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.

Keara and Finn dressed for school.
Keara and Finn dressed for school.

This morning, I watched my sixteen-year-old get in a friend’s car and drive to school, in her Catholic school uniform with her hair a freshly-died, espresso black and her lips painted purple. A few minutes later, I dropped the Lad off for his first day of high school, watching him walk on to campus, looking just like my brothers did at his age, all skinny legs and freckles and big ears. I came home to pack lunch for my baby starting her first day of middle school, where she will sit shoulder to shoulder with boys who can grow mustaches and girls who shave their legs. And then I came home and sat in awe at the passage of time.

I won’t say that time travels fast. That’s too simplistic and it doesn’t always ring true. Sometimes, time travels slowly. There were years and years when it didn’t feel like anything ever changed. There was the almost six year season of pregnancy and breastfeeding, one baby after another.  And I’ll never forget the era of bodily functions – almost ten solid years of changing diapers and wiping bottoms. It’s been over fifteen years of the same dinner and bedtime prayers and the kiss and hug goodnight before turning out the light. Keara ushers in a new era and Molly brings it to its conclusion.

But the epoch of having a young family is coming to its natural end. I generally talk a good game about looking forward to what’s coming up ahead, but today I was faced with reality. Despite my sadness at the passage of time, I believe I will love my adult children with the same passion I loved them as babies. I am endlessly fascinated by who they are becoming and what makes them tick. I watch the little decisions they make and the comments they let fly and I smile, praying that I have done enough to earn a place in their life when they become adults and have the ability to chose who they want to spend time with. I have several more years to work on that, of course; I know its not over, but still, there is something significant about this year. Instead of a family made up of two adults and three kids, we are now a family of five: two adults, two young adults and one pre-teen, who is somewhere in the middle. There are no chubby cheeks left to kiss goodbye and no hands begging to be held. There are hand waves, high fives and quick hugs and I am grateful for every one of them.

IMG_0089I was doing fine today, leaving Molly at De Portola Middle School, a little nostalgic perhaps, but nothing that was going to slow me down, that is, until I got in the car and turned on the radio. Coming out at me from across the airwaves was Lionel Richie’s “Easy Like a Sunday Morning” and I had to pull over, because I started to cry.

It isn’t the lyrics; it isn’t the tune; it isn’t even Richie’s velvet voice that brings me to tears.

It’s just that that song holds the essence of longing to me, the finality of goodbye.

Twenty-two years ago this month, I said good-bye and left my first-born daughter at Mercy Hospital in the arms of a social worker, who would place her in the arms of her parents the next day. The nurse took me out in a wheel chair and I got in my mother’s car. I purposely turned on the radio, knowing that the song playing would forever be linked to that moment for me and I heard Lionel Richie sing,

“I know it sounds funny but I just can’t stand the pain.

Girl, I’m leaving you tomorrow.

Seems to me girl you know I’ve done all I can.

You see I’ve begged, stole and I borrowed,

That’s why I’m easy, easy like a Sunday morning.”

The song went on that day and it went on today as well and I let it wash over me. I let my heart feel what it wanted to feel, before I let my head get involved and clean up the mess.

Maybe the timing of the two songs, decades apart, was a coincidence, but maybe it was an invitation from the universe, then and now, to say goodbye. I never experienced with Sarah the first era, the one I am saying farewell to now with the three children I am privileged to raise. Time never went slowly with her; our day together was gone in the blink of an eye, but I cherished every moment of it, so maybe today I was given a reminder to be grateful for the long slow crawl through poopy diapers and messy art projects, as well as the one I am embarking on now of intellectual and moral questioning and challenges.

Coincidence, or fate, I am thankful that song came on, bringing me back to myself, to my life and my choices, my past and future. It reminded to not cling to what was, nor insist on what has not yet unfolded. It centered me in the Now, the day before me with my family, friends and work.

I hope yours is as good one as mine is surely turning out to be.