the God-Man, Jesus. He is the ultimate Bridegroom who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” laying down his life for his bride the Church. If Jesus is in fact “the Man” then only obedience and submission to him will bring women the wholeness and happiness she (and all humanity) truly desires. In other words, this obedience and submission is actually a surrendering to Christ’s self-giving love. To obey literally means to “open the ear”, “to listen to,” ultimately to receive. So come Lord Jesus!
Dear brothers, to propose that men must truly love women as they deserve is in reality our fundamental call to mold our very lives into the shape of Christ’s crucified love. We must cry out in our vocations, “This is my body given up for you.” After receiving his love ourselves, we are invited to become for woman, a temporal sign of his eternal gift of love.
I believe the kernel of truth buried deep beneath the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon lies in this deep desire of us all, men and women, to surrender to Love; to be owned, to be utterly bound by
Love. Christ’s self-emptying love is our invitation into this love. If we are truly open, obedient, to this love, freely given, then we become, in the words of the mystic St. John Paul II, “possessed by the Divine Beloved.” In doing so, we find not slavery but freedom, for Christ removes the chains and sets us free from the bondage of our sin. This truth alone can set us free!
It is ironically this “free” surrender of one’s freedom that, in the words of St. John Paul II, “binds the bridegroom (husband) to be concerned for the good of the bride (wife); it commits him to desire her beauty and at the same time to sense this beauty and care for it.” Violence, bondage, and domination of the beloved are completely foreign to the relationship. They have no place here. This love that binds is marked always by a kind of tenderness, which as the pope says is the ability to feel “the whole person, in all, even the most hidden movements of his soul.”
Imagine a love story with this foundation. Imagine the clarity it would give and the shadows it would dispel! Surely no Fifty Shades of Grey could stand against it. Lord, let the light of Your Face shine upon us and we shall be saved!
by Bill Donaghy