THE PARADOX of LOVE

For the first couple of weeks after our first child was born, Alan and I found ourselves hesitating whenever we had to make decisions about her care.  Do we take her temperature now?  How do we even do that?? Does she need to be bundled up – or bundled down?  Is she sleeping enough? (the answer to that was always “no.”)  Getting enough to eat?  Are we doing it right?  Finally one day Alan admitted:  “You know, I keep looking out of the corner of my eye for the real adults to step up and help us out and then I remember that we are the real adults and, well, I’m not sure we’re really up to this. Maybe your mom could come back for awhile?”

It is the paradox of love that it is at once the most natural and the most challenging act of our lives.  Parenting, partnering, committing to a community or a cause greater than ourselves – all are, at root, acts of courage, for every time we do so, we risk having our hearts broken. It seems that everywhere I look right now, families and friends are in crisis. Children are hurting and marriages are fraying.  People I know and love are suffering from illness and addiction.  And everywhere, people are just doing the best they can, holding the worry and working the problem, trying to find a way to maintain their equilibrium in the midst of chaos.

What sustains them is love.  Beneath and beyond the mess and the anxiety is the steady heartbeat of a love that will not go away.  It is a love for child or friend or spouse or neighbor or planet that keeps them coming back, even when it would be easier to back away.

How do we know how to do that?  Where do we get the reserves when we would most certainly run out if left on our own?  I believe we know how to love because we ourselves draw deeply from the one true Love that is God.  The poet Rumi speaks of God in one poem as “Eternal Love.”  What a wonderful name for God!  What a beautiful reminder that the very Source of our life is a Love that never runs out, that never lets us go or lets us down, that gives us the courage to risk and share with others because we know we have enough.

 

leaf heart

 

C.S. Lewis wrote:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

We are vulnerable in this life.  We are vulnerable when we give our hearts away.  But we know we must do that because it is the way of Life:  loving God and others and even ourselves with all our hearts, and minds, and souls.  We can do that because Eternal Love surrounds us and sustains us when we need it most.

Love freely.  Love completely.

Love because you are loved, eternally.

Thanks be to God.

 Kim

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fall back

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cross heart logo

SO IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT ME

My favorite comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live is about 30 years old.  It was a running gag written and performed by (not-yet-Senator) Al Franken, in which he proclaimed the coming decade (the 80’s) as “The Decade of Me, Al Franken.”  It was bitingly funny, as he created a character so narcissistic and un-self-aware that he actually thought he deserved a decade in which all eyes were on him.  He periodically gave service announcements on the show, offering “tips on what you can do for me, Al Franken” and just generally making a fool of himself.  It was funny because, especially in the 80’s, we were experiencing a societal shift away from thinking about “us” or “you” in our policy making, and toward a decade of planning mostly for “me.” It was a reaction, perhaps, to the 1960’s and 70’s, in which issues of poverty and civil rights dominated the national dialogue, and some people felt the individual was being ignored.  So we shifted to a decade of “me’s” and Al Franken, goofily enough, led the way.

al franken

 

 

As Christians, we have always been suspicious of the lure toward “me and mine.”  When we read Cain’s question:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, we know we are being asked a question so obvious to God as to be rhetorical.  Yes.  Of course.  And yes, we are also to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And yes, to take seriously that “whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.”  Even these words are part of the Christian calling:  “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”  We believe with all our hearts that Jesus calls us to focus on others, and to stop spending so much time navel  gazing.

When it comes to sin – our failings, our mistakes, our regrets – we are asked to look first at ourselves.  As tempting as it is to spend our time critiquing others, we are asked to use all that we know about the Gospel to shape our own lives, not to judge the lives of others. I think this is where the Christian church has run off the rails in the past.  We spent so much time making rules and laws about the behavior of others, we forgot to look at ourselves.

reflection

 

As Robin Fish says:

“The [Gospel] is a mirror designed to show you your own spiritual condition.  It is not meant for you to check others out, but to check yourself.”

The Gospel is a mirror, in which we see ourselves as the deeply flawed and deeply loved individuals that we are.  The Gospel is a window, in which we see the many needs waiting to be met.  And perhaps it is also a doorway, opening us up to the greater world outside.  Jesus shows us that there are indeed times for all of these.

But perhaps the hardest of these three is looking in the mirror.  Because maybe when it comes to judging what is right and what is wrong in the world, it really does start with me.

Kim

judging

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leaves with heart

WE ARE NOT ALONE

“Our Western culture leans toward self-sufficiency and independence, and we often need to be reminded that we are part of a greater whole, that we are not alone in our longings and efforts for peace, justice, and healing. This is one of the great gifts of what we usually mean by “church”—a gathering of people in solidarity of purpose, praying and seeking God’s presence together.”

(Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations)

community heart

when the individualistic values of our culture imply that that is all there is.

Communities of faith embody this desire and root it in our experiences of a Greater Love.  For Christians, this Love is expressed in the teachings of Jesus.  For other traditions, Love is found in teachings and stories and experiences that point their followers toward a common good and a broader purpose.  For all of us, it requires the discipline of living on two planes: that of the inner experience of a Higher Consciousness and the outer experience of living in covenant with others in such a way that the world is made better.

I use the word discipline because it takes practice to live on those two levels, and “church” is where we can practice together.  It is always tempting to separate the two, because it is simpler to focus on one or the other.  But the joining of the inner and the outer worlds of Spirit creates a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.  Each world feeds the other, even as they keep each other in balance.

We are in a time of great transition.  Human beings are rejecting old ways of looking at the world, and traditional models of community are being re-examined and re-imagined.  I believe that this is good.  I believe that this is of God, and that we do not need to fear the changes we see around us.  I also believe that though models of spiritual life and community may look different as we move into the future, the essential nature of “church” will remain the same:  we are called, now and always, to join our “longings and efforts for peace, justice, and healing… to be a gathering of people in solidarity of purpose, praying and seeking God’s presence together.”

And so I end, as I began, with words from Richard Rohr.

community tree of hands

 

“Find some way in which you can join in the life that is greater than your own. Participate in a vigil, sharing the grief and hope of your neighborhood or world. March with others to bring visibility and voice to an important issue. Make a pilgrimage to a sacred or violated site to connect your small place in time with a history and a broader meaning.”

May these words be a call and a direction for us, as we seek to integrate our inner and outer worlds, and join with the faithful everywhere in creating God’s Beloved Community, one small community at a time.

Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I read these words recently, I knew I had to share them with you.  In all my readings about “church,” this is perhaps my favorite description of what it means to participate in an

intentional community of faith.  As I speak with Christians and Jews and Buddhists and Muslims, I hear at root the same basic yearning I hear from Seekers of all kinds: the yearning to join with others in working for a better world. It is a deep desire to be a part of something bigger than our own separate lives, even

 

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fall trees, path

 

Love all God’s creation,

the whole and every grain of sand of it.

Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light.

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.

Once you perceive it,

you will begin to comprehend it better every day.

And you will come at last to love the whole world

with an all-embracing love. 

 

~Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov)

 boy in tree

We have a big, old, unwieldy magnolia tree in our backyard.  It shades our deck and messes up our yard.  It has two big branches growing out nearly horizontally, the result of very poor pruning on our part, I’m afraid.  But whenever we decide to have those branches taken off,  our daughters put up such a protest we always back down.  You see, those two branches are apparently just the right distance from the ground to provide the perfect stepping stool for little girls to begin their upward climb.  Both our daughters, now in their twenties, spent hours in the branches of that tree.  They read, they sang, they spied on our neighbors, and one even worked out a system so that someone (usually me) could send up drinks and snacks and books, as (It involved a plastic bucket and a rope, and served her quite well).  I put my foot down when she wanted a sleeping bag –spending the night in the tree seemed too much of a good thing.  They loved that tree, the leaves and the bark and the blossoms, because held within it’s branches, they were intimately a part of God’s world.

Have you ever watched a child watch the world?  Every bug is a marvel; every twig  a sculpture.  And the leaves!  Oh, the leaves are objects of amazement – they can be green and too high to reach one day, and before you know it, they are falling all around you, orange and yellow and brown.   Adults move through the same world as children do, but we are so busy and important and productive that we often don’t really look at what is around us.  We rake the leaves and break the webs and shoo the bugs out of the house, and move so quickly we forget, sometimes, to see.  So it’s good to remember being little, lying on our backs and watching the clouds, or to recall a time when we took the time to watch a spider spin a web.  For those were the moments we first felt God’s grandeur and began to fall in love with God’s world.

 bou walking with big stick

If you can, try to remember yourself as a child in love with the trees and the bugs and the clouds.  Sit with that memory, and let it wash over you.  If you are having a hard time recalling those times, simply watch a child watching the world, and let his wonder carry you away.  Better still, find a stick or a rock or a leaf for yourself, and let it connect you, again, to the “all-embracing love” that you first felt as a child:  God’s love, linking you with all of creation.

Happy Autumn!

Kim

flowers, birds, butterflies

 

If you want to know, then go and ask the wild animals and the birds, 

the flowers and the fish.  Any of them can tell you what the Lord has done.

 

~ Job 12:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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fall flowers

THE PRAYER

In my first call, so many years ago, I was privileged to be with a member of my congregation as she was dying. She was in the hospital, and was beginning her transition from this life to the next. Her eyes were mostly closed and she had not spoken for quite a while. I prayed quietly with her and after a few moments, I started to say the Lord’s Prayer. I noticed a slight movement in her hands, and I glanced at her face. She was silently mouthing the words along with me, all the way to the end. “Forever and ever. Amen.”

What a gift that prayer was to both of us. At our completely different stages, and in our totally different circumstances, it united us, both God’s beloved children, one in the Spirit.  I can’t remember learning the words of the prayer– it seems as if I’ve always known them. Perhaps I learned them in Sunday School, or maybe my parents taught me, but most likely it was the constant repetition of saying them with others that placed the words in my heart, and sealed them there forever.

It is the one prayer every Christian knows, even though our wording may vary a bit. It is a bridge between communities and a constant in a changing spiritual landscape. Yet, we say it so often, we may be unaware of its affect on us. These words shape us over the course of our life, like drops of water subtly but surely shape the stones on which they fall. “Give us this day… forgive us as we forgive…for thine is the kingdom and the power…”

In my role as Chaplain, I am privileged to pray this prayer many times a week with different people: in worship, during prayer group, with individuals whom I visit. I am always moved by the experience: no matter how frail or forgetful, how distracted or isolated, these words are always there, somewhere deep inside. The very fact of having said them so often for so long makes them available to us, even when we have long forgotten other things.

So today, I offer these words to you again. Wherever you are when you read this, I invite you to take a moment to pray the Lord’s Prayer, savoring the words and phrases, and knowing that others in this community and around the world are somewhere praying them with you.

Forever and ever.

Amen

Kim

 

lords prayer