I find myself speaking about love, so much so that it begins to sound a little clichéd. I remember in Scripture classes at primary and high schools, my main goal was for the children and young people to know that they were loved – by us adults and by a God they didn’t necessarily know. I wanted them to be able to grasp that being loved was the most significant reality for each of us. I wanted them to recognise that they were loved beyond anything they may have experienced amongst family and friends, although all love is mediated through relationships in some way. I realised that some of these children and young people didn’t understand love because they hadn’t experienced deep love within their families. Some came from dysfunctional homes and broken relationships. Some were not valued and sometimes you could recognise this in the way they presented themselves and through their poor self-esteem. I wanted them to know that they were loved by God, infinitely, profoundly and for who they were rather than what they felt they should or needed to be.
I used stories and spoke of Jesus reaching out to all people. I loved stories like the prodigal son who turns on his father, wastes the inheritance even before his father had died and then in desperation seeks forgiveness and a place in the household – even as a servant. The father waves off the confession and embraces the lost son – he was dead but is now alive, lost but now found. Through tears and love the father welcomes him home to where he belongs – so with us!
I never tire of this message of love but sometimes it feels thin. Sometimes on my lips it sounds like a broken record, a cliché that runs the risk of sounding tedious. I often wonder whether it is too simple – ‘Love’. I speak of love as being the only true solution to the world’s crises; love as the only way to transformation, personal and communal. I lay a great deal at the ‘feet of love’. But I wonder whether we truly get it – myself included? Do we seek something harder, more complex, bound by structures that require much work to understand and employ? Do we seek something that has more obvious power and might, something that is big, strong and dominant – a power for good that stands over and against all that we perceive as bad or evil?
When I speak of love and being people of love, it sounds so simple, even simplistic. All of a sudden my mind fills with the hit parade of love songs and the never-ending supply of movies that reverberate with ‘love’. Much of it is romantic love but sometimes pop culture transcends its own superficiality and throws up a profound story of deeper love that is self-sacrificing and beautiful. We are moved, perhaps inspired. Beyond the Beatles’, ‘All you Need is Love’ and the plethora of other anthems that form the soundtracks of our lives, love echoes, inspires and calls out to us. Love is the constant yearning of our hearts, the place we seek to belong, in relationship and community. We yearn to be in a place where we are valued for who we are and freed to become what and who we are meant to be. We want, with all our deepest hopes, there to be a ‘Love’ at the heart of the universe, a Love that will not let us go. We hope and yearn for a Love that is for us, not just affirming our prejudices or fallacies but a Love that will embrace us, liberate us and draw us into deeper knowing and being. This Love sometimes seems fleeting and uncertain. We grasp it in a story or a moment. We remember it in a funeral or voice it at a special occasion. When times are tough and we hurt or fear and feel lost in the swirling whirlpool of life’s chaos, we know Love in the patience and embrace of those who stand with us. We also cry out into the infinite space beyond our being, beyond the vastness of the universe, we cry out to a Love that transcends human life and material, physical existence, longing for more than the fading echo of our desperate voice. It is into this mystery and uncertain wonder that we encounter Love. Like the first gentle rays of morning light softly embracing the world in tender glow, Love flows out from the Divine Heart gently surrounding the world with life, hope, peace and joy.
It is this Love that touches our life in myriad ways, small and profound, known or in fleeting glimpse that kindles love within us and enables us to know, feel and give love. It is this transformative Love that reveals itself as the way of true life and inspires our heart to dream and hope. This Love is the source of all love and the fundamental basis of our self-worth and a healthy ego. It is the only true way of peace in our world – and it is hard! It is very, very hard! Whilst it may not be hard to love those very close to us, love invites us to embrace others who are different and those who do things against us – perhaps who hate us! Love invites us to respond to the hostility of the world with grace and love!!??! Love says that this is the only way.
Perhaps this is why my speaking of love often sounds so simplistic because we are always looking for ways to excuse loving others. Perhaps we look for excuses to feed our envy or competitive instincts. Perhaps we seek something that will justify our self-righteous feelings or prejudices or even racist, exclusive attitudes. Perhaps in fear we hate those who commit evil more than the evil itself and want to lash out in power and might to destroy those who commit evil. What does Love mean in all of this?
This week we hear some simple and profound words of Jesus that come not too long before his death. The story comes from John 13:31-35. In it he speaks of love and invites the community of those who follow him to ‘love one another as I have loved you. When you do this everyone will know that you are my followers – if you love one another.’ The beginning of love is to love each other – those close by and part of the deep connections and relationships we have. It is to create communities where love is a tangible experience and God rests gently in our midst. It is a community of love where there is grace, respect, freedom to be who you can be, where the transformative power of Love runs amok with gracious abandon liberating people to grow into their fullest expression of who they were created to be. As we live in such love we know ourselves to be loved unconditionally and are enabled to love. We are drawn into a deeper expression of what it means to be human and to live more deeply into the Divine Image in which we were created and which is our essential being. Such love is the brightest light that enlightens life with hope and peace. It creates communities of freedom and joy and such communities are oases in a troubled world, places of rest, renewal and healing. They reach out beyond themselves into a world that longs to become what it can be.
Love one another as I have loved you! – Jesus of Nazareth