This is what you get when you ask 4-8 years old what the definition of love is. Some answers are funny, some are profound, but all of them will make you smile.
The dance of this blessing by John O’Donohue captured me. I have read it over and over again like a person dying of thirst in a hot desert. It is simple yet deep. True yet elusive. Hopeful yet hard.
Conflict visits all of us like that annoying relative that shows up unannounced at the worst possible time. When we experience conflict, tension or misunderstandings with someone we love or simply know, the weight of the tension rests on our chest like wet blanket smothering the fire within. If the devastated relational-road seems impassable, it sucks a large percentage of our brain space, depleting our emotions and disrupting every life rhythm we have.
When no one is willing to move towards love what do you do?
When both sides cling to their truth what beauty can come of it?
When positions are entrenched like rebar in concrete what devastation will inevitably come?
This blessing offers a hard yet possible path back to love.
For Love In A Time Of Conflict
When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless was
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Toward the gateway to spring.
This morning my prayerful reflection was written by Karl Rahner SJ. It is a beautiful invitation into love, which is the presence and form of God.
God of My Life
Only in love can I find you,my God.
In love the gates of my soul spring open,
…..allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom.
…..and forget my own petty self.
In love my whole being streams forth
…..out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion,
…..which makes me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness.
In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward you,
wanting never more to return,
but to lose themselves completely in you,
since by your love you are the inmost center of my heart,
closer to me than I am to myself.
But when I love you,
when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self
and leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions,
when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar
and from the outside upon your unapproachable brightness,
and much more when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One,
have become through love the inmost center of my life,
then I can bury myself entirely in you, O mysterious God,
and with myself all my questions.
I beseech Thee, O Lord, that the fiery and sweet strength of Thy love may absorb my soul from all things that are under heaven, that I may die for love of Thy love as Thou didst deign to die for love of my love.
– St. Francis of Assisi
We all know the word, but few understand it. Even fewer grasp the love that birthed a Divine longing which consumed Francis. The love for God that baptized Francis became a natural outflow of kindness and compassion to others.
No one was exempt from his wellspring of kindness and love. Eventually, Francis kissed lepers and wrapped his arms around them without hesitation. He saw what God sees in us; beauty, worth, humanity, person-hood. Just like Jesus, Francis was pulled magnetically towards those whom society labeled as “less than” “unlovable” “broken” and “untouchable.”
Francis inhabited a time when a leper occupied the absolute bottom rung of society being forced to live far removed from the hum and connection of community. There would be no embrace, touch, or caress. People didn’t
Everything people leave after them in this world is lost, but for their charity and alms-giving they will receive a reward from God. – St. Francis of Assisi
It’s hard to love when my identity is tethered to the wrong things. If my identity is tethered more to my patriotism than it is to Christ, I will tend to withhold love from those who threaten my country. I might even feel justified to create painful outcomes from those who would oppose.
If my identity is tethered more to my achievements than to Christ, I will fail to love those who would stand in the way of my advancement.
If my identity is tethered more to my theological or doctrinal beliefs than to Christ, I will become a pharisee refusing to show compassion and grace to those who do not think, believe and behave just like me.
If my identity is tethered more to the things I am passionate about, I will not find the path of love for those whose passions lie in other things.
Francis simply loved the person who was in front of him at the moment. He didn’t need to force himself to be kind and love, his immersion into Jesus gave him a capacity to do more than choose to love…he became love.
When we become love, we lose our judgments allowing God’s compassion to finally flow through us as a natural overflow or like a river at flood stage. You just can’t stop it. ~mcw
Today, you can easily see those who have tethered their identity to something other than the Divine love and compassion of Jesus when they hold signs that say, “God hates fags” or “voting for _____ is against God’s will” or even “Send them back, Don’t let them in our country!”
Imagine how freeing you would feel if you could lose all of your judgments and throw away all of your labels. What might it be like if we could be present with someone who doesn’t fit our ideal or is the antithesis of it, yet, instead of our mind quietly placing them in their own category, or deciding how we fix her or get him to be like us, wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone could just lather the moment in compassion and grace.
So good right?
So what’s the problem then? The problem is we don’t know what love is because we have determined it is either the tingly feeling we get or a definition of some sort of selflessness or otherness. We think that we are loving when “I DO” this or that for someone. We think we can buy love the way we buy loyalty but none of this is love.
Love is free. Love is a force. Love cannot be contained. Love can’t be controlled. What you can do with Love is surrender to it. ~mcw
In his book Surrender to Love, David Benner writes:
“Love reconnects us to life. The truth of Christ’s life is that life is love and love is life. There is no genuine life without love. Self-interest suffocates life. Life implodes when self-interest is at the core. This is why the kingdom of self is based on death. Ultimately, taking care of Number One takes care of no one. For the only way to truly care for myself is to give myself in love of others. There I will find my truest and deepest fulfillment.”
Fascinating to me is that before Francis’ conversion to Love, he had a label and a box to put lepers in. He was disgusted by the smell, sights and sounds. He was appalled by the oozing sores, stumpy hands and odoriferous facial rags. His preference was to be no closer than 2 miles from any leper commune, much like everyone else.
But something happened, or better yet, someone happened. As Francis continued to surrender his whole self to Jesus he began experiencing a soulular transformation.
One day, as Francis was on the road near Assisi, he came upon a leper. At first he felt his body pull back in it’s normative way when confronted by the unwanted, but he also felt something was different in him and he chose love. As the two men came close, Francis got down off of his donkey, walked to the man and kissed him.
Francis listened to the Divine love inside and made a faith choice to love by showing compassion and humanness in a very earthy moment. He surrendered to love and he then began the journey of becoming love.
Frederick Buechner writes:
“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
YES! I love that. That speaks of that heart that has become love.
How do we get there you ask? Like Francis, first we surrender daily to the love of Christ, asking God to give us a hunger and a longing for Him. Then we choose to love whoever whenever with whatever means available to us. The first time you choose to love someone that you had previously deemed not worthy, you will cross the same threshold that Francis did with the leper. As you continue, soon it will no longer be a hard choice, it will simply be who you are…
You will become an outflow, a torrent, a tsunami of God’s love that cannot be contained.