February is the month of love, here in the bleak grey flatness of winter we are suddenly surrounded by deep red hearts, crimson roses and red hot romance, Valentine’s feast day has arrived.
And we need to celebrate love in all its forms. From the passion and excitement of lovers to the shared intimacies of brothers and sisters and best friends. From the unbreakable bonds of parental love to the fondness we have for our four legged friends.
We know, don’t we, that love comes at a price. Whenever we truly love someone else it means putting that person first. It means sacrifice, it means heart-ache, it means making oneself vulnerable. That is what true love is like – an openness to another that takes us over, heart and soul, body and mind. That is why lost love or unrequited love is so painful and why you can die of a broken heart. It makes us open to being wounded.
But we also know that love is so very wonderful. It’s the greatest thing, as the song has it. Being in love is exciting. Being loved by anyone is a wonderful feeling, that another has you on their mind or written in their heart, your name on the tip of their tongue. That they look forward to seeing you, talking to you, listening to you. Loving and being loved is what makes us fully human and it needs to be cherished, fostered and encouraged in all its forms in our community.
At the recent contemplative prayer service, I was reminded of the writings of Thomas Merton. A Cistercian monk, living in the USA. Merton wrote many books that are were wonderfully profound in their observations of the world. In his book ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ he wrote:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…I almost laughed out loud… But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking round shining like the sun.”
The same day as I read this for the first time, about 5 years ago, a woman on the tram called me a very nasty name (the clerical collar does provoke extreme reactions – you either get nice smiles and “Hello Father!” or you get a scowl or even outright hostility). Try as I might on that day I couldn’t see anyone shining like the sun. I felt quite the opposite.
It’s a hard calling to have to love everyone. God calls to do it nonetheless. Even that old bat that swore at me in the street is “…walking around, shining like the sun”. Thank God for his lavish faithfulness and love when mine is worn thin.
I wonder what Merton’s revelation might reveal to us about our task as God’s church. Perhaps the task of the church is to love the community we are called to serve. If we ask ourselves, ‘Why is it that we want to serve?’ the answer comes back because we want everyone to experience and know the abundance of love that a faith in God and Jesus brings. It is our commission, our task set by Jesus himself, “Love one another, as I have loved you…” (John 13.34) Without love, given as a reflection of the love of God for all people, we are nothing, we can achieve nothing.
I have been thinking a lot about this and have begun talking to people about a way of life for our Parish that people can make a commitment to. The ‘ABE Way of Life’ will be part of a philosophy of practical love in action (in Greek ‘agape’ – the Greeks have many words for love) for our community which I have roughly labelled I ♥ ABE.
Showing and building love for our community in practical ways will be a lunch pad for all that we are called to do as God’s church. Look out for more about I ♥ ABE and the ‘ABE Way of Life’ in the coming months. It will, like all love, ask something of you, to make yourself vulnerable for the sake of the Gospel, but I hope it is something that can make a real difference in our community and to each of us as we seek to serve our living, loving God.
With love, Fr M ♥