Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Because I Can't Love "Everyone"

I dreamed last night that I was at the Sea of Galilee. The main gist of it was that after quite a trek I reached the shore, splashed into the water and stood there sobbing. I was sobbing with the sort of sobs that, for me, typify anything connected to the Incarnation: a sob of amazement, of relief, of a release of grief over my own lack of self-acceptance, of a dare towards joy, and drawn back again towards amazement. And the reason for all this was the realization that Jesus liked that spot. His life experiences there made him fond of the sight of it, a physical place that I could also touch, hear, and see (and indeed have, not only in my dream.)

Doesn't it astound you that God Almighty could like something? Oh, I remember how it struck me in my high school religion class when we discussed God's love for the whole world: how God loves everyone equally without regard to race, creed, national origin, physical disability, sexual orientation or political affiliation (ok, exaggeration, my high school teachers didn't think in those terms). But I thought to myself, "If God loves a Hindu priest the same way He loves me, I'm pretty depressed about that." I guess I figured I should be more of a favorite because of being a card-carrying member of God's fan club.

That line of thinking reveals so many things I hadn't experienced and therefore didn't understand about God and about love.

As Bl. Teresa of Calcutta pointed out, God never calls us to "love the whole world." He calls us to love of neighbor. Love is for persons, for individuals. The point of Christian love is that we are to give the love we have in our hearts from God to every person we encounter, regardless of who or what they are. It seems "loving the whole world" is idealistic talk for those who are really hiding from or ignoring the real people around them.

So, projecting my broken notion of "loving everyone" onto God really makes God out to be a selfish, fearful idealist, completely disconnected from human needs (which describes where I was at in those days fairly accurately). Fortunately, God isn't me.

The love God gives, I have since learned, honors our individuality to such a degree that it actually reveals to our deepest awareness who we actually are, turning on the lights as it were so that we start to become comprehensible to ourselves. This is jaw-dropping. It raises us up and ennobles us, without destroying or dismantling anything in us except our darkness, coldness, isolation, powerlessness and hopelessness.

But any love offered calls for a response. How will I meet what is offered to me? Will I believe it? Will I be simple, acknowledge my need and say "thank you," and receive it? Will I ignore the offer, assuming it to be yet another trap, assuming myself smarter than to let myself get burned again? Will I get anxious, assuming I'm actually being offered a deal with a price tag, and worry that I might not have enough to pay the price?

Somehow, the image of splashing in the Sea of Galilee answers all this for me. Jesus liked it there. Its beauty, its practicality, and the experiences He had with other people there shaped His life. In other words, He understands human love just as I do. And yet, He does love the world, not in my generic, meaningless way that would actually plunge the world into despair, but in the way He has loved me, so profoundly and intimately and personally that I'll spend eternity without plumbing the depths of it.

This is that to which I somehow find the way to say "yes, thank you," receive, and then share, because I can't help but speak of the things I have seen and heard.

PS.  One of my vivid memories from my actual pilgrimage that included the Sea of Galilee was standing on the water's edge with John Michael Talbot (who was one of the pilgrimage leaders). He said to me "Now those shoes, I like." I gave my stiff-as-a-board response, the only thing I could muster in those days. He said "Oh, you... don't?" No, it was more that I was at enmity in myself with this humanity that bothered "liking" things. His comment threw me. But I'll bet that God specifically put that on his heart to say to me. Funny how God can commission little word bombs that don't find their fullness of meaning for almost 20 years.

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