One

We are already one. We just think we are separate.
-Thomas Merton

 

The events of this week, as seen in the media, have left me feeling disappointed and deeply saddened.

And yet I find myself compelled to keep reading, to try to understand thoughts which don’t come naturally to me, beliefs so very different from my own. Because there will never be understanding when we confront hate with hate instead of compassion.

As long as we continue to see some people as Other, there will never be unity and there will never be peace.

The truth is that there is no “us” or “them” but only we.

We were created a little less than divine. We were made out of love and blessed with infinite, relentless grace. And we are commanded to extend that same love and grace to one another.

So let us start now.

An Introvert in Church

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This is the last thing I see of the outside world on the mornings I attend mass. Its size and detail are so overwhelming as to fill my entire gaze. And when I leave all I see is the city stretched out before me. An expansive view, high on the hill -it feels a bit like hovering over the streets.

To be honest, I am surprised at how much I am enjoying this morning ritual. But maybe what surprises me more is how each time I go, I expect to receive some kind of affirmation. To hear my thoughts or beliefs echoed back to me in the homily. Every. Time. And still, it has yet to happen.

 

Like today.

It was a clumsy homily based on today’s reading of Matthew 11:16-19. There were a few starts and stops, a bit of tripping over words, and it all ended rather abruptly with the suggestion that we question the path we’re on.

Most mornings I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing there. Yes, I enjoy it and something in me resonates in response to the mass. Is this the ‘right’ path? I’m still not sure. But I trust I’ve been brought here for a reason, whatever it might be.  

 

With this in mind, I came home and read 1 John even though I had read just a few days ago. It’s a letter I come back to often but somehow, until today, I had missed this: “…what we will be has not yet been revealed.” (3:2)

We are children of God and this is all we really know with any kind of certainty. And our commandment relates directly to this, the one thing He really asks of us: that we love one another, the brothers and sisters we have seen, because the One we have not seen loved us first.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I find myself during so many mornings these days, kneeling low in the company of strangers. Maybe that’s why I return even after a particularly disappointing homily, even though I know there will be that one woman who insists on shouting the hymns from the back, even if the person beside me speaks during otherwise silent prayers.

Incarnational love, it didn’t just happen once and doesn’t end at the boundaries of ourselves or circles.

Someone, I forget who, said it’s hard to be a Christian alone and I can see now how that’s true. Alone, spiritual practices can become self-indulgent; maybe not always, but sometimes. It’s easy to feel loving and peaceful when you’re praying in a quiet, empty house. It’s easier still to love those already close to you. But what that is new can be born in this closed-off loop of love?

If the lips we use to bless God must also bless each other, than this might be the most challenging spiritual practice of all for an introvert like myself. Faith will ultimately push you to the boundaries of your being and you’ll stretch and be uncomfortable. But the pain is for the growth of something good.

 

Lately I find myself smiling when I hear that off-key singing from the back. And the voice near me, whispering His name, I find myself praying for whoever it is speaking those words.

It’s not easy and some mornings I do better than others. Some mornings I just clench my jaw and wait.

But community is never exactly what you want it to be, and neither is love. Yet somehow it’s always what you need.

So I keep going back.

 

There is No Boundary

Yesterday, I tried to put into words what I have been feeling. I thought of it, was utterly distracted by it, and still just couldn’t get it together. Still, there is something happening.

It came together a bit more today as I sat in the empty house, books piled in front of me, pen waiting. There was a sharp flash as I read over the words about grace and faith and the lie we tell ourselves, that we are unloveable. I know this lie well and for so long I have watched it spread, like cracks up a wall, into all areas of my life -into my very being.

Only now can I see that something is very wrong with my foundation, the whole house threatening to shake and collapse.

Today, as I tried to imagine what this love looks like, I realized there’s no need to imagine. That eternal love shows up in gritty everyday living. Our relationships with others may very well be the most accurate reflection of God’s love and grace. But when you feel undeserving of God’s love, you feel undeserving of all love. Even when it is freely given, day after day.

It’s misguided to think that the love of God and the love we experience here, person to person, are somehow different from each other. There is no boundary, all love is sacred.

But fear, that soul threat, too often makes me think there is nothing but boundaries. It tells me this unloveable self will be all that I am left with in the end.

So there it is, the fear that love will someday end.

It’s why when I look at my husband, who seems to live with his heart wide open to me, I turn away.
God lives like that, is that, all the time. Wide open. I close myself off and act as though it were all somehow separate.

And I see now that when I turn away from this earthy, human love I am really turning away from the eternal love of God. We are called to love each other but the lie that love is somehow conditional and will be snatched away from us -us, so undeserving anyway- renders us deaf.

These thoughts, they’re all a part of that larger something that is happening. What matters now is how I respond as I wait. With grace and love, I hope.

The Greatest Risk

“The measure of our identity, of our being, is the amount of our love for God.” -Thomas Merton

 

So we find ourselves when we love God fully. We find our selves, our true selves, in loving him.

This is where we should root ourselves, firmly in our love for God, in the place of joy and real living. And this love must be shared. It cannot be stored away or hoarded; this will only leave us smug and righteous and living falsely. Our lives are a joyful sacrifice given out of our love for God.

 

But love requires vulnerability.

Here, I falter. I stumble hard. Because vulnerability so often brings pain. You could lose it all. But what I’m really saying when I live like this is that I don’t trust God. And then, my vulnerability becomes something shameful.

If you’re living, really living, it all points to the cross. To the one who gave it all away out of love.

Where is this passion for God’s will in my own life? Some days, I just don’t know. Grace is all I have then.

 

As an essential part of our humanity, let’s reframe vulnerability. Let it be something to be cherished because when we are vulnerable we are acknowledging our limitations and God’s sovereignty. It is the fullest expression of our trust and in those moments we are most fully alive. And then we are free to be our truest selves.