“What is love?” the Unitarian Universalist Salon asks in the May big question blog. I want to answer, “it’s what we’re supposed to do,” but you know that’s not sufficient. And although we might know the encouragements to love God, to love our neighbor, to love our selves, and to love our enemies, just what’s required of each of us can be very different given who we are and how we’re called to be in the world.
That’s why I’m grateful for the Civitas Press project, The Practices of Love, which collects stories illustrating the struggle to love in different individuals’ lives. I’m a contributor, but not to the section I want to write about today. Today, I want to write about loving God, because I was saddened and moved and grateful for the stories in this section.
Just because we don’t know God is with us, doesn’t mean God isn’t there. Anna Snoeyenbos writes of the emptiness she felt in her Unitarian Universalism without a sense of God being present. She met God in a few places, but she didn’t know if she could love God within the context of Unitarian Universalism (UU). Then she does, praying with her UU minister at a Chinese buffet, and God is there. Anna writes, “God had been with me all along, and I can open my heart to Him whenever I need him; if God was there at the Chinese buffet, He can’t be that hard to find.” God’s abundance is ready to meet us when we’re ready to meet God, but we have to take the risk to try that meeting.
Jason Coker approaches loving God from the sense so many of us have: of not having much to offer God. In conversation with his children and sharing the tale of the cobbler’s gift, we love God most when we gift who and what we are right now, even if we don’t think that’s much. That’s risky faithing – for none of us want to be found wonting – and yet, what is love except when we risk our whole selves in care and devotion?
Lori Wilson wonders how to live with reverence in every minute, which includes the calling to approach every person as bearing God’s image. Lori admits, “My children, my husband, my neighbors and friends…most of the time, the invitation to look for the image of God in them is an inspiring and rewarding one. I want to see God reflected in the ones I love.” But then you know there are times when that’s more of a struggle. Practicing love asks us to enter our discomfort, our fears, in order to reverence the image of God imprinted on people who scare or anger or aggrieve us.
Alise Wright struggles with her anger at her husband leaving church – at him, at the church, at God. Anger can be overwhelming and Alise writes, “I forgot about love. And I nearly forgot about the One who Is Love”. There’s a time of being adrift in that anger. I laughed with recognition at Alise’s comment, “The thing I’ve noticed about God is that He’s not pushy. He gives me space to find Him.” Love does that by choice. By choice, we can keep seeking and in that seeking be surprised by meeting.
Phil Shepherd writes about learning to love God through terrible chronic pain and in the wake of losing his father and father-in-law. The exhaustion and grief which grinds away at his faith is certainly recognizable to me – and I think will be to others who’ve lived with chronic pain or mourned deeply people they’ve loved. But then he reaches an epiphany, in trying to make sense of this pain and sorrow. He writes, “My anger, my mourning, my silence, my fear, my workaholism and my physical pain had affected every fiber of my being…Being able to recognize true restoration began…in the shelter of the reassurance of my God, even under the pouring rain. I was not alone.” In his awareness that God was with him through his pain, he found permission to learn to love himself again, creation, and the Creator.
Raelene Roth and Marian Struble both struggle with turning to love God while dealing with injustice in their lives – Roth as she’s imprisoned and yearning for freedom and Struble as her husband is accused and convicted unjustly. Both teach through their stories that things might not work out as we wish, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us – or that we can’t find relief and freedom in resting in God’s love during those times of trouble.
Kathy Escobar writes about loving God by making the invisible visible – especially the people who are forgotten by the rest of society or rendered invisible through the social stigma they carry. She writes, “Part of loving God is seeing with our hearts into the real and sacred stories of each other’s lives and actively participating in making the invisible visible by calling out the dignity, beauty, and worth of every human being…”
What is love? Seeking and meeting through fear and anger, trouble, sadness, and despair. Loving ourselves. Loving our neighbors. Making the invisible visible. Approaching all of life with reverence. And that’s just the first section.