Tag Archives: Divine image

All That the Father Giveth Me

Sometimes, people come into our lives who we really wish wouldn’t.

John 6:37-38

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

I, being a fairly normal person all things considered, have often enjoyed romantic novels and movies and have been caught up in the idea of “one true love”. Knights in shining armor… starcrossed lovers… passionate embraces… soulmates… happily ever after… these ideas are part of the mainstream culture in which I live – and, actually, have been part of the human imagination for as long as we have had sculpted and written records of human imagination. The romantic notion of “one true love” can really become part of, not only our collective consciousness, but also the practical living of life. Young people looking for someone to love believe that there is one person out there just for them and either fate or chance will bring them together. Or not.

And, if the rush of feelings associated with falling in love begins to fade away after a marriage is already taken place, and married life begins to feel ho-hum or, worse, irritating, perhaps it’s because, the fairytale believing couple will think, they made a mistake. They thought that they were soulmates, but, since they’re unhappy with each other now, they must not be soulmates, so… that “one true love” is still out there somewhere. And they go looking for a relationship like the ones they see in movies and books.

Not everyone approaches dating and marriage this way, of course. Many, many couples make a real commitment to each other, choosing to appreciate, respect, and uphold each other for the rest of their lives. They work on communication, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, gratitude, consideration, demonstrations of affection, common ground, and so on and find the benefit of a long life together. Still other couples believe neither in fairytale true love nor in loving commitment and go about meeting and connecting with people on a day by day or year-by-year basis, whatever works for them at the time. It seems to me that passion does have its season in love and that, while seasons come and go, true friendship and companionship is what brings lasting joy to life. When two people can cooperate together, overcoming difficulties, forgiving flaws and errors, to make a life together of their choosing, side-by-side – that’s a very beautiful thing. And I believe that God blesses all those people who stick to it and remember to give love and mercy.

But, that’s not what I want to say in this reflection based on the given piece of Scripture. I want to talk about those ways in which people think that they will come across their “one true love”, whether by chance or fate.

A young, single woman’s car will break down late at night and only one shop will be opened nearby as the young, single male owner had to do inventory on Thursday because his father was sick on Wednesday… And so it begins.

A man will be walking quickly along a busy street and suddenly feel his phone fall out of his pocket and onto the sidewalk and, as he stops and turns to pick it up, a woman, who is walking to work earlier than usual because a sudden change of appointment means that she will have to leave work later, gets bumped by a man going in the opposite direction and crashes into the man bending over to retrieve his phone…. And so it begins.

Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-new-york-people-nabeel people on the street

These are the kinds of ways that we imagine people meeting their soulmates, an odd combination of circumstances and events that lead them both to their shared destiny. And these tales are usually romantic in nature. And, if not romantic, then perhaps violent, one of those fatal, foreboding, starcrossed kind of meetings that end up with two young punks growing up to be gangsters that kill each other. You know what I mean.

But, we rarely think about the shared destiny of two people helping each other. Yes, we’ve heard the stories of people needing organ transplants suddenly meeting someone who happens to be a willing match. But, we don’t go looking for these things to happen to us unless we are the ones in need of help, unless we are the ones searching, begging, and praying for a miracle. But, what if…

What if that very rude store clerk that waited on you today and made you feel stupid was actually being sent to you on purpose? Not to make you feel stupid, but to test you. And not to test you to see whether or not you would pass or fail, but to test you in the sense of making you stronger, improving some weakness in your character, helping you to become a better, more patient and compassionate person. What if the difficulties that you are having in your marriage is part of greater plan to help you grow closer to your spouse by forcing you to let go of old baggage, resentment, jealousy, and allowing you to trust, relax, to be more open and free in your acceptance of the other? What if the illness you contracted or the injury your loved one received was destined to be part of your life so that you could more fully live your life, learning and experiencing things that you never would’ve learned or experienced otherwise? What if every deformed person that you have ever walked by, trying hard not to stare or grimace, was put in your path for a reason? What if every over-demanding boss, lazy employee, noisy neighbor, two-faced friend, annoying coworker, and obnoxious family member was sent to you by God?

Oh, we’ll get caught up in those romantic stories of two lovers, ripe with fateful meetings and twists, sacrificing all in order to be together forever. But, the new clergyman at church who seems aloof and comes annoyingly across as stubborn and willful? No, that’s a mistake, he shouldn’t be here. That homeless man that always sits on the sidewalk by the grocery store, dirty, out of it, begging for cash so that he can get drunk or high? No, that’s a breakdown in society, someone should do something about getting him away from such a public place – but, not you, right?

You cannot even think that you are being called to learn what you can from the new clergyman instead of looking for cutting ways to teach him a few lessons on what happens when he treats people that way. If you are called to do anything, it’s to criticize him behind his back and leave the church if he stays there any longer, right? And you cannot even think of yourself as the one being called to speak to that homeless man a word of sympathy, a word of helpfulness, or to give him a sandwich, a blanket, a cup of hot coffee, or kind directions to a place where he can get a hot shower and a change of clothes and maybe a bed for the night. No, not you. Do you even think about how that could be you on the sidewalk? Do you even take a moment to be grateful, a moment to be kind? Or do you just shake your head and walk away?

Maybe if you showed genuine kindness and interest in the new clergyman and his life, you could start to break down some of his walls and learn that he had a troubled childhood with a distant father or a shyness that he found very difficult to overcome, only finding solace in routines that are familiar to him. And, maybe, in the sharing of your own difficulties with him, you will start to see your own difficulties in a new light and, in seeking to comfort him, you end up being comforted by him and you both become friends, deciding that you should work together, overcoming your own challenges, to reach out to other congregants who might be facing the same issues?… And so it begins.

Maybe if you take some time for conversation with the homeless man, you will find out that he is a veteran and that he served with your dad and when you tell your dad about it, he comes with you to meet him and they recognize each other and, not only does the homeless man start to want to improve his life with the help of your dad, but your dad is able to face some of the demons from his time in military service and becomes a lighter and happier man himself?… And so it begins.

Okay, yes, these sound like movies, too. And I, like Hollywood, am making them seem easier than they would in real life. But, are these possibilities even part of our collective consciousness? Are they even part of our own ideas of the possible? Do we look for these moments in our lives?

I think this passage from John for my Bible Burst today is rather interesting. If we just look at the words themselves without taking into context anything else that Jesus has said (which, by the way, is something that you should never ever do if you want to know who Jesus is) we might find a message for ourselves. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Jesus receives the people that God The Father has sent to him, not because he, Jesus, has chosen them himself, but because they have come to him by the Father’s will. And Jesus doesn’t cast them out of his life (even if he might like to).

If we truly understand that God is all-knowing and all powerful, then maybe we can start believing that God has sent everyone to us in our lives on purpose – not to punish us or reward us, but to help us become the people that He has created us to be. We don’t choose our families, and we may not like our coworkers, neighbors, or the people in our community, but they have been chosen for us by God. They are part of our destiny. Let’s not cast them out. Let us embrace them and see where God is leading us… For God desires our ultimate happiness and knows how to get us there.

© 2016 Christina Chase


photo credit: http://www.lifeofpix.com/

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And Hath with His Hand

[I’m finally returning to my writing challenge!  My Internet access was down for a couple of days, so I randomly selected a verse the old-fashioned way – with a real, solid, three-dimensional Bible and a quick pointing hand…]

Does God have a mouth? Does God have a hand? …Does God have a face?

1 Kings 8:14-15

And the King turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood:

And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it…”.

The human body is a beautiful and marvelous thing. A thing because each human body has physical shape and form, it is an object of flesh that exists in the world. And, yet, not a thing, and much more than a thing, because each human body is created by God in order to be a beloved creature of both flesh and spirit. Therefore, in grammatical terms, we should think of the human body, not so much as an object, but, rather, as a subject. The human body is subject to nature – and also to the human person. Above all, the human body, being created lovingly and purposefully by God, for God, is subject to God.

Okay… Maybe that’s a bit confusing. But, often, it is confusing to consider the human body in the light of the Christian faith. The confusion comes, most strongly, when we think that the body is sinful. The body is not sinful. Nothing created by God is sinful. Trees, birds, water, stars – none of these are sinful.

What is sin?

Sin is not imperfection. If that were so, then the person with the most imperfect body, one that contains genetic defect, say, and is severely crippled and weak, would be the most sinful. And the person with the most nearly perfect body would be the least sinful. And we all know that that’s not true.

Sin is also not bodily desire. The body craves and desires food – rightly so, for the body needs food in order to survive, and God did not create our bodies so that we would starve them to death. We also bodily desire sleep when we are tired and a good washing when we are dirty. All good stuff. The only bodily desires that are sinful are those that are self-centered. Yes, eating and sleeping are about self-preservation – but a kind of self-preservation that God desires. Imagine, for example, if we were locked in a room with one another, with no escape and with nothing to eat for days on end. We would, naturally, be very hungry and desire to eat something, maybe anything – maybe even one another! But, God certainly would not want us to kill each other in order that we may eat. Healthy bodily desires that turn toward selfishness, toward greed, gluttony, lust, toward actions at the expense of others – these are not God-centered desires but, rather, self-centered and, so, sinful.

For, sin is about the human will, not the human body.

Do we will what God wills? Or do we will only what we will, even if that goes against God Our Creator?

As the Baltimore Catechism states, we are created by God to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next. It is for the purpose of this knowing God, loving God, and serving God that God created us – body and soul. With our mouths and with our hands, with our ears and with our feet, and also, first, with our brains, we communicate with God by receiving and understanding God’s will – and then doing it. We can help feed the hungry who have no food with the bread in our own hands. We can lead the lost or the homeless who desire shelter with our feet. We can listen to those who are bereft and desire comfort with our ears and speak of God’s love and mercy to them with our mouths. We can do these things with our bodies – when our hearts and minds will to do so. If our hearts and minds are in union with God, then we will bodily love one another as God loves us.

Almighty God, who is Infinite and Eternal, the Creator and Master of the Universe, does not have bodily shape and form. God is spirit. God is not physical and, therefore, able to be broken down into parts, able to die. Therefore, it is wrong to say that God has a physical mouth or a physical hand. Or that God has a physical face.

And, yet…

God chose to become one of us.

The Word of God, which is not thought in a fleshly brain or spoken from a fleshly mouth, was made flesh. Jesus Christ is the Word of God Incarnate, made flesh, made one of us. Jesus is fully God and fully human. So, although it may not be proper to say that God has a face, that God has a mouth and hands, because of Christ, because of the Incarnation,  God spoke with a human mouth and worked with human hands… God laughed, wept, and smiled with a human face. And when Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me,” he was speaking of the profoundly intimate connection and union that God has with each and every human being through Christ, Our Lord.

When we wash the dirty face of a poor and orphaned child with our own hands, it is God working through us. We, with our own freewill, choose freely to cooperate with God’s will. To co-operate. And our hands, although they are not truly Jesus’s hands, are like his hands, are like the hands with which God gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and bread to the multitudes. Then, we are truly like Christ – we are real Christians.

And, most profoundly and awesomely, when we wash that helpless child’s face… we’re washing the face of Jesus, the face through which God smiled.

Christ Jesus, who was physically thirsty and tired, desired water to drink from the Samaritan’s well. Christ Jesus, who was physically exhausted and weak, desired bodily assistance to carry his cross to Golgotha. And Christ Jesus, who began his earthly life as a helpless little baby, desired and needed to be physically taken care of, dependent on others for every thing of survival.

So, yes, let us think of God having a face, and mouth, and hands… they are yours… they are theirs…… they are his.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Arise, O LORD

Psalms 10:12

Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.

We who are weary here, crushed

beneath the burden of our existence in the world,

who cannot lift our heads for the weight of sorrow…

Some of us mutter to ourselves of our own misery,

defeated by the darkness to spurn any talk of light,

so drenched in wallowing are we that only the sharp

cutting of our tongues (and other weapons) upon the happiness of others brings

us any unpained recognition of being alive – and we curse that, too.

And some of us, bowed down with sadness and fatigue,

still cast our sight, like fishing lures, for any bite of hope,

bobbing along the surface, waiting for the nibble of a small comfort, or,

if brave enough, diving into the deep, submerging

the whole breadth of our brokenness into the ocean of divine mercy,

to be swallowed up by a greater being than ourselves,

one that is quick and liquid ready and eternally alive…

 

Rise up, O Lord, and bring with thee from the depth of the waters

all who have given themselves over to faith in the gulf of hope,

all who have sunk down in their littleness and plunged into their wounds

so they may seek and discover the love that abides there –

not their own miseries, but thy joy and thy triumph!

Lift thy hand, oh God, and with it, the multitudes

who, in their weeping and wretched afflictions,

did not spurn thy name, nor destroy thy images,

nor deny the gift of hope though the world made a mockery,

but who, rather, cast into the deep and trusted thee in the swim.

 

The One who lit the stars and set them in motion,

who pulls the tides with light-reflecting orbs,

and teems the earth and every body with the rush of life,

this is the One from whom I draw my living

and in whom I will pour all my tears and laughter and blood –

though the world forsake me and taunt me with their miseries,

I shall not be overcome… for I am already drowning in love.

 

© 2014 Christina Chase

 

Good Stewards of the Manifold

The one thing of which you’ll never run out.

1 Peter 4:10                                                                   

As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

We are finite creatures living in the limits of space time. We can only eat so much, only move so much, and only own so much. No more. But… How much can we love?

It seems that even in our ability to love there is a limit. We can love our family and our friends – but not our enemies. And yet, Christians are told precisely to do that. We can love our loved ones with our whole selves, as we may say – but, yet, we do not give of ourselves completely, for we believe that we must keep something in reserve for ourselves. If we have nothing for ourselves, what do we have to give? And yet, Christians are told to give the entirety of their beings, the entirety of their lives, to God and so, also, to the loving service of our fellow human beings. To love the Lord, our God, with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, with all of our strength, and with all of our souls, is to hold absolutely nothing in reserve for ourselves. But, surely, if we do that, we won’t be able to survive, right?

The wonder and beauty of love is that it is unlimited. Though we are, most certainly, limited creatures with limited abilities, true love, real love, is purely of God – who is perfectly unlimited. Because of our flawed nature, we can only open ourselves up so much to the reception of God’s love, which is always and everywhere pouring relentlessly upon everyone. But, even just a little bit of perfection goes a long way. It depends upon whether or not we are truly allowing, with the best of our abilities, God’s love to love us. To move us. To shape us. To feed us. To heal us. To guide us and guard us. To revolutionize us. God’s love is not something that we can own or even hold onto. God’s love, like the Holy Spirit, flows without ceasing. You can take a cup of water out of a stream, but, if you do so, that water is no longer a stream. If we hold on too tightly to the feeling of lovingness, it ceases to be loving.

I would like to feel always the warmth and peace that floods me in the rare moments of deep and grace filled prayer. However, the moment that I recognize the “feeling” and desire to keep it, the warmth and peace changes into a mere sensation and not the actual goodness of deep prayer itself. I’ve stolen water from the stream, if you will, and am disappointed to look down into my cup and realize that the stream is not in there. So, too, with love. When I love someone – (no, wait, when I am loving someone, for love is not something passive with which I should identify my relationships with certain people, so let me make it clear that love is a verb). When I am loving someone, God’s love is being received by me and flowing through me to the other. Love is eternal, so there is no stopping. Love is infinite, so there is no damming up.

This is why forgiveness is key in Christianity – because Christianity is most fully and completely about the receiving and giving of God’s love. If someone hurts us, we become less willing to engage in loving that person – and that’s a dam in the flow of divine love. Only forgiveness can break down the dam and restore the stream. Perhaps, it’s almost as though the hurt caused by the other leads us to think that we need more of God’s love for ourselves in order to make up for that hurt. But, of course, we can never receive more of God’s love. There is only one quantity of God’s love that we are given: all of it. This is why Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, surrenders his life completely on the Cross. We are to understand through his sacrifice, and to be reminded by every image of a crucifix, how much God loves us. Completely. As I told my nephews when they were very little, Jesus on the Cross is God’s way of telling us, “I love you thiiiis much” – and his hands hold no limit, they are pointing out infinitely. Our hands, too, must hold no limit, for, if we are truly to be loving, then we must give without ceasing. It is the flow of love that heals us, that binds every wound, and that gives us the joy and peace that mere survival cannot give. It is only through the flow of loving that we are fully human, fully alive – that we are fulfilled as the beings that we eternally are: images of God.

May all of us open our minds and our hearts to receive the love of God and, by so receiving, let us all be good stewards and give fully, wholeheartedly, of what we are being given. Let us give fully to God and not let the fear of the unknown or the limits of mere practicality impede the gift. This is how it should be. If what we call love is to really be love, then there can be nothing partial or part-time about it – no stops, no dams. By allowing God’s love to flow, we become beings who are loving all of God’s Creation, loving every thing, tiny or gargantuan, and loving everyone – because God does.

 

© Christina Chase 2014

All Rights Reserved

Departed

I would like to say that I am innocent… But I am not.

Psalms 18:21

For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

When I was nine years old, I was a thief. Not only did I steal gulps of wine with my friend from the kitchen (warm alcohol in a Mickey Mouse tumbler) and grams of chalk dust from the school gym supply (folding it up in some paper and sticking it inside my wheelchair while waiting for the short bus to come and take me home) and various small things – construction paper, carbon, broken chalk – that I wanted and I judged no one would miss… but I also stole knowledge. At the end of third grade, I was allowed to stay inside with my friend Beth for recess one day and we decided to open our teacher’s desk drawer and find that secret list. A secret list existed near the close of every school year with the names of the teachers that each student would receive the next year. We all wanted to know what classroom we would end up in – would we get our favorite teacher, would our friends be with us? But, that information, as I recall, was never shared until the summer. Beth and I didn’t want to wait. We wanted to know.

If memory serves, I was the one who instigated and told Beth to do it. Being physically limited, I was used to “bossing people around”. Not only did we find out who we would have for teachers, but also who our friends, and people with whom we would like to be friends, were going to have. Before the end of the school day, we whispered the secrets to everyone that we could. Eventually, other kids in other classrooms let it slip that they knew – and when asked where they had heard the news, directed authorities to Mrs. B’s class. Mrs. B made us all put our heads upon our desks until the guilty party, or parties, confessed the crime. I did not raise my head. I did not say a word. And neither did Beth. Mrs. B couldn’t keep us there forever, we had to go home. But, as we were lining up to leave, a boy in my class told Mrs. B that I was the one who had told him, that I was the one who had stolen the list. My teacher looked down at me and I looked up at her with my big brown eyes. I remember myself mumbling something about Beth, ready to throw her under the bus – we really weren’t that close anyway – but Mrs. B had poor hearing. She just regarded me through her glasses, her bright red lips extra thin and tight. But, then her face softened. She didn’t believe the boy. She didn’t believe that I could do something so wrong. To her, and to most everyone as I would find out in my life, I was an innocent.

Indeed, this may seem like a small and innocent offense – what real harm was done? But, the harm was to my classmates who were all under the shadow of suspicion, for that afternoon with their heads down in the dark and silence, and, for all I know, for the rest of Mrs. B’s life. And the harm was done to my relationship with Beth, for we never did get close. Perhaps she overheard my mumbled ratting or perhaps the guilt was just too much for me. And the greatest harm, I know, was to myself. For I showed myself, in this incident, my true colors. Thievery was easy to me and I honestly felt no guilt about that. I was even proud. Proud that me, who everyone thought was a little angel in a wheelchair, could commit such an act that got the whole third-grade buzzing. The fact that I so blatantly got away with it just added to my happiness over the whole event. But… what I was willing to do to Beth… how I was willing to hide behind the cloak of innocence with which my wheelchair draped me while pointing my finger at her…. this is not only a crime against someone whom I considered a friend, this was, and I say this most seriously, a crime against God. Sneaky, deceptive, smarmy, and proud of myself, I was bolstered up for many years by the memory of this robbed knowledge.

It was not merely the ignorant act of a child. For, was there not some innocence in Eve when she simply wanted to gain wisdom, as I simply wanted to know? And, was there not also pride and greed at grasping for something higher than herself, to put herself at the level of a superior? And was there not shameful finger-pointing, a desperate attempt to inflict any punishment that she deserved away from herself and onto a co-conspirator? Wasn’t Adam, too, guilty of this last crime, this greatest crime: willfully inflicting harm upon another in an attempt to hide from the consequences coming justly to oneself?

To escape justice, the first humans had to hide themselves from one another – to hide themselves from God. But… there is no hiding from God. And don’t I know that, too! Knowledge thief that I am, did I not dare to proclaim that there is no such thing as God and devote myself entirely to a godless life with myself as the center of a meaningless universe? No, I never committed murder in that life – although I did strangle my soul’s promptings and suffocate my own spiritual nature. I did not steal – but I had already hijacked my own reason. And I did not commit adultery or anything like that – although I did desecrate the temple of my body. I broke the ways of the Lord by departing from my God. From truth. From real love. From life itself. And though this willful act was not committed through wickedness, I was still far from the truth of my identity as a being lovingly Created in divine image; I had banished myself far from the tree of life and the reality of reality.

Forever east of Eden, we thieves of knowledge go –
and the innocent truth of who we really are, we can’t get to know.
There, but for the grace of God, would I, ever seeking, lie;
it’s grace that’s brought me home again… I cannot hide from I.

Christina Chase

 

With Open Face Beholding

Lord, change me, make me new. Make me like you! – the plea of the sunflower.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the LORD.

Sunflower

There is a flower in my garden which is named for the sun. In appearance, much like the sun is she, golden arrayed, burning bright from the center with flaming colors outward spread. But there is more – much more meaning to her identity, because with the sun her whole existence is so lovingly aligned.

She does not mean to mimic or fool by merely sporting appearance – for what bird would dare to perch upon an orb of fire, and, so, what would she have to gain if she would scare away her own propagators, the midwives of her progeny with which she will be so heavy pregnant? She is humble and knows that she is merely a creature bound to the life-giving sun, and by no means desires to be a substitute. Yes, she stands tall and bold, but her height and breadth is but a measure of the depth of her humility, for her only wish, as far as a flower can wish, is to look up to that which she adores. It is the looking up that has raised her. It is the love of heavenly light that has opened wide her green-leafed arms. It is her submission to her Master that has given her flowery majesty.

For, all day long, while the sun shows forth his open face, shining full with glory, her rapturous gaze is all caught up in him. Every minute of every hour that passes, she faithfully follows his path with steadfast love. No matter what may come between them, whether mist or cloud or dark of night, it is him she always seeks, it is him that her hope will always find. Some dark days will fall, when a downpour may weigh her head too heavy to lift, but when the rays of the sun are visible again, the drops will slip from down her sunny cheeks and she will pay them no mind, not even to shake them away. She looks upon the sun again, never having lost him, for she has kept the thought and memory of him, the warmth of the gift that he has given, deep in her heart.

Yes, even when the sun slips over the edge of sight and pulls the veil of night down behind him, she is patient and trusting, and does not collapse in the darkness. Her head she bends down low – but not in despair, for one who loves as she loves can never hold despair – but in ever recognition of where her beloved lives. Though invisible to her petal eyes, her heart is not deceived and senses, with true love’s faith, his presence beneath the surface of the world. And so her vigilant gaze, ever fixed upon its deathless source, follows him as he shines on realms unknown and unseen, far from his touch get ever near to his soul. And when the night is opened slow, with tender, aching rush, the sun’s rays find her ready face, expectant in faith, and she receives anew the outpouring love of him whom she adores.

From this cause, then, is this flower called for the sun. He is her love, her reason, and her destiny. Her blossomy pledge of devotion is her very blossoming – and she is transformed by and into the one whom she loves.

© Christina Chase

Thou Shalt Love

Luke 10:27

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

So many times – too many times – people think that Christianity is all about rules.  I’m a member of the Catholic Church (Roman Rite) so I hear the rules criticism all the time in the Media.  Gratefully, I understand that Christianity is not about rules.  Christianity is about love.  Now, I don’t in any way mean that the Commandments should be thrown out – quite the contrary.  The 10 Commandments given to Moses by God should be embraced – should be loved.  The essence of what God is asking us to do is to be who God created us to be: persons of love.  First and foremost we must embrace the truth that God is love.  And we, being created in the image and likeness of God, are images and likenesses of love.

That’s a whole lot of use of the word love in one paragraph… But… what is love?

Love is the gift of self.

Before the universe existed, God IS.  God is Being Itself and generously gives this beingness to what He creates, to what is not strictly God Godself – to what is other than God.  This generous giving of self to the other is true gift.  And God created “man in His own image; male and female He created them.”[i]  God is One, there is only one God, and, in our limited human understanding, we Christians believe in one God in three Divine Persons.  The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been described as Lover (loving), Beloved (loved), and Love (the communion between and within lover and beloved).  As human persons we are given, by God, not only the ability to love as God loves, giving and receiving, but also the very identity of love itself.  Pope John Paul II said, “a person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.”[ii]

In the book of Genesis we hear God say, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We are made for loving relationship.  Among all the creatures of God, it is only in our fellow human beings, our fellow Divine images, that we can experience true loving communion – and therefore be truly and wholly ourselves.  No other created being “offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift.”[iii] God is love and we are created to be love – and this means that a “person” should never be treated as a means, a way or a tool used to get something else.  If we want to know the truth, then we need to know that persons are gifts of love and are fulfilled only when giving and receiving love, in loving communion with God and with one another.

Sometimes we use the word love in a different kind of way – for things, namely.  I can say, “I love God, I love my parents, I love beauty, I love ice cream” and mean “love” a little differently each time.  When Christ sums up the 10 commandments and reiterates the divine commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, he is not speaking of the kind of love in which “we draw to ourselves what is outside of us when by that very love we love things other than ourselves inasmuch as they are useful or delightful to us.”[iv]  Rather, we are being told to love with all our hearts, souls, strength, minds, in a divine way in which “we draw ourselves to what is outside.  For, to those whom we love in that love we are related to as ourselves, communicating ourselves to them in some way.”[v]  So, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is not with the kind of self-love in which I find myself exclusively delightful and seek to please myself – that would be a disordered kind of self-love.  Rather, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is with the kind of love – true love – that is of my very being, that is who I am, being created by Love.  Christ Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”[vi] To truly love ourselves, we must remember that God first loved us.  Anytime we want to know who we are created to be, we should look to Jesus Christ, who is fully divine and fully human.  And when we look to Christ, we see true love – for he gives of himself completely – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – giving of himself to us.  That’s how we are to love.

When I was younger, I heard of Christian love as sacrificial love.  These days, oddly and sadly, “sacrificial” has taken on some negative connotations, as though we’ve lost the spirit of generosity.  I believe that’s because we’ve lost the sense of who we are – not our own, but God’s own.  This means that we also have taken for granted the gift of life.  And by doing this, we also take for granted the self-gift that is true love.  We love because God first loved us.  To freely and gratefully accept this gift is our first act of love – and we truly accept this gift by loving the Giver.  Not “delighting in” the pleasure of being alive, per se, but by realizing who we are: gifts of divine love.  We realize this by being gifts – by giving.  This true self-awareness is the true and good and right kind of self-love.  It is how we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It is how we are able to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds.  The giving of ourselves as a gift to the other is also the very “acceptance of the other as a gift.  These two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whole process of the “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving.”[vii]

And we don’t give in order to be thanked.  We don’t give in order to get some thing in return, some pleasure or other kind of self-centered prize.  (Although God is good and He has made us so that we may be able to experience true and deep joy when giving and receiving true love.)  And we don’t give because the rules say so!  We don’t give as a kind of blind obedience in order to satisfy the letter of the law.  For we cannot be “blind” if we are loving with our whole heart, with our whole souls, with all of our strength, and with all of our minds.  We are, rather, loving with the entirety of ourselves – because we are giving ourselves entirely.  And the reason that we freely give is because we are free gifts.  The 10 commandments are examples of how we are to love.  It is only if we have no real love, if we merely use others instead of seeing ourselves and others as pure gifts, that we would seek to kill, or lie, or steal, or cheat, or covet, or betray.  The 10 commandments serve as guideposts to help us discern whether or not we are being who we were created to be.

It’s all about true love.


[i] Genesis 1:27

[ii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Love and Responsibility.  Translated by H. T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981, p. 41

[iii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 14:1

[iv] Aquinas, Thomas.  Lectures on John, Chapter 15, Lecture 4, Marietta #2036 from Waldstein, p. 129.

[v] ibid.

[vi] John 15:12

[vii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 17:4