The Inner Landscape

I Need You to Survive

I picked The Princess up from her choral rehearsal this afternoon, and for once I arrived in time to hear a bit of singing. The room was darker than usual. The director came to work suffering a migraine and conducted the rehearsal with minimal light while wearing dark glasses. The girls, seated in their chairs, sang a song so unusual for their repertoire that I wondered if I could really be hearing them as I came down the hall outside the rehearsal space.

I heard these words first, repeated over and over:


I pray for you, You pray for me. *


I love you, I need you to survive.


I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.


I love you, I need you to survive.

Their voices pitched low, they sang the phrases over and over, and the music modulated and the key changed, but the words remained the same, and I rolled them over in my mind. Are we praying for someone’s survival, or for our own?

I came home and found the rest of the lyrics, a gospel song about our interdependency as part of God’s plan. "We’re all a part of God’s body," read the words, and I agree, or I want to agree. If we all could see ourselves as part of one creation, perhaps we wouldn’t kill each other. Perhaps we wouldn’t commit atrocities against the helpless. Perhaps we wouldn’t view life as one great competition for success or worthiness or importance or dominance.

My understanding of God is relational. That word, relational, became the key to keeping me in the Christian fold in seminary. I found myself in what I would call a unitarian-wannabe phase. The Trinity seemed only to be a platform for dogma. I related to Jesus, but did he need to be divine for me to feel that way? Or any more divine than the rest of us? I had a few issues. Maybe everyone who takes Systematic Theology needs to have a few issues.

One day my professor used the word "relational," and my ears perked up, or perhaps I should say my heart did, since I was certainly paying attention with the bluestocking portion of my mind. But something about the word "relational" touched me.


I need you, you need me.


We’re all a part of God’s body.


Stand with me, agree with me.


We’re all a part of God’s body.

God, he told me, is relational within God’s Own Self. The Creator and the Son and the Holy Spirit, three-in-one, model relationship. That sounded strangely mystical and non-dogmatic to me. I felt receptive to the relational Trinity and began to rethink my, well, my thoughts.

Meanwhile, all through that year of Systematics, I was in love, rather madly, with someone who first was far away and then was unavailable and then miraculously, became someone who loved me, too. All through that first semester, he hiked further and further South and away, and I became more ridiculously impassioned over someone who had made no promises or vows or professions of any kind. Meanwhile I read Augustine and Luther and Tillich and wrote papers about the persons of the Trinity, and came to understand how much being relational meant to me.

I don’t know about you, but as a person with high relationship needs, I sometimes share things with people I might shouldn’t. In doing that I give part of myself away, by which I mean that I both reveal something of myself that I probably wish I hadn’t and that I lose something of my wholeness in the process.

I think it’s possible that on a personal level there are people I don’t need in order to survive. Yet I have broken off pieces of myself to maintain or establish relationships of a sort with them. I wish I could have those pieces back, because I fear they are not treasured where I left them. I wonder why it’s so hard to take my own advice, the counsel given to others who are not treasured?

It’s almost Holy Week, and if you’re reading John’s gospel, you’ll read about a Messiah who chose a path of suffering love to save the world.

If you’re out there thinking you have to be like Jesus, stop it right now. Please. Love, yes, and pray, yes, and suffer, because that is inevitable if you’re human, but don’t fall into the trap of feeling that your own suffering love will redeem others. Walk away from the people who perpetuate the lie that you are somehow responsible for everything bad in their lives; I promise you they are the same people who are never responsible for anything.

I remember sitting in Systematic Theology and UCC Polity, another class from that semester, and making lists in the margins of my notebooks, what I might need to pack when I ran off to see my hiker, my love, while on the center of the page I gathered thoughts about God and in the back of my mind I wondered if I would ever see either of them again. As it turned out, I needed both of them to survive, the man who helped raise the questions just by walking South and returning home again, and the God who had seemed so certain when I was young and who came to feel certain again although enormously different.

*Hezekiah Walker and David Frazier, as best I can discover.

15 thoughts on “I Need You to Survive”

  1. I’ve never heard that anthem.
    I also never took systematics. There are many times I regret that, and others when I celebrate it.

  2. Systematics challenged me as no other course in seminary. As painful as the class was, it drew me from one level of understanding to a new one. Sometimes I think I need to take it again – to meet me where I am now and give me yet another boost up.

  3. I describe Systematics (and seminary for that matter) as the dumping out of my file drawers (I’m a bit of a “J”). It was as if I came with things neatly organized, not necessarily clear but organized, and my first day of theology, the professor pulled out my organized files and dumped them on the ground. I spent the next four years picking up the cards and resorting. Its not a finished drawer by any means but it is more mine, more thought through. It was a hard process but really good.
    I like the song.

  4. Oh, your systematics prof sounds like mine. I loved the class and learned so much….
    so, yes.
    Relational.
    And as much as I want to use gender-free language to articulate the Trinity I also want that relationship piece…so I settle for gender balance – God our Father, God our Mother, Christ our brother, she the Holy Spirit…
    I imagine you’ve read Elizabeth Johnson, “She Who Is?”

  5. We sing that song pretty often at seminary and I really like it… I am taking systematic theology right now and I must say i really struggle, but it is a struggle that I enjoy because i can really feel the growth that is occuring!

  6. I don’t know about you, but as a person with high relationship needs, I sometimes share things with people I might shouldn’t. In doing that I give part of myself away, by which I mean that I both reveal something of myself that I probably wish I hadn’t and that I lose something of my wholeness in the process.
    This resonates so deep. I am, I think, a peacemaker – even if I lose part of me in the process,and right now I am wondering if it’s been worth it.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – your pains and victories – in this time of process

  7. “Walk away from the people who perpetuate the lie that you are somehow responsible for everything bad in their lives; I promise you they are the same people who are never responsible for anything.”
    I would, but he’s 14 and still needs me to survive. And I have some hope that he’ll discover responsibility as he grows.

  8. Oh how I relate. I remember the very moment when I read that God is relational within the Trinity (Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian). It changed my mind and heart forever. I so related to every word of this post. ((((SB))))

  9. this is a wonderful post. thanks…
    The first time I heard this song (I’m ashamed to say this…) was last week on Oprah. I was choosing to work out at home so I could hear the TV (and it was raining outside…) and she and Gayle were on their “Big Adventure”–road trip across the country. They went to church on Sunday in the South, and the gospel choir sang this song. It was so beautiful. Everyone in the church was crying. I would bet many at home were too. (good thing I wasn’t at the gym–they have a kleenex shortage.)

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