Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No Greater Force for Change


There is no greater transformative power in the universe than the kind of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. As all the mystics tell us, Divine Love is at the heart and core of all reality. It is what connects everything together.

It’s interesting how this ode to love begins: We can do some great things that benefit others, but if we do not do them in love, then our doing and giving does not change us. Even heroic sacrificial deeds may only serve to boost our ego or sense of pride, if love is not the motive or source of our actions. Paul says, “I may give all my possessions away to help the poor and even die a martyr, but if I do not have love, if love is not the source of my actions, then I gain nothing.” My sacrifices may benefit others, but they will not change me, except make me more self-righteous and arrogant.

Whenever genuine love is expressed and extended to others an invitation to change is being offered. I am reminded of this rough, brawly mountaineer who lived in a small town in West Virginia. He worked construction and operated a little tree trimming business. He was known for his drinking and brawling at the local tavern. He would fight at the drop of a hat. Except for his close friends, most steered clear of him.

One day he was introduced to a woman who had recently moved into the town to teach first grade at the local elementary school. He was attracted to her and asked her out for dinner before she had time to learn about his reputation. She said yes and they started dating. His friends noticed how he began to change. He didn’t drink as much and wasn’t the same angry person. He loosened up, even to the point where he could laugh at his own mistakes. He asked her to marry him and to the surprise of everyone she said yes.

He was in the tavern with his friends celebrating, and one of them said, “Jim, I’ve noticed that you are not the same man. You don’t want to fight anymore. You are more pleasant to be around. You seem calm and together.” With tears in his eyes, he said to his friend, “I ain’t got nothin’ against nobody.” He was becoming a different man.

Can love do that? It can. Fear cannot. This is why, I think, the writer of 1 John says that God’s love casts out all fear (4:18). This is why any religion that is based on the threat of punishment will never change anyone. It will just us make more fearful and insecure, and we will project our fears and insecurities on others. We will create “in” groups and “out” groups. And our capacity to love will be limited to our “in” group, and even within our restricted group love will often be conditional and limited.

Robert Fulghum in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten tells about playing hide and seek in his neighborhood growing up. He says there was one kid who always hid too good. After a while they would give up trying to find him. Later, after they had quit the game he would show up and he would be upset. 

Fulghum writes, “There’s hiding and there’s finding, we’d say. And he’d say it was hide and seek not hide and give up, and we’d all yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn’t play with him anymore if he didn’t get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that.”

Fulghum goes on to comment that it didn’t matter what they said, sure enough, the next time they played hide and seek he would inevitably hide too good.

We can hide too good. Paul says that love rejoices in the truth and that it bears all things. Surely that means facing our own truth, being willing to explore the deep and see our illusions, deceptions, betrayals, and addictions—not ignore or deny or project them—but bear and face them.

Since divine love “keeps no record of wrongs” (v. 5, NIV) and it bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things (v. 7), we have no reason to hide in fear or intimidation.

Any authentic personal transformation involves an inventory and acknowledgement of all the non-loving ways and habits of which we are aware (and the ways and habit we are not yet aware of—so much is buried in the unconscious). Then we allow the waves of God’s oceanic love to wash away all the dirt on the shores of our souls and take it out to sea. The more we allow the waves of God’s unconditional love to wash over us, the more garbage will emerge from the sands of our souls. Layers of ego protection are stripped back and we are given glimpses into the many ways our false self has controlled our motives and actions. These are humbling experiences.

But nothing can stop the tide of God’s never ending love. As we allow the oceanic spray of God’s love to keep showering us with affirmations that nothing can sever us from God care and compassion, we find the courage to dig deep and confront “what is” in all it ugliness and beauty. 

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