Among the efforts I have been making this Advent has been reading through Suzanne M. Lewis’ Living In Joyful Hope Advent and Christmas Meditations. I was familiar with her writing, and even participated in an online advent retreat of sorts with her last year, that used readings from this book. Then I got to meet Suzanne, spending the weekend with her at Convivium’s Terra Incognita literary conference last month. Immediately, I found myself drawn to her. She is a beautiful, deeply kind soul who seems comfortable in the dark, because she is sure of the light of the spirit that illuminates her way.
I want that surety.
I have spent too much of my life cursing the dark. I have exhausted myself trying to open more windows, light more candles, illuminate every corner. I wanted my life lit up. I had never even considered that maybe being in the dark could be okay.
I want what Suzanne has. I want to be able to stand in the dark, confident that even a tiny flicker of light is sufficient to guide me along.
Now that I have met her, I find that when I am reading Suzanne’s meditations, I hear them in her soft, but passionate voice. What a difference that has made for me! The traditional Advent scriptures that I have read dozens, if not hundreds, of times have taken on a new shine. I find that I am seeking a lens angle shift, so that I can see the prophecies, the experiences of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary’s story through the eyes of wonder and love.
This weekend, I realized that something in me is beginning to shift.
Inspired by Suzanne’s meditations, and my own spiritual needs, all Advent I have been musing on the precept “God is love.” I have long thought of myself as a loving person. I am sure of the love I have for my children, and for my husband. I know I love my other family members, and that they love me, but it’s complicated. A big part of my spiritual trouble is that I wrestle with whether or not I can honestly say I love Jesus. I have most definitely struggled lately with believing that God is a loving god.
It just occurred to me that I think of these different relationships as different kinds of love. That I carry different definitions and different expectations from these relationships. What if I have it wrong?
This is not yet a fully formed thought, but I have a post deadline, so you are getting what I have so far, which is this: Presume that “God is Love” is true. Then all love is holy. All love is of God. All love IS God.
My love for my three children is the manifestation of God on earth. My love for my husband is the manifestation of God on earth. My love for my students, my love for my co-teachers, my love for my friends, my love for their children, my love for my parents, aunts, uncles, brother, in-laws… all God on earth.
I already told you that I do not have this all thought through yet. I am falling down a rabbit hole of contemplation here. I have so many more questions to think and pray about.
What I have always thought of as my love for animals, and flowers, and mountains, and trees, and oceans, rivers, and lakes–that’s God, too? My love for music and dance and painting and poetry and film? God?
If God is eternal and God is love, then love, as the scripture says, is everlasting, yes? What about the romantic relationships I had that ended? The friendships that were betrayed and broken? The people I came to love through my work in social services, but haven’t stayed in my life? The people who loved me, but I didn’t stay in their lives?
What about my LGBTQ+ friends? Isn’t God there, too?
What about the really messy bits? What about the complicated relationships with folks I love, and love me, but can’t express it well, so that it doesn’t always look like or feel like love? What about the abuses in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in our government? How can a perfect God manifest love so imperfectly?
So. Many. Questions.
I’m fumbling around in the dark here. It’s not completely dark, though, and I find that I am not afraid.
In the wondrous, mysterious way these things work, I kept finding myself in situations this weekend where I was confronted with challenges to my understanding of love and of God, pointing me towards viewing God as love. There were several things I did this weekend out of a sense of duty. I was dreading them. To my great surprise, they ended up being wonderful, and it was entirely because I was able to love and be loved, however imperfectly, by the people involved. The engagements I had that I expected to be good, like a long overdue dinner with old friends, baking cookies with my cousins’ sons, and filling a stocking with gifts for a child I never met, were joy-filled, divine encounters. I wasn’t even surprised that my best friend was home when I dropped by unannounced. Of course she was, arms open to wrap me in a bear hug. By the time I crossed paths with a former colleague this afternoon, my heart was full to overflowing. I feel like I am aglow from the inside out with love.
This still isn’t a Cable Network Holiday Movie. I haven’t found The Answer. This isn’t the Happy Ending. I am still struggling to find my way through the dark of the messy bits of my relationships. I am still unable to bring myself to a church service on a Sunday morning. I am still soul sick from watching the evening news. These different experiences of love this weekend have acted like a flashlight helping me see my way along some of the rough section of dark trail.
I think I am stumbling along in the right direction.