Thursday, April 28, 2016

Re-Learning To Love

It seems strange for a retired person to have spent as much time in meetings as I have this month, both large and small gatherings of people seeking to use their talents to advance the lives of those in need or of their church community.  Often after a meeting this month I found myself speaking with one or two people about how the meeting went, but looking back now, I notice that much more time was spent discussing the people than the meeting topic.  And, unfortunately, often the focus of our discussion was our perceptions of the failures of the people attending the meeting --- we gossiped.
In thinking of those conversations, I realized that our criticisms of others were far from the agape love we are called to imitate, the unconditional love that Jesus taught us (and which I’ve been thinking and writing about a lot of late). And then in my thoughts I forgave us gossipers --- we obviously still have much to learn about how to love --- and I forgave too those whose weaknesses we were gossiping about: surely by even taking the time to attend those meetings they were trying to love as God would will them to.  We were ALL trying to love as God loves, unconditionally, seeing none of the weaknesses or faults of others, but as witnessed by our gossip, this is a hard love to learn.  And, perhaps, some of us were never taught the importance of this love, and so we have to learn it on our own, to pray, to study, to learn more about this Jesus Who IS love.
But as often happens, I was suddenly blessed to see how stupid these musings were. We don’t need to learn HOW to love, we need to RE-LEARN how to love!
A mom instinctively loves her baby, and a baby instinctively loves its mom, and this instinct is hard to deny.  But even further, the newborn baby also loves all life. It trusts.  It loves the beggar, the rich man, the robber, the wife-beater, the pervert, and the priest. To the baby, all their lives are equally good. It doesn’t judge how well a life is being led, or what a person says or does, it values all life.  It offers unconditional love. But, you may say, the baby has not yet learned the lessons of life, which all babies must learn.  You might say the baby is innocent, or you might say, as we see it relative to ourselves, the baby is an idiot.
That word reminds me that I recently read Dostoevsky’s classic novel: The Idiot. There, the lead character didn’t assume bad thoughts about a person, but good.  And if a person’s perceived failings were pointed out or “explained” to him, often he would be quiet, and think that perhaps the person spoken about may have acted poorly, but out of good intentions. And so those around this man spoke of him as na├»ve, simple and, even often to his face, as being an idiot.  One of the interesting things of the story, however, is how those same people gradually came to realize how much they could trust this unique “idiot” among them, and to even love him.  They came to realize that innocent love, unconditional love, is something they craved, although they didn’t know it.
If we started our lives with the innocence of a baby, how did we learn to hate, or at least distrust others? In our society it is almost a maxim that you MUST teach your children to distrust others. But Jesus teaches us and wants us to live with unconditional love.  Where are we going wrong?
Perhaps it started in the Garden of Eden.  Our first parents were tossed out of the garden for their sin and told “to till the earth.” They’d have to work.  No more were they given all their needs; they would have to do things for themselves.  And from then on, although children were born in innocence they were taught they cannot expect unconditional love in the future.  If they wanted things, even love, they would have to earn it.  And so, now that we are no longer all the same in giving and receiving unconditional love, we compare ourselves to one another:  how well did they learn the lessons of how to work, of how to live.
As I prayed The Litany of Humility prayer, which I pray each evening, I noticed something about my petition prayers:  I prayed to be delivered from certain desires, and I noticed that all the listed desires are those egocentric yearnings I’ve learned in life, the ones keeping me from unconditional love, the ones keeping me focused on me-getting-for-me.  And some of the other petitions ask for the grace TO desire certain things --- but all these things to be desired are things not for me, but for others.  They are prayers that I might wish others well, no matter what they say or do --- that I might give them unconditional love. This prayer for humility, I now see, is a prayer that I might learn how to love!
In our lives we’ve learned pride, egoism, and narcissism, and our society seems to constantly reinforce these lessons. We’ve learned to cherish our freedom to act on our own behalf, and we’ve learned we can’t trust others. We’ve learned “we deserve” love, but we’ve forgotten that we once had it, and “learned” to let it go.
Jesus came to earth as a man to teach us how to love --- again!  Behold! I make all things new!  He came to open the gates to heaven, to show us God’s unconditional love, and how to live it as men, even if we have forgotten how.
Today’s Gospel is John 15:9-17. Take some time today to read it, and meditate on the message. Most Scripture scholars say this passage is the heart of John’s Gospel, and the heart of Jesus’ teaching.
And what it’s saying is that it’s never too late for us to learn.  

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