Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Living of Love: A 3-Part Reflection

“Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”
- St. John of the Cross

Faith Sharing

“Where have you seen God lately…or, where have you seen love?” Regina asked, opening up the first of our long-delayed Tuesday night faith-sharing gatherings at the White Rose.
“Bah,” I thought, “I don’t want to answer these questions!” All I could think of, actually, was how I have not been attentive to God, how I’ve felt almost resistant to prayer. What do I have to offer this time of spirit-filled sharing that is genuine? Nothing!
“But,” I reasoned with myself, “I am here. And what good is it to be here in body with mind and spirit withheld? I will be open.” The answer to the question came in flashes:

- White crystal flakes, vertically clinging to trunks of trees, to my green sleeves,
as I walked, watching, through the park.
- Wild-haired, wide-eyed, effusively-emotive, two-year-old, love-of-my-heart, Seneca…
- Washing dishes hearing Daniel Johnston quaveringly croon, “True love will find you
in the end…” from a mix Ted made.

In all these things I found love, or rather love found me and captured my attention, appreciation and awe.

Blessed Among Women

The day of the snowy walk was densely gray in a series of densely gray days. The heavy white flakes falling beckoned me to come out and appreciate what wonder those dark clouds contained. I had much on my mind when I set out, and an iPod for further distraction if that wasn’t enough. A seemingly incongruent memory slipped in, driving a winding road in Kentucky, flanked with fall trees trembling with embodied mystery of life and death. I was asking of God, “Are you? And if so, who are you?" In response I heard, “look and listen.” So I looked at the trees and the sky and they followed me all the way here to this cement path in a park, in Chicago, in the snow. I looked at how the delicate flakes brazenly bucked gravity, catching hold of limbs and leaves, barely protruding bark; me. How these single, exquisitely unique crystals clung too to one another, forming heaps and drifts, fine lines along fences. How laced together they’d survive far longer than those that drifted apart and disappeared.

It occurred to me that I always new the snow would stir my spirit, but as a child who grew up in Florida, never travelling except to take a family road trip to Illinois (almost always in the summer!), developing a relationship with snow was improbable at best. Yet, here I was getting just what I’d dreamed of, and I almost missed the wonder of that. Another Kentucky memory was called to mind, running through the woods, chasing after my dog, Sheila, suddenly having a sense of déjà vu. Not because this moment was crossing over one that had already happened, but because it was the living of a dream, as so many moments of wandering in the oh-so-accessible woods were in those days. It was something that when I dreamed it, I didn’t really believe it would happen. I didn’t intentionally try to make it happen even, yet here I was.

A desire to practice the art of loving, along with an unshakeable, restless, curiosity has propelled me. Wanting to know and serve Jesus led me to Kentucky. Wanting to know myself and serve others led me to Chicago. Little did I know the things I never dared ask for would be added unto me. All these things...even something as small as a good mix CD. I do so love a good mix, though it’s not something I would ever ask for or expect. Such a small, frivolous thing. Yet, hearing this one touched me at my core. “Even this? I even get this?” Truly a grace. Why am I so fortunate? Why do I ever doubt it? What am I paying attention to instead that I almost (often) miss these small good things?

Beloved, Let Us Love

I remember noticing at a very early stage; perhaps even within the first year of her living, all that it took to keep Seneca on the sunny side of her tempestuous disposition was to give her attention. She shines with it. But even her disappointment, her hurt, her anger, amaze me. There is no veil over her emotions, she feels them loud, forces them out – sometimes to a point of exhaustion, sometimes to fresh new beaming, but always with absolute authenticity. I cannot maintain a dark mood in her presence. The frivolity of things that distract me from basic interacting are quickly dissolved by her boisterous laugh, her spontaneous hugs, her frequent exclamations, “Oh, Mimi!” “I love you ‘Mimi’!”

My experience of Seneca was reflected in Regina’s story of B., this little girl who barely knows her, running into her arms and proclaiming, “I love you so much!” This was a revelation of God. As she told it my mind moved to the phrase, “unassuming love.” But no, I don’t think so; I suspect this love B expressed was given with the assumption it would be received, with the expectation even, that it would be reciprocated. I am not beyond believing this is true too of capital “L” Love, which we might also call, “God’s Love.” Unconditional, perhaps, but not unassuming. Where did I get the idea that I could interchange those words?

Is it defensiveness that leads some to think otherwise? To pretend that people are capable of offering love without at least desiring it be appreciated – it is less frightening to risk giving it if I can imagine not expecting a return or receiving it if I can imagine a return is not desired. Can it be, even, that belief in unremitting Divine Love is needed simple to survive human love’s inadequacy?

In any case, it seems evident that God wanted, demanded even, that love be recognized and responded to. God, like Seneca, wants attention, as all of us little images of God do. It does seem though, that God’s love is able – whether through grace, or mercy, or some other spiritual gift – to love beyond the seemingly inevitable let down. This Divine Love, too, is willing and able to proffer itself without first having been given evidence that it will be received, or that the recipient is deserving. It defies the assumption that trust must be preceded by trustworthiness. So, perhaps that chord of assumption and expectation is superseded by a resonant note of hope, faith. This is the miracle of B’s embrace. This is a challenge to us all.

Oh me of little faith! How often I fall short of that call. Among other things, it was noted in the reflections of others that I have a tendency to be cutting, condescending, pessimistic. I am putting more emphasis on these words than the speakers did because they affirmed my suspicion that as I experience a lack of abundance in my surroundings, I become stingy with my self. In other words, I adhere to a reciprocal model, relating reactively rather drawing from a deeper source that recognizes I am all but drowning in an ocean of abundance if I’d only pay attention.

The critique of the speakers, along with thoughts that began to rise to the surface as I cleared off space by sharing, affirmed my suspicion that I am continually, subconsciously, responding to a fear of becoming “too close.” These defensive reactions – irritability, avoidance, sarcasm, silence, critique, embarrassment, dismissal – develop because I sense my territory is being encroached upon. Can I trust the invaders? Almost in direct opposition to the Divine Love illuminated earlier, that trusts even without evidence, I continue to live out a love that often takes shelter in the shadow of suspicion, even without evidence. The Pygmalion effect comes into play: fearful that intimacy will reveal my inadequacy, I distance myself from those who’ve become “too close” by becoming unlovable, proving myself right; I’m not fit for this.

Here is the crazy catch, in the midst of all my masochistic machinations, I continue to be loved. Beloved. This is the miracle of Love’s embrace. This is a challenge to me. I want to be worthy of this name, Amy, Beloved, that I have been given. Worthy of all those who speak it, and of those who crave to be called by it too. I don’t know if I ever will be. I do know I can practice giving attention; offering and receiving appreciation and affection; allowing others to be who and what they are; hoping always; believing that Love Itself is worth the risk, whatever the results.

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