Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Love has the final move..."

"if paradise has
up and flown away for now,
but hope still breathes
and Truth is always true,
 just when we think
it's almost over,
Love has the final move..."

This summer has asked a lot of our humanity. I don't know about you, but I've slept little and questioned much. I can't help but wonder if Thomas Paine was just being historically accurate, or prophetically clear-eyed when he wrote: "These are the times that try men's souls." It certainly feels as if my soul - my spiritual senses -- have been deeply tried. Chris Rice's "Love Has the Final Move," soothed my heart one recent night as I lay in the dark praying for the world.

My prayers were not complex. They were not the unpacking of deep metaphysical premises. They didn't lead me to profound moments of realization. They were simple. "God, help me practice the two great commandments -- to love and trust You - supremely,  And to love my neighbor as myself."

But then my heart begged the age-old question: "But who is my neighbor?" And I remembered Jesus' answer to this question: the story of the good Samaritan. The neighbor was a stranger, a foreigner, someone whose customs and traditions were very different from those of the questioner. Well, I mused, no one could have more foreign ideas, customs, or rituals from my own, than an angry, torch-carrying neo-nazi, waving a swastika emblazoned flag, while spewing hateful rhetoric about racial supremacy. Yup, not my finest thinking.

"Dear God," I prayed, "please don't ask me to love them as myself." In other words, please don't ask me to love them in order to be my best self. But God said, "Isn't that what you have already been doing? Loving yourself in exact proportion to how you have been loving them." 

This wasn't going quite the way I'd expected.  But God persisted.  "You haven't been loving them, and you haven't been loving yourself very effectively. And since I am asking you to love them as you love yourself, it's important that you do that first.  But, you haven't been very kind to yourself. You have judged yourself based on your mistakes, your failures, your body fitness, your sense of being "less" in the world, your sense of what other people think of you."

He was right. It had been a hard summer. There were times when I'd felt awkward and small. I hadn't felt a clear sense of belonging. I felt like a square peg in a round hole. And I wasn't sure how something that had once felt so right, had come to feel so wrong. Had the square hole I'd thought I fit into -- so beautifully -- become round? Had I grown sharp edges, so that I no longer slipped effortlessly into the round, smooth hole?

Because I didn't know where I fit, I'd spent much of the summer holed up in my office, where I could focus on God -- letting my work singularly shape my sense of belonging.  It was wonderful, but I knew I couldn't stay sequestered forever.  The world was rightfully encroaching on my sublime isolation.  I had to find a way to expand my sense of loving others  -- as myself.  And this was much harder than I wanted it to be.

What I wanted was answers, I wanted a path to a solution, I wanted a way out of my own too-tight skin. Suddenly the conflicts and chaos I was praying about in far-away  Charlottesville, were really much, much closer. A small, awkward version of me was marching round the memorial I'd erected, and chanting in my head, "you will not replace us." Threatening the "me" that longed for a larger, more expansive sense of what it meant to love my neighbor as myself. It was no longer enough to feel good with (and about) those I shared a common hope -- my neighborhood was expanding.

So I held a rally within myself. The kind of rally I wanted to see happening in Charlottesville, Boston, San Francisco, and in my own community. I realized I needed to listen -- and to listen deeply, and attentively. All the doubts, hurt, fears, confusion, and anger needed to be seen, heard, and thoughtfully addressed.  I needed to lay down my weapons of self-certainty and be willing to hear something new.

For example, I had been feeling like I was no longer relevant - in my children's lives, in my friendships, in communities that I loved. 

First, I listened to the self-pitying logic that wanted to claim justification for this feeling. And then I was quiet. Really, really quiet.  I didn't just jump all over it with a slew of metaphysical quotes. I calmly looked at each of the suggestions and asked myself questions like: "Is this true? How do you know that it's true? Is it possible that it's not true? What would things look like if you didn't believe it were true? And if it is true, what are you willing to do to change it?"

I was respectful and considerate. I was not dismissive or reactive. I committed to loving myself.  Really loving myself.  Not only the me that I knew was the reflection of God, but I loved the me that felt buffeted by self-doubt.  The shift was remarkable. I wasn't afraid of my feelings. They were just feelings, they weren't necessarily facts. I could question them without feeling attacked for being less spiritual or less metaphysically "on top of it."

And more importantly, I felt real love for others the minute I started loving myself. I felt love for the journey that had brought me to this very moment of willingness, of deep self-examination.  I belonged here.  I was ready to grow from it.  And I was not alone in the uncertainty of it all.  

I also felt a genuine love for the girl in me -- the teen, woman, wife, mom, friend, healer, neighbor who had navigated this journey with courage -- day after day.  She'd made mistakes, but she was also bravely confronting those mistakes with humility and acceptance.  She was learning from those mistakes and that was all God was asking of her.

And in this loving of myself and my journey -- as full of missteps and blunders as it was -- I was able to love my neighbor and his/her journey -- no matter how little I understood of its history or its trajectory.  Regardless of how much I might not agree with the reasoning or decisions that got them there.  

Their journey was not mine to judge. It could only serve as an opportunity for me to learn to love more unconditionally.  I could learn to nurture my best self, by loving my neighbor -- regardless of the script, costume, props, or story that the ego was offering as right or wrong -- for either of us.  I could know that Love was/is working Her purpose out in every one of us.  

I began to see, I could trust that no matter how far gone the game seemed to be, Love would always have the final move -- in my life, in my neighbor's life, in my community, and in the world.  Love would always win.

offered with Love,


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