I discovered an unfortunate pattern of pain, struggle and personal humiliation. I set lofty goals, make myself miserable in the process and ultimately end up needing to apologize to Tim on Good Friday for taking him down with me.
This year, I’m doing something radically different.
I’m not changing a thing: I’m simply going to practice my practice.
I’m going to meditate and walk, read and write.
I’m going to hug my family members whenever they get within arm’s length.
I’m going to teach my students and smile at friends and strangers alike.
I’m going to look for Love and share it whenever and however I can.
Whatever I am already doing that opens me up to God’s Loving presence in the world, I’m going to keep doing. Whatever shuts me down, I’m going to forgive and move on.
When I told Tim my plans for this Lent, he let out a huge sigh of relief and possibly even sent up a silent prayer of gratitude to a God he isn’t even sure he believes in.
If I was looking for a sign I was on the right track, that would have done it, but the peace I feel in my own heart is confirmation enough.
So whether you celebrate Lent or not, maybe six weeks in to the New Year is a good time to check in with yourself. How’s it going? How do you feel? What in your life reminds you that you are enough, you do enough, you have enough? I’m not saying you should add anything to your daily routine, but I hope there is at least one moment every day where you think, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
That, my friends, is a practice worth practicing. That, my friends, is a resurrection.
I woke early this morning – like 4 a.m. early – and decided to tackle one of my theology chapters for the Living School. I find it much easier to get through this type of work with a well-rested mind. What looks like gibberish at 10 p.m. somehow becomes intelligible after seven hours of sleep. This particular chapter was from a book called Christophany by Raimon Pannikar. Here is a sample:
Here we see clearly delineated a twofold dimension of Christianity that a dualistic vision of reality has difficulty keeping in harmony, despite the fact that nonduality is the quintessence of Christ’s mystery – totus Deus et totus homo (“The whole God and the whole man”) according to the classical expression. An inevitable consequence of this “panhistorical” vision of Christianity would be that the eucharist cannot be Christ’s real and true presence, but only an anamnesis (“memory”) of a past fact. In other words, without a mystical vision, the Eucharistic reality disappears.
After reading it the first time, there was nothing “clearly delineated.” No “inevitable consequence” was obvious to me. However, after several passes a modicum of understanding emerged. If his meaning is crystal clear to you, leave a comment below and we will discuss.
However, if that paragraph of theology leaves you cold, read on.
I will confess, there is some part of me that loves academic work. I love the puzzle, the working things out, the “Aha” moment when I finally grasp the author’s point. It’s even better when I have not just comprehension, but a strong opinion on their argument. That is a true victory!
But as I find myself being intellectually and egoically seduced by the power of knowledge, I also know, in the pit of my stomach, that it’s “nothing but straw,” as Thomas Aquinas infamously said in the final days of his life. Ultimately, on a cold day, in the concrete reality of our lives, most of what has been written about God would be most useful as fuel for a fire to keep us warm. Theology simply falls short of experiential knowledge. Simply put, our study of the Divine has far less of an impact on us than our experience of it.
The only theology we truly need to know is that God is Love with a capital L. Jesus gave us only two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. Like Hillel, he thought the rest would take care of itself. St. Augustine said simply, “Love God and do as you please.” But even this simple theology is worthless if we are not Loved in real life, in real ways, by real people, intentionally, compassionately, fiercely and unconditionally. Without the lived experience of deeply committed Love, by parent, spouse, friend or community, even this theology can be twisted and misunderstood.
I know academic studies of theology, philosophy and the like are critical disciplines. They elevate and animate conversations at the highest levels and shape our educational system and our vision of the world. They record the evolution of our collective consciousness. Without Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, without Descartes and Voltaire, Locke and Hobbes, and countless others, we would not be where we are today. But these subjects are not for everyone and I am grateful for the one percent who study them responsibly and have an opportunity to influence our world.
I know what they’ve done is good, but I read a story about Tamika Brown today, who is the embodiment of a lived theology of Love and
I am convinced that if all the theology in the world from every culture and religion, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and every other, ceased to exist tomorrow and instead we all Loved like this,the world would be a better place.
Two years ago, Tamika’s son, Richie Knight, was stabbed to death when he was 19 years old. His killer was Ian Lorne Ellis, a 17-year-old young man from the neighborhood, who Richie had been in confrontations with in the months before the murder. Ellis pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and will serve twenty-one years in prison. This is what Tamika had to say to him in the courtroom on the day of his sentencing.
“Only God knows why I’m not angry, or why I don’t hate you. Would it shock you to hear that I love you? I thought to myself one day a while back, ‘Don’t lock him up. Sentence him to my home. Let him be my son that he took away from me.’”
Can you imagine if we all sought justice this way? If loss opened us up and allowed us to give birth to something new and miraculous, instead of hardening our hearts, seeking retribution?
Tamika sang to her son’s killer about the source of her Love, starting with the song, “He Cares,” but changing a few words on the spot:
“So you think that you can’t make it through,/ Just remember that my God cares for you…/Don’t give up, don’t give in/ Today make Jesus Christ your number one friend.”
In suffering, Tamika knew Love, but instead of sharing it only with her friends and family, she extended it to the other, her enemy. No one can say this is soft, or easy, or wishy-washy theology. This is Love from its the deepest source, in any culture and by any name. She changed the equation. We are accused and we get defensive; we are Loved and we can be transformed.
Theology is all well and good, but it should never trump the embodied reality of Love. Think of France and Nigeria. Think of Israel and Palestine, ISIS and Iraq. Think of Leelah Alcorn. All these tragedies were based on mistaken theologies, ones that said there was a something greater than Love. We have to do better.
I may study theology, but I choose Love.
If you want to read the local news story, click here.
Christmas is only a few short weeks away. Nineteen days to prepare, shop, bake and decorate. I was blown away at how quickly everyone got their Christmas stuff out and up and displayed on Instagram and Facebook last weekend. The turkey carcass from Thanksgiving dinner was still warm by the time the lights were on the tree. I’m not criticizing! I admire an ability to work on a full stomach. It’s just not the way I work.
I tend to put the Christmas cheer on a slow burn, much to Molly’s dismay. There have been years where the tree isn’t even bought until the 20th. Presents are kept in closets and cubbyholes until I get around to wrapping them on the 23rd. Some of this delay is simply practical. December is the busiest month of the year for Tim at the surf shop. My semester ends mid-December and I am inundated with finals and papers to grade. The kids are typically in school until the third week. Throw in a couple soccer tournaments, Christmas parties and holiday events and who has the time to decorate?
This year, most of those factors still exist, but more so than ever, I find myself holding back from the Christmas “spirit.” Instead, I’m immersing myself in Advent and the mystery of the Incarnation. If I could, I would wrap my house in deep purple. It would stay dark and candle-lit and smell like pine needles. I would transport us to the top of a snowy mountain where we could sit quietly and reflect on what it means to give birth to Christ in and through our very selves. Of course, Tim and the kids would hightail it out of there the first chance they got, hopping on toboggans to the nearest gingerbread village they could find.
Trying to keep them away from the joy of December, Christmas carols and cookies is more Grinch than Mother Mary, so decorating, baking and singing will commence tomorrow morning. I hate to hold back anybody’s good time, but in my own quiet time, in my reading, writing, and meditating, I am going to hold on to the mystery of the Incarnation that is pressing so deeply on my heart these days.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born from and through Mary, but the Christ is born in each of us, over and over again, throughout time and across every continent, in every gender and age, regardless of purity, sanctity or professed faith tradition. All is takes is a willing heart.
Every act of Love is an act of incarnation.
God is Love and Christ is the physical manifestation of God, so whenever we Love, truly, actively and deeply, we are bringing Christ to the world. God is incarnated through us.
Mary said Yes to giving birth to Jesus, because she Loved God. She trusted that God’s Love would sustain her through the shame and pain and instability the Incarnation would cause her. The result, she was assured, would be something wondrous, greater than anything the world had ever known. Love like this, in flesh and blood, would change everything.
Let’s be brave like Mary this time of year. Instead of going nonstop, let’s wait. Let’s sit quietly in our homes sometimes, maybe for a few minutes in the evening by the light of our tree, maybe with a cup of tea on our couch in the morning. Let’s be still and listen for where God is asking us to bring Love into the world through our own flesh and blood.
With God, who knows what that request will look like?
On Saturday, my family had the pleasure of attending a wedding; I had the privilege of speaking there at the request of these two lovely people.
This is Todd and Amanda. Their love story is unusual. Todd’s a little older than Amanda and their romance began under some rather unusual circumstances, but over the last 18 months, I have seen their love grow.
None of us knows where romance will take us when we first start out, but I think these two have navigated enough detours to find themselves on the right path. The tricky part, for them and for all of us, is figuring out how to stay there. I hope I gave them some good advice.
Here’s what I shared during the ceremony:
“I am known to Todd and Amanda as someone who loves Love. My theme song: “All You Need is Love.” My blog: #Signs of Love. I find Love in the form of hearts everywhere I go – in dirt, in rocks and leaves, water, shadows and food and post them on Instagram. You might say Love is my thing, so they probably thought I’d have a thing or two to say about.
I’m going to start with my favorite poem about Love by e.e. cummings.
It’s called “i carry your heart with me.”
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go ,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
I had a copy of that poem hand-calligraphied for my husband Tim for our 5th anniversary. The first line is inscribed on the inside of his ring. It has always spoken the truth of how I feel about him. When I was younger, I was afraid it made me sounds a little clingy, but after 20 years, I don’t worry about that. I know that Love goes and grows even deeper than that, even deeper than I thought possible. For me, this poem is about love on a cellular level.
Love doesn’t just happen up here, in our heads, in our decision to care and commit to someone. It doesn’t happen just here, in our hearts, in the way we feel about them. Love happens here – from my head to my toes. Love happens with every breath that we take.
Quantum physics has discovered that something like Love actually exists on a molecular level.
An atom’s attraction to another atom – it’s not just random, like I always thought. It’s actually deeply personal in some way, as strange as that sounds. There are billions of atoms bumping into each other all the time, but they don’t get together. They wait until the find the right one and when atoms choose each other, they willingly give up some part of themselves, so that they can come together, and be balanced. What happens between those two particles is selfless, creative and life-giving. Together they create something new, something more complicated, but generative too. They are no longer two, but one and that brings life to the world. It isn’t just hydrogen, it isn’t just oxygen any more; it’s water.
One of my favorite writers and mystics, Teillard de Chardin, who was a scientist as well, claimed “the physical structure of our universe is Love” and I couldn’t agree more.
In 1 John, the writer states: “God is Love,” which we’ve turned into a totally overused phrase, I know. But when we say “God is Love,” I think that’s actually what we’re talking about. God is Love and Love is actually the physical structure of the universe. Love is the energy that sustains everything, through continual selfless, creative and life-giving actions. And so when we commit to Love, like Todd and Amanda are today, they are committing to a practice of selflessness and creativity, so they can bring new life to the world – not just in the form of grandbabies for Bruce and Clara and Ramona – but new life to the universe itself, in ways they can’t even fathom, but that I am sure God is counting on them to deliver. God’s counting on all of us to deliver.
Like the atoms we are made of, Todd and Amanda, you’ve made a choice for each other. Out of seven billion men and women in the world who bump up against each other every day, you’ve said, ‘That’s the one for me.” You’ve willingly given up many things to be here today: treasures from your past and perhaps even some dreams for your future. And everything about this wedding, from the invitations to the table settings to the ceremony, speaks of your creativity, which I now hope you will pour into your marriage and relationship.
When each of us is born, God whispers in our ear, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart).” There is no dividing us from God’s heart and today, you make that same promise to each other. Carry each other’s hearts lovingly, gently, patiently, honestly, compassionately and faithfully and I promise that the life you gain will “(grow higher than soul can hope or mind can hide).” It will be the very wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.
Fear no fate and want no world, other than the one you begin today in Love.”
I loved sharing those thoughts on Love, though I’m not sure they came across quite like I wanted them to. They came from my heart, but might have sounded a little academic. The mic kept going out, so I felt like a techno remix of myself, dropping syllables and beats as I went along. I would look out at the crowd of 250 blank faces and get scared, but then look back into the smiling eyes of the bride and groom, just a foot away from me, and relax. They heard me just fine.
It was also hard to choose what to include and what to leave out. There are a hundred poems on Love I could have shared from Rilke, or Shakespeare to Bono or Leonard Cohen. I wanted to talk about quantum entanglement, the importance of commitment, the risk/reward ratio of investing your whole life in someone else. Love involves all those things and more, but I had to make a choice. They asked for five minutes, not fifty, and so I spoke the truest words about Love I know.
Here are a few more things I know.
In our deepest being, Love is what we are made for.
If we are not Loving, we are not truly living.
Love asks us to die to ourselves, so something new can be born.
We have to be willing to let go of our dreams of perfection in order to keep Loving. If we refuse to grow and change, or keep others from doing so, we create a legacy of broken promises and broken hearts (especially our own).
Love is mutual.
It never requires only one to give and the other to take. If that is how your relationship works, it might be romance, or co-dependency, but it isn’t Love.
God is Love.
If you know Love, you know God. And if you claim to know God, but do not Love selflessly, creatively and in ways that bring new life to the world, you have a case of mistaken identity. You know a god, who is not God.
Love isn’t love.
We throw the word around carelessly, “loving” this and that, based on our expectations and emotions, but what the world calls love is not Love at all. It’s a cheap imitation based on infatuation, without integrity. It can become Love, but it doesn’t start out that way. Love with intention, which “grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide” will change the shape of our lives and if we lean into it, the very course of the world.
I write these words from my experiences of trying and failing to Love with my whole heart, over and over again. I have been committed to the same man for over 23 years, more than half my life. I have given birth to four beautiful children and have had the privilege of raising three of them. I have two parents, three siblings, eleven in-laws and dozens of relatives and friends. I have met thousands of people along the way. I have tried in some way to Love them all. I have failed as often as I have succeeded, but I hope I’m getting better with age and practice.
I have studied Love, watched Love, written about it and found it written in the ground beneath my feet. But it still surprises me. It can take my breath away, sometimes with its beauty and sometimes with the impossibility of what it is asking me to do. You want me to Love that? I find myself thinking when faced with an extremely difficult person, situation, or institution. Yes, is always the answer.
And so I keep trying, because I have been Loved by Love itself.