I go to a Benedictine Monastery for a 24-hour silent retreat with the express purpose of listening.
No agenda. No ‘what’s my purpose?’ or ‘what’s my next step?’
This was not my first visit to Holy Cross, but it was the first time that I chose take the lead of the StoryCorps program by trying to honor and celebrate God by practicing the Act of Listening. I won’t go into the play-by-play on what I did and how I did it–that’s for another post. Instead, I’ll just cut to the chase and share what I heard.
And, it seems that, since I’m not receiving it very well, I must not really be sharing it very well either, since it’s pretty hard to share something you don’t have.
It’s amazing, really. Despite hours and hours of praying, reading, studying, seeking God’s will, trying to treat other people well and being as obedient as possible, I missed the main event. Sure I know that God is love and that he loves me. You can’t get too far in the Bible without catching hold of that one. Yet, somehow, despite throwing myself into this life with complete abandon, I still didn’t know it.
I’m guessing its a head-knowledge versus a heart-knowledge thing combined with old crap from my childhood, but there is plenty of time to look at the ‘whys?’ later. For now, I find myself landing on a big ‘what?’–specifically, what is God’s love and how does it manifest itself?
Not being a theologian, I have no intention of trying to break that question down here. Yet, I had some Holy Spirit serindipity around 1 Corinthians 13, which gives some insight into what love looks like, so I’ve been chewing on that scripture for the past week or so.
I’m glad I landed on this scripture, since it is familiar to a lot of people–and familiarity sometimes breeds inattention. For instance, it is fascinating for me to think that–despite the fact that I was seven years away from becoming a Christian–1 Corinthians 13 was read at my wedding 12 years ago, setting a pretty high standard for Martin and I in the love deparment…
Love is patient, kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil and rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. It never fails.
Breaking it down characteristic by characteristic, I have to admit that by this definition of love, I fall woefully short much of the time.
And here’s the rub.
The beginning of the chapter reads…
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
So, I can go to church and write a book and help people and read the Bible and have a deep faith–but if I don’t do those things in love I am nothing. If I do not do those things with patience and kindness, without envying or boasting or being prideful and if I cannot hold back from being abrupt, easily angered or self-seeking I gain nothing. If I keep track of who has hurt me or angered me or disappointed me and respond to them based upon that track record…well, you get the picture.
So, now what?
I’d love to say I have the three or five or ten easy steps to turning this around–but I don’t.
I’m just going to start by recognizing the weakness, being willing to change and asking God to shake things up.