Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What Love Does {More Reflections on the Most Excellent Way}

With foot on the garden fork, its prongs sunk into the roots of another vigorous weed, I lend my weight to the downward push and upward lift. Though it feels too late, I am finally making space for things to be planted and grow up in this thirsty ground. Roots separate from earth, extra soil and needed worms are shaken off, and the dandelion joins a growing pile beside me. Also beside me, a little girl makes circling turns of the vegetable plot, asking her questions and sharing her worries as she walks. 

I am so grateful Love came to me and called me today. I am so grateful that the To-Do list was left behind and that I remembered what love is and does. 

Love makes space for the other.

Here the space is created by no errands to run, no people to see. And here space is created by a task that allows togetherness without intensity: our eyes don’t often meet but our hearts and minds can, and there is the rhythm of the push and lift, and of the circling turns, to keep us both occupied and yet available.

And so, as I dig and she paces, I ask her questions; and there is no way she could know from my casual tone and downturned eyes how deeply I long to hear her answers, how infinitely precious this conversation is to me. I cherish the way a soul hides its secrets, and then how it unfurls these secrets, like a fern in the spring, when it senses that safety and acceptance are coming out to meet them. The unfurling happens slowly at first, then with growing boldness and freedom, as each new leaf or tendril meets the sun and moisture it craves. 

I hear this growing boldness and freedom in her voice – in the confusion she expresses, the emotion she begins to convey and the rising desire to hear my response.

And as we talk and the relief starts to flood her veins – simply that she is heard and understood and loved – she tells me why she had been so silent walking home after school. She was thinking, muddled, worried, and deciding she would talk to God about all this swirl later, when she went to bed. But, she tells me, it’s like God has already heard her and already answered and helped her through this conversation. Even before she really prayed. She was amazed and grateful to realise this. And I was grateful too: that Love came out to meet us both today, and that Love created a space for us to meet each other.

And isn’t this what love does? Isn’t it always running to meet us? Always longing to be gracious to us and rising to show us compassion?*

Isn’t love what makes space for us? And also what fills the spaces between everything and inside everything, by always going out of itself, out towards the other and down into the low and thirsty places? 

Doesn’t it always answer before we call and hear while we still speak?*

We go inside together, and while I’m washing the dirt from under my nails I tell her that if she ever wants to talk about these things again she only needs to ask. She’s silent for a moment, but the freedom is still there to be vulnerable, and she ventures: “I’m wondering what you’re thinking now. Are you thinking that you’re glad this conversation is over, that it went on too long?” 

I pull her to me and look into her eyes – because there are times when the eyes do need to meet – and tell her softly, truly, that I love to talk about these things with her, love to hear her, always love to hear her.

Because that’s what love does.

* Luke 15:17; Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 65:24.

Monday, 11 June 2012

On the most excellent way: Rocks and remaining

Two small sections of my dreams remained with me when I woke up this morning, and I was somehow reminded of them by the slow and rhythmic swing of the hammock this afternoon. The one I will reflect on today was of a large rock that I was unable to move despite my best efforts. On waking, the familiar words “If I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” joined this dream picture; so later, on my sunny hammock, I turned to 1 Corinthians 13, that passage beloved of weddings and quote books, to be reminded...

Love: The most excellent way. Also the most challenging way: often so difficult to truly find, then fraught with pain and failure and disappointment, and oh-so-hard to remain on and walk well.

But, I reflected today, could this most excellent way be so hard largely because it is so simple and so unrewarding in the ways I desire to be rewarded? I have no great longing to move real mountains with my faith or my prayers, but there are plenty of metaphorical mountains I would like to see completely out of the picture. It is so easy to believe – somewhere deep inside, though often not consciously – that it is the removal of certain situations, challenges, imperfections, sadnesses or deficiencies that would finally complete my life, making me utterly happy and fulfilled. Another angle on this metaphor is that moving a mountain or a rock has a certain thrill and triumph about it; its removal (or moval?!)  is a concrete, measurable, noticeable achievement. And who doesn’t love those?  Thus it is also easy to believe that experiences of achievement and accomplishment are what I am lacking and need to pursue.

Yet, in my dream, the rock I was trying and failing to move remained, and the challenge was issued – is constantly and wordlessly issued – despite and in place of this failure: to make love my goal and my priority. In other words, this dream task I was focussed on and failing at was not really the needful, important task at all. The task I’ve been called to, and that all of us have surely been called to in different ways and contexts, is simply (and challengingly) to love. Though maybe the way of love has the potential to be less challenging if I really make it the focus of my desires, energies and priorities; if I turn my back for a moment on the rock that calls me so urgently and ask instead what it would mean to love, just to love – here and now.

And so, today, I faced a whole day with nothing in my diary; no appointments, no great tasks, no worthy achievements awaited me. But what I did have was a family I love and who I am lucky enough to be loved by in return (as if this love began with me!); and a home to tend and create for them, a task that often seems so small and yet so never-ending and thankless. Such an apparently thankless and endless task begs the pointed question: what, in fact, makes me ‘something’? And what makes me ‘nothing’? 

To (try to) move mountains without love, I continue to learn, is what makes me nothing. But to turn my focus away from the mountains – either the great challenges and imperfections, or achievements and glories – and bend down to love, even after I have failed at this task twenty times already today? This is the most excellent way.
This is how I learn to remain in his love, and I have discovered too long and slow that apart from this love I can do nothing.

So, today, the rock I turned my eyes from was my ‘To Do’ list, and the tyranny of the computer, and the ego demands of ‘productivity’ with associated recriminations of ‘uselessness’; and the bending down and reaching up to love took the form of tidying my kitchen, preparing a simple summer lunch to share over conversation with my husband in the garden, hanging laundry in the sun, walking to pick up my daughter from school, and giving her space of time and heart to talk out her eight-year-old worries. And here’s the unsurprising surprise: it was precious, and priceless, and simple, and satisfying. No doubt there will be days to turn love towards the moving of mountains (can the two not come together?), but not today.