In the Beginning
In the beginning, there was Love, and Love longed for a beloved, and out of that longing, the world was formed, the creatures created, and we humans born. Love is our birthright. Every child comes into this world with a seed of love lodged in its chest. Sometimes the seed flourishes, blossoming into a wild and fragrant flower. At other times, the seed is crushed or parched, so that instead of love, bitterness grows. Yet we are made for love, and we all have the ability to find our way back to our birthright.
The Christian story tells of a God who loves his creation, loves his children so intensely and intimately that he allows his son to sacrifice himself to save the world. I’m not sure what we have been saved from. Death? Eternity? The evil in our hearts?
Maybe Jesus’s death gave us the blessing of a life ever after, but it didn’t cleanse our hearts. Evil flourishes on Earth.
The Kernel of Love
Perhaps that’s because, though God loves us, we don’t do a good job of loving one another. Every infant deserves to be cherished, to be treated with kindness and mercy, but we can’t seem to get it right.
Child after child comes into this world weeping, born to a family that prefers sternness to kindness, that trusts shame more than forgiveness. When we feel unworthy, we pass unworthiness onto our offspring. Too often, we mistake viciousness for strength and tenderness for weakness. We might come into this world carrying the imprint of God’s blessing, the seed placed within our hearts, but as the days pass, and our lives fill with one disappointment after another, we forget. We learn that love is quid pro quo, guilt, manipulation, fear of loss, the need to control. When we hear “this hurts me more than it hurts you,” we come to equate love with harm. Sometimes the hurts pile on so thickly that we learn to despise love, to laugh at those who claim to feel it. The kernel of love we brought with us from the world beyond shrivels up, hidden from our view.
The only thing we can do to change this, the only kind of nourishment that will bring that seed back to life, is love. Punishment won’t do it. That only breeds more resentment. But what if we don’t know how to love?
We Love Because We Are Loved
Then we must seek out love. We must accept that we are loved. A few months ago, one of our recovery church members reminded that in the Bible, the apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Until we can take in the love that is there for us, we cannot love anyone else.
Even if the bulk of our lives has been a struggle, most of us experienced love somewhere. Our parents loved us, or our grandparents did, or our friends, or a teacher, or our cat, or our god. We come into the world knowing how to love, but all that knowing fades away with time, leaving us with the stories we are told, the messages we are given, the lessons we are taught, and these are not always compassionate or kind.
If, as children, we heard tales of shame and cruelty, we need to seek out new ones. Time and again, poets and sages tell us that we are the beloved, the one God desires and longs for. Listen to them. Believe that we are welcomed to the table, celebrated, cherished, known, and accepted exactly as we are, for this is what is true.
God’s Total Acceptance
To many, this might seem crazy. After all, throughout the world and throughout time, we humans have told stories and myths of gods who rage against injustice, who punish the wicked.
Forget how hard it is to know for sure what is good and what is bad. We’re talking about love here, and I believe with all my heart and with most of my rational mind, that God loves us no matter what. It’s not that God doesn’t notice the stains on our soul. God sees every bit of us, the seed of love and the dirt that hide it. And God doesn’t mind. God’s forgiveness is total, Her acceptance complete.
Yet how can that be when we do so many horrible things?
The other night, I woke with the wisp of a dream in my mind. I saw fighting. An angry mob of vigilantes was using the power of their weapons to destroy those who disagreed with them. It was a horrible scene, and God was there watching, but doing nothing to stop them.
What was especially uncomfortable, though, was that God didn’t just do nothing. God laughed, joyously. Her love fell not just on the wounded and dying, but on those who were killing them. As these men murdered, God clapped Her hands, delighted.
It was a disturbing image. What could it mean? Did God love a good battle? Did She enjoy carnage? Isn’t God supposed to be love?
Everything is Love
But that’s what the dream was about, God’s love. It’s not that God took pleasure in aggression and pain. God didn’t see the destruction. Maybe that’s because, for God, death is meaningless. Our bodies are an illusion. We think we’re separate from God, but God knows better. No matter what, we’re part of God, so death and destruction don’t bother Her the way they bother us.
The thought came to me that what God saw during that battle was the passion of the moment. God saw an intensity of emotion. The particular emotion didn’t matter, because in God’s world, all emotions arise out of love. At its core, for instance, a swelling of hatred is about what we love. Maybe our love is possessive; maybe we can’t bear to lose the object of our loving. That’s why we fight, because we want to keep something we care about, want to keep our beloved from leaving us. We want to protect our families, our friends, our country, our ideals.
In our country, there’s a great divide over ideas and desires. Both sides long desperately for a world that doesn’t exist, a world they think they can bring into existence. They think that if they shout enough slogans or burn enough buildings or topple enough statues or kill enough enemies they can make their vision real. This desire is a perverted kind of love, but it’s intense, and the god in my dream delighted in that intensity.
Even if our intense passion means we act out in crazy ways, even if it leads to a wailing and a gnashing of teeth, God wants us to live our passion fully. God wants us to experience everything there is to experience. When we do, God is well pleased, no matter what the measure of that experience might be.
Just Another Experience
But as I woke from my dream, it occurred to me that this god was a young god. He had not yet felt what it was to be human. He reminded me of a young child who laughs when someone falls down a flight of stairs, because he doesn’t understand that bones can break and blood seep from our wounds. Only a god who has lived in the flesh knows how to mourn. Only a god who has felt the passion of a lover for her beloved can understand the grief of human loss.
Even so, this dream showed me that God’s love for us is more perfect and complete than we can imagine. This deity sees only the seed in our heart, only the love that feeds every other emotion, because, in the end, nothing exists except love. So God loves the saint and the sinner.
If we could take in the incredible love God feels for us, if we could allow that love to course through us, all our hurts would be healed. Not that they’d be gone. We wouldn’t cease to suffer or have doubts. Yet we would experience our pain differently. It wouldn’t bother us as much. Sorrow or celebration, it wouldn’t matter. Emotions, experiences, they would all become just another part of this dance of life.
In the Beginning, Again
In the beginning, there was Love, and this Love was God, and God was everything, just as everything was Love. Because there has never been and never will be any separation between Love and God, there never has been and never will be any separation between the deity and the creation. It is all one essence. In all the universes, among all the ten thousand things, there is nothing but this one essence. We who call ourselves human, are a manifestation of God’s existence and God’s love. We are love, and we are God, and there is nothing else.
Thus, when we fight, we fight ourselves. When we make love, we make love with ourselves. We do nothing except we do it to ourselves. We are the good and the evil, the hatred and the delight, the weariness and the laughter, the tormented and the tormentor.
If this is so, and if God loves us no matter what terrible things, or wonderful things, or just plain things, we do, then why do we have such a hard time loving one another?
John writes, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). That’s why we have such a hard time loving, because we forget what it’s like to be loved.
But what is love?
What Is Love?
Rather than being something we feel, love is something we do. We show love when we care for the weak and sick and naked, when we are generous in spirit and give alms. True love can set the beloved free and welcome the deserter home again. When we help our neighbor and visit the prisoner, laugh with our children and forgive our enemy, we show love. Love is a passion for justice, and as a passionate thing, it can carry us away with it, until we do things we wish we hadn’t.
But until we have felt loved, until we accept that we are sacred and worthy of blessing, we will not know how to love others. We might act as if we love. Maybe we’ll give away our possessions or pile food on our children’s plates, but we will demand something in return. We’ll count our offerings or expect our investment to yield fruit. If our children don’t eat everything we give them, we’ll get offended.
When we don’t know how to love, we confuse possession with affection, so we try to bend others to our will. We don’t see people as they really are, because no one ever saw us. Love means caring enough to look at our beloved, to understand who she is, and to honor her, not our image of her.
Before we can love in this way, we have to be loved.
Learning to Feel Loved
Yet just because we haven’t experienced such love doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. If no one else is loving us, we can learn to love ourselves. After all, we are Love. Another recovery church member said, “Just because we’re unhappy, we suffer, we take drugs, we commit suicide, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean we aren’t essentially love.” We have to open our eyes and realize it.
No matter what we do, we’re still love. We might hurt ourselves, hurt others, flee, fight, freeze. We might do all kinds of things that don’t look like love. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean we’ll do them forever. If we can stop, if we can notice them without judging them, then the passion, the longing, the hatred, the fear, will pass away. To learn to love, we start from where we are, we do our best, we stop blaming others. We pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, then let them go. They’re just thoughts, just feelings. Watch them, listen, breathe, be.
Bringing Love Into the World
We are love. In the beginning, the middle, and the end, there is love. Nothing else. Like a statue that has been created by chipping away at everything that is not the essence of the form that the stone must become, so we can chip away at all that is not our essence. In time, we will become that which we were born to be. We will become love.
The other day, I was listening to a patient bemoan the greed and hatred and divisiveness of our country, when he asked me, “Can you bring peace to the world?”
He was joking, of course. He knew I had no power to do that. At least, I would never be able to snap my fingers and stop all war, for instance.
Yet we all have the power to bring peace to the world, bit by bit. It’s the one-person-at-a-time idea. First, we become peace. We reflect it, we live it, we breathe it. Then, we reach out to others from that place of peace. We listen, we cherish, we honor, we love. That is how we bring peace to the world.
This is also how we bring love into this frightened and frightening world. In the beginning, there was Love, and there is still love. No matter whether we know it or not, we are love. Our task is to find that love, to know that love, and spread that love to others.
In faith and fondness,
Copyright © 2020 Barbara E. Stevens All Rights Reserved