Wings for the Single Person
"Ah, not to be cut off," wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in words that communicate the longing to know your place in the whole—or words that scratch the fear that there really is no place for you at all.
Single adults over the age of 30 know this sentiment well, and it's the driving reason authors Christine Colón and Bonnie Field believe celibacy must be reinvented in today's church, as they put forth in Singled Out (Brazos Press). As present or erstwhile English professors, Colón and Field unravel the cultural messages that inform our common response to the word celibacy. The deliberate pace they take in exploring the topic—as researchers who care for the church—is what sets their book apart.
Colón and Field begin from their own experience. By their mid-30s, both women realized that the youthful resonance and implied promise of their "true love waits" pledge cards had worn off, and that the early church fathers' discussions of celibacy were too often laced with a fear of women and an unhealthy repression of the body.
Among the population of American singles (46 percent of adults), many are likely cohabiting, while others are openly promiscuous. But is the only evangelical response to marry the first available friend of the opposite sex? What theological assumptions would suggest that solution? And what would a positive discussion of celibacy look like?
The authors begin by taking us on a rollicking ride through the messages about marriage, sex, and celibacy—both positive and negative—that issue from secular media and the church. They then turn our attention to Scripture, theology, and church tradition, all of which suggest that Jesus' singleness is a lens through which he displayed a radical transition between the old covenant and the new. "Jesus remained celibate yet generated the offspring of his church," they write, "creating new family connections through which his new covenant could be enacted. Through Jesus' example, we find not only a model for living as single Christians but also a clear representation of why this singleness is now possible."
A narrative canvas like this gives Christian celibates a lively and important picture to paint, and reading Colón and Field's words inspires hope. They affirm that what really lies at the heart of sexuality is a desire for masculine and feminine expression, intimacy, and union. Colón and Field contend that a full embodiment of our Creator's love clearly holds a place for men and women who live chastely and are celibate. Celibates are not cut off, but are uniquely positioned to give life.
This is enough zest to give a single person energy and wings. Colón and Field's positive engagement of this topic opens the sash for further discussion—a discussion about singles' need to live within the family of the church, where they are witness to our ultimate union with Christ, and also in the community of other singles, where they can openly discuss sexuality within the framework of Scripture and God's model for what it means to be whole.