We are often used to saying, “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Sometimes, though, we are not so sure. We know how long-distance friendships or relationships suffer for lack of contact, it seems that the saying is true only when actually come into contact with each other from time to time, or when we are constantly reminded of the one we love. Then, the separation we experience with someone we love does act to deepen our love. This is why the photos of those we love but who have died become so important to us. Our constant reminder of them through these symbols means that our love does not extinguish but that, in fact, our relationship with the one we love actually grows and deepens even in their physical absence.
However even in the relationships that are constantly present to us we need, at times, a certain distance, a certain space to gain perspective, to retain a sense of our own identity, to manage a sense of the other’s individuality, to be able to see them more clearly.
I chanced to read once a comment that there is nothing neither more intimate nor more remote as the face of a lover. I think it is very true. I would extend it to suggest that we are never more close nor more distant than to the members of our own family even. It’s quite an extraordinary experience, and we need a certain space to come to terms with this essential paradox in our lives.
The French writer, Jean Mambrino writes in La Palimpseste, “You wanted me to tell you once more about the interval that brings us together. I need that interval to be, to become. It is the interval which frees you. It arouses your desire, opens your countenance.” Mambrino is speaking of another core tension in our life, the tension between absence and presence. We need both in order to understand ourselves and each other. In the bonds that join us, absence becomes way of presence. The space that absence opens up fills with a desire for the other – and it’s this desire that makes the other present – even in the absence.
This Sunday we are celebrating the Ascension of Jesus. We need to avoid simplistic images of this. The risen Christ doesn’t take off from earth as if with some rocket-fuelled energy. Rather, what we are considering is that in his resurrection Christ becomes, in a certain way, absent to us. However, this is not an absence that is a void. The Ascension celebrates that it is an absence become a presence – and a presence that continues to act on us, to inform us and shape us.
It is an absence that serves to foster our desire.
To repeat the words of our French author, Mambrino: “You wanted me to tell you once more about the interval that brings us together. I need that interval to be, to become. It is the interval which frees you. It arouses your desire, opens your countenance.” The absence of Christ has become the presence of Christ to us. It allows us to see ourselves and our world in a new way.
The commemoration of the Lord’s Ascension is the way of recognising the power of ‘intersection’ in our life: how one reality is found in another. I am reminded of those beautiful lines of Henri Nouwen:
“[There is] a time for mourning, a time for dancing (Ecclesiastes 3:4). But mourning and dancing are never fully separated. Their times do not necessarily follow each other. In fact, their times may become one time. Mourning may turn into dancing and dancing into mourning without showing a clear point where one ends and the other starts.
Often our grief allows us to choreograph our dance while our dance creates the space for our grief. We lose a beloved friend, and in the midst of our tears we discover an unknown joy. We celebrate a success, and in the midst of the party we feel deep sadness. Mourning and dancing, grief and laughter, sadness and gladness – they belong to each other as the sad-faced clown and the happy-faced clown, who make us both cry and laugh. Let’s trust that the beauty of our lives becomes visible where mourning and dancing touch each other.”
Thus, the entire Gospel message accepts and works in such intersection: two things touching one another – separate but united. The Gospel looks for the place of blindness in order to bring vision; it seeks out the place of deafness to shout out a new message; it seeks out that place of paralysis to offer new movement. No where do we see this more starkly than in the reality of Jesus Christ himself, true God and true man. In Jesus himself we recognise the eternal paradox: God in humanity. But more than that: in the crucified Jesus we recognise the scandal of that divine paradox: Divinity is disclosed most fully and most powerfully in that place which is at first perceived as God-forsaken. The implication? If we want to find the God of Jesus Christ we must go to that place of darkness awaiting light, we go to that place of emptiness awaiting fullness, we go to that place of death awaiting life.
In these intersections of our life we are “stretched out amid the opposites in [our] life, between hanging on and letting go, between involvement and surrender, between deep engagement and gentle detachment. This is [our] crucifixion and [our] joy. It is [our] crucible in all its insecurity and beauty, fragility and possibility.”
Living with both is our way of living the Ascension of Jesus.
 Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: a daybook of wisdom and faith,. (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1997), 28th March.
 Author and source unknown.
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