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.

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