Category Archives: Love
What does God actually require of us?
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
To me this is the essence of both the Jewish and Christian call of faith. The key to the first two is the third: to walk humbly with your God.
That requires recognizing how very limited our knowledge, understanding, and ability to love unconditionally are. So, we moment by moment, like a child crossing a busy street with their parent, prayerfully hold God’s hand. I do that by reading the Scriptures prayerfully every day, just like letters from God. Then when life challenges me, the words I need will come to mind as both guidance and grace.
This may shock my friends, but I do not think we have to officially be Christians to walk with God. When searching for God in my twenties, I read the original teachings of those that started other religions. They all say in one way or another, we are all one. What we do to anyone, effects all. Jesus told his disciples, “What you do to others, you do to me.” That’s saying the same thing in spades when you think about how much his disciples loved and depended on him.
Think about how many billions of human being have walked this earth. God created them all. Jesus calls God our “daddy.” What parent would doom most of his children for eternity?
Jesus said that he was the way to God. How? By fleshing out the unconditional Love of God. Then by showing us that his way of being a child of God went from loving the “chosen” people of God, to loving all people. Then he progressed from calling us to love one another as we love ourselves to loving one another as he loves us!
Sharing the love of God expressed in Jesus is costly, friends. And it requires realizing with our whole heart and mind that we are imperfect and unfinished and without the love of God we will not become able to love as God and Jesus loves us.
Jesus is my way of experiencing the love and friendship of God. He doesn’t seem to be everyone’s. But I personally need a friendship with a human being that “got it” and through the spirit of God within him walked with God and grew in love and understanding enough to forgive those who killed him.
I have sensed his actual presence and even experienced healing in times of great physical pain, in times of debilitating emotional pain, and in times of despair. I have experienced that overwhelming mind blowing love when I have faced and experienced the sorrow of having hurt others. I have experienced answered prayer that was so instantaneous and amazing that no amount of human doubt could deny the presence, love, and active involvement of God in our lives. At other times, such as my mother’s fourteen years of dying by inches with Alzheimer’s, I could not understand why he didn’t answer my prayer, but I was given signs to trust that “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal” and that someday I will understand.
We are all different. So, God’s activity and way of reaching and teaching us will differ. And as we grow in our spiritual journey it will change for each of us. Change is scary, so often we resist it. There is no blueprint for personal journeys.
We cannot judge others and we can’t even judge ourselves. Humans are born as complex beings with different gifts and limits and ways of being in the world. And the world wounds us in different and sometimes unrecognized ways. But when we are freed to be humble by knowing with heart and mind that we are loved just as we are, we can be healed and freed by the forgiveness Jesus expressed for all of us.
Jesus is my way, because I’ve experienced the healing, freeing love of God through him and recognized the way he grew and changed and became Love through God’s Love.
I will fall short of the glory of God’s Love today and many tomorrows, but I am forgiven before I do, and when I recognize that and accept the forgiveness and Love, I will grow a tiny inch closer to walking Jesus’ Way.
Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
The Love of God is so incredibly different and beyond compare that it challenges our ability to accept it. No matter how much we have been loved by family and friends, no matter how famous and wildly adored we may have been by the multitudes, nothing has ever been more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God. To accept the unconditional love of God with our whole mind, to experience it with an open heart until our spirit is so filled with it that we can just let it overflow to others is pure grace.
The Love of God can free us to see ourselves exactly as we are, fragile and unfinished and to accept our need for forgiveness without guilt, just a true sorrow that sets us free from fear and shame and gives us grace to grow. It begins to not only free us to forgive ourselves, but also others.
The Love of God can heal the insecurities that come from being tiny vulnerable humans in a huge unknown universe, insecurities that stunt our ability to love. The Love of God is the grace that uses our mustard seed of faith to begin freeing us to die to self and live again.
The Love of God fleshed out in Jesus is personal, unconditional, and eternal. The Love of God opens our hearts to joy.
The Love of God frees us to say, “I am yours, God. Take my life and help me become the unique person you created me to be.” There is nothing as healing, powerful, and eternal as the love of God for you.
Today I checked out a blogger that started following me without comment. She is twenty-five and the first post I found seemed to be on masturbating. Actually, it turned out to be about the Love of God that doesn’t shame us no matter where we are in our journey to become the people God created us to be. She also admitted that she kept sorrow away by physical sports and running and that it had become an addiction to avoid her feelings. She proceeded in a just a few blog posts to share wisdom that it has taken me fifty years of my journey with Jesus to learn. I have been frustrated that I haven’t been able to communicate my hard earned wisdom to younger members of my family. Maybe I should have been listening.
Here are some jewels: 1. Jesus is about PROCESS and compassion. Well, yeah, but the problem is that for most of us it’s a very long process to become truly compassionate. Compassion includes everyone. We can disagree, but there’s no room in compassion for judging.
And process is simply another word for change. Ah, there’s the rub! It’s easy to see how others need to change and judge them when they don’t recognize it. I only lack compassion for people who lack compassion. Which is my first clue that I also need to change.
She writes about forgiveness of those who have wounded us and says, “We have all left scars on the people we love the most.” My response was, “Well, ain’t that the truth Ruth!” I’ve been writing a memoir of sorts in order to share some of what I’ve learned, but in writing the memoir, I’m recognizing some ways I’ve hurt others that I was oblivious about. I’ve admitted to enough already that this isn’t a surprise or particularly devastating, just a reminder that I can’t throw stones.
Here’s three things she says God asked her to do:
1. To give my heart a voice.
2.To walk with him alone for a time.
3. To let go of everything I’ve “known” Him to be.
These are three things I too have slowly recognized, but still find challenging. 1. I’m pretty good at recognizing problems, but not so good at letting my self experience the emotional pain. Unfortunately, that’s the narrow gate I don’t want to go through, but it’s the only way to healing.
2. To walk with him alone would seem to be easy while in quarantine, but I find it almost impossible to quiet my mind. Plus, I can escape the challenge by doing what I’m doing now, connecting with the outside world through face book.
3. I thought I did this when I recognized how Jesus realized that he had to change in his understanding of his saving mission as only to save the Jews. He was challenged to change by a woman who was “unclean,” by a heretic uncouth Samaritan, and finally by a soldier of the hated enemy power. Who is “unclean” or unacceptable in Christianity today? Who is a heretic in our mind today? And who is someone with power we hate?
I realize that there is still much I have to unlearn because each generation has new eyes to see what I have not questioned.
Alexis Williams says, “I have to become fully alive in who I am, so I can be who God created me to be.”
I might express it as, “I have to become fully aware of who I am and that I am known and tenderly loved as I am, so I can with the grace of that Love become the unique person God created me to be.”
Her blog is named “Do I Stay or Do I Go?”
Christianity is about loving people more than loving to be right.
Christianity is about forgiveness for every one.
Christianity is about experiencing the love of God and passing it on.
Christianity is about learning how to love from the life and death of a Jew named Jesus.
Christianity is about the awesome God of the Universe being within each of us.
Christianity is about realizing that we are all imperfect earthen vessels, each unique, but all slightly cracked, so though we are filled with the Spirit of God, we leak.
Christianity is about knowing Jesus is Risen and is a well where we can go to refill.
Christianity is about realizing that the Spirit of God works in diverse ways in different people: like a geyser, like a gentle bubbling brook, or a silent underground river.
Christianity is about valuing the fruit of the Spirit- peace, joy, love – in whatever wrapping or label it comes.
Christianity is about translating the words “born again” into experiencing the unlimited love of God with both our mind and heart and being freed to respond “YES” to God even when the going gets rough.
Christianity is about Jesus showing us that this life is not all there is.
These are summed up in First Corinthians, Chapter 13.
That evening after the doctor’s appointment, Tommy’s fever broke. His eyes sparkled and he was his funny independent little self again.
“Everybody start looking for pots and vases,” I said cheerfully, as I organized the older children and my husband into a treasure hunt for containers for the daffodils. We found dozens in diverse sizes and appearance and brought all the beautiful golden blooms inside the house. Everywhere you looked, it was Easter. Everywhere you looked there was the love of God and hope for the future.
The year continued with Tommy still succumbing to frequent illnesses, but I clung to my sign of hope, believing that God would heal him without surgery. Tommy turned four in November and a week before Christmas I took him to the heart specialist for his yearly tests. I had been told in the beginning, that sometimes these heart valve defects closed on their own, but that it was almost always by the time they were two years old. Still, I fully expected to be told that his heart had improved.
After hours of going from labs to X-rays to offices all over Vanderbilt Hospital, Tommy and I waited wearily, but hopefully, to hear the results from the heart specialist. By the time our name was called, Tommy was asleep in my lap, his head on my shoulder. He didn’t even wake up when I carried him into the office.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Norman,” the doctor began. My heart broke at the words and I fought back tears. “The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. We need to do a heart catheterization in preparation for surgery right away.” Looking at his calendar, he continued, “You have several other children, don’t you?”
“Well, we’ll schedule it in the week after Christmas then. December 27th is clear for me. Does that work for you?”
Speechless, I nodded my head. I drove home too shocked to cry or even pray.
That night, when everyone else was settled down to sleep, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate. Praying, “Lord, help me. I do believe; help my unbelief,” I just opened the bible randomly and began to read.
My heart almost stopped, when I realized that I had opened to the story of Abraham taking Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him to God. I wept, thinking like Abraham, that God was asking me to let go of my child. Finally, I reached a point of deciding that God knew what Tommy’s future might be, and if He wanted to take Tommy now, He had His reasons.
I prayed and struggled until I could say, “Everything in me is screaming in protest, God. I can’t control my feelings, but with my will, I choose to trust you and to place my son and my heart in your hands. Your will, not mine.”
An amazing peace came over me and I recognized that letting go is part of everything in our journey. And that once Abraham had let go, God did not take Isaac. I knew that part of the story, but remembered only the letting go part, until I had done that myself.
The next few days, I called every person of praying faith, that I knew of any denomination, and asked for prayers for Tommy.
Christmas came and went, and we prepared to take Tommy to the hospital. I clung to my faith that God was with Tommy. The morning he was scheduled, the doctor’s office called and postponed the procedure, because the doctor had an emergency surgery. She rescheduled him for the following week. Then the day before the appointment, Tommy began to run fever, so we asked to reschedule for two weeks later, hoping he would be well enough then. But the next week, they called to say that the doctor was going to be out of town, so we made it for two weeks later again. I called everyone on my prayer list each time we rescheduled. By the time we finally managed to get Tommy to the hospital, I was a basket case.
I was numb as they rolled him away, but a very kind young intern went with him, keeping him smiling by pretending Tommy’s sock monkey was saying funny things. A gift from God.
I don’t remember much of anything from the waiting. But the bright smile on the Doctor’s face when he came out, was enough to make me begin thanking God right then.
The hole in Tommy’s heart had closed enough to be so tiny, that surgery was not necessary. The only difference it would make in his future life was, if he had any other surgeries, he would have to make sure he was put on antibiotics before them.
But even more amazing to me was that, literally overnight, he became a normal healthy child, no longer catching every germ that came by. In fact, he was often healthier than his siblings.
Easter can come in our lives at any time. This Easter is a good time to remember the hard times that stretched our faith and turned to rejoicing.
Freedom from Religion is the flip side of freedom of Religion. As a born again Christian I try to share the joy of knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God who fleshed that Love out in Jesus. But no one experiences the Love of God in Jesus by force or by the abomination of discrimination in his Name.
It’s a conundrum: Here are some controversial issues from the views of both conservatives and liberals. How do we love the people we consider unloving because they fear floods of immigrants? How do we love people who want the freedom for women to kill a potential child even possibly as a convenience? How do we love people who want to deny medical treatment to the old and send the middle class into poverty from the cost of staying alive? How can we love people who we believe are going against nature and the bible? How can we love people who don’t see the danger in giant corporations owning those that govern us. How do we love someone that wants security for all, more than freedom from control by government. In a democracy we have a voice and a vote. When it has become a voice of hate on both sides, how do we love? How do we heal so we can once again become Americans, not Democrats or Republicans, not Capitalists or Socialists, not conservative Christians or Liberal Christians, no matter who wins the vote? How do we love what we don’t try to understand on either side? What happens if we continue to grow in our hatred of one another? What will a country of growing violence, with or with out automatic rifles, be like for our children and grandchildren? Who is willing to become a reasonable voice crying in the wilderness of antipathy, disgust, suspicion, distrust, self righteousness, fear, and hate? What good will winning do anyone if we dig our trenches at the extreme opposites, forcing moderates into the camps of extremists until we are hopelessly divided as much as enemies in wars?
No one is winning anymore. We have lost our way as a nation.
Bloggers, if you agree please write a similar post on your site or re-blog this. And ask others to do the same. We who want moderation and kindness need to speak out.
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
My seven-year-old grandson sleeps just down the hall from me, and he wakes up a lot of mornings and he says, “You know, this could be the best day ever.” And other times, in the middle of the night, he calls out in a tremulous voice, “Nana, will you ever get sick and die?”
I think this pretty much says it for me and for most of the people I know, that we’re a mixed grill of happy anticipation and dread. So I sat down a few days before my 61st birthday,and I decided to compile a list of everything I know for sure. There’s so little truth in the popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things.
For instance, I am no longer 47, although this is the age I feel, and the age I like to think of myself as being. My friend Paul used to say in his late 70s that he felt like a young man with something really wrong with him.
Our true person is outside of time and space, but looking at the paperwork, I can, in fact, see that I was born in 1954. My inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age. I’m every age I’ve ever been, and so are you, although I can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been helpful if I hadn’t followed the skin care rules of the ’60s, which involved getting as much sun as possible while slathered in baby oil and basking in the glow of a tinfoil reflector shield.
It was so liberating, though, to face the truth that I was no longer in the last throes of middle age, that I decided to write down every single true thing I know. People feel really doomed and overwhelmed these days, and they keep asking me what’s true. So I hope that my list of things I’m almost positive about might offer some basic operating instructions to anyone who is feeling really overwhelmed or beleaguered.
Number one: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive.It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
Number two: almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.
Three: there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way,unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world.They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them.It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway.
Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.
This brings us to number four: everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.
Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.
So God might mean, in this case, “me running out of any more good ideas.”
While fixing and saving and trying to rescue is futile, radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” just smile obliquely like Mona Lisa and make both of you a nice cup of tea. Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky, annoying self is home. It’s where world peace begins.
Number five: chocolate with 75 percent cacao is not actually a food.
Its best use is as a bait in snake traps or to balance the legs of wobbly chairs. It was never meant to be considered an edible.
Number six —
writing. Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honor. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little.When my older brother was in fourth grade, he had a term paper on birds due the next day, and he hadn’t started. So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book, paper, pencils and brads — for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads — and he said to my brother, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans and then write about pelicans in your own voice. And then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. And then geese.”
So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us,and that’s also why you were born.
Seven: publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and evil people I’ve ever known are male writers who’ve had huge best sellers. And yet, returning to number one, that all truth is paradox, it’s also a miracle to get your work published, to get your stories read and heard. Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can. So can singing in a choir or a bluegrass band. So can painting community murals or birding or fostering old dogs that no one else will.
Number eight: families. Families are hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. Again, see number one.
At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal –remember that in all cases, it’s a miracle that any of us, specifically, were conceived and born. Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself, and then you might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.
When William Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But I promise you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderella, you can do it,and you will be amazed.
Nine: food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
Number 10 –grace. Grace is spiritual WD-40, or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin and me exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild. Go figure.
The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world. To summon grace, say, “Help,” and then buckle up. Grace finds you exactly where you are, but it doesn’t leave you where it found you. And grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, regrettably. But the phone will ring or the mail will come and then against all odds, you’ll get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness. It helps us breathe again and again and gives us back to ourselves, and this gives us faith in life and each other. And remember — grace always bats last.
Eleven: God just means goodness. It’s really not all that scary. It means the divine or a loving, animating intelligence, or, as we learned from the great “Deteriorata,” “the cosmic muffin.” A good name for God is: “Not me.” Emerson said that the happiest person on Earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot and look up. My pastor said you can trap bees on the bottom of mason jars without lidsbecause they don’t look up, so they just walk around bitterly bumping into the glass walls. Go outside. Look up. Secret of life.
And finally: death. Number 12. Wow and yikes. It’s so hard to bear when the few people you cannot live without die. You’ll never get over these losses, and no matter what the culture says, you’re not supposed to. We Christians like to think of death as a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live again fully in your heart if you don’t seal it off. Like Leonard Cohen said, “There are cracks in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.” And that’s how we feel our people again fully alive.
Also, the people will make you laugh out loud at the most inconvenient times, and that’s the great good news. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. Grief and friends, time and tears will heal you to some extent. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize you and the ground on which you walk.
Do you know the first thing that God says to Moses? He says, “Take off your shoes.”Because this is holy ground, all evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truest thing I know. When you’re a little bit older, like my tiny personal self, you realize that death is as sacred as birth. And don’t worry — get on with your life. Almost every single death is easy and gentle with the very best people surrounding you for as long as you need. You won’t be alone. They’ll help you cross over to whatever awaits us. As Ram Dass said, “When all is said and done, we’re really just all walking each other home.”
I think that’s it, but if I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.
The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.