Naming God for Who God Is

Naming God for Who God Is

“…and you enjoy being loved by God.”

They were passing words from a pastor who was counseling me — not even his point. But something in my mind got caught in them and stayed there while we finished the session. Something inside me that said quietly and without the least drama, “But I don’t.”

Oh.

God loved me. That was as basic a fact in my world as my mama and daddy’s love for me. It wasn’t something it had ever occurred to me to question.

But somehow, in thirty years of life and being loved by God, it had also never occurred to me that I should be enjoying it.

Being loved by the Creator of the universe, the God without whom nothing was, the God who was sovereign over everything that happened (including daddies dying, injustice, abuse, bullying, starving, war,…), the God who gave and took away, the God who made all things work for the good of those who love him?

That was something to be enjoyed?

I trusted God with everything in me I knew to trust with, but something inside me still braced.

You can make yourself do a lot of things, but one thing you cannot make yourself do is enjoy. And I knew the reality that I didn’t enjoy being loved by God meant something was seriously messed up.

I had no idea what to do about it. I didn’t know how to fix it.

But I knew there was a problem somewhere in what I believed, consciously or unconsciously or both, and I became willing to put everything I thought I knew on the table.

I didn’t do it all at once. It was a step at a time. Years in which momentum slowly grew in ways I didn’t really understand. But it started with recognizing that as I had grown up in the church, I had learned to redefine a lot of things — things like love, joy, and peace. These were all things we experience when we know Jesus. I knew Jesus, my (mostly) unconscious mind reasoned, therefore love, joy, and peace must be what it was I was experiencing.

Depression and anxiety got suppressed, redefined, and ultimately, when they were undeniable, blamed on purely physical factors. “I know a peace I don’t feel.” I’d actually said those words and meant them.

It had to be better than this, I decided, or it was just a farce. “It” being life with God, following Jesus, being a Christian.

And over the years, as I let go of a lot and looked for love, goodness, and beauty, it did get better. I wrestled through some really hard stuff and came through it with a relationship with God that was deeper than ever. Something in me relaxed, and I wasn’t bracing any more.

And then a year or so ago, for no apparent reason, the prayers and creeds and words in church started to trigger bracing in me — the instinct to draw back and distance myself. The same words of the liturgy that had been so healing for me for so many years became painful.

It was the word “God” that was doing it. “God,” “Father,” “Christ.” Most any word that referred to deity except “Jesus” triggered in me a reaction to a God I no longer believe in — a God who demands death, a God who turns his back, a God who cuts some people off, a God who is willing to sacrifice a child for the sake of his plan.

Not the God of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Not the God who

is love.

It hurt. I missed the presence I’d found in those words. I also realized I wasn’t just going to be able to get them back. I had to move through this, not back away from it.

So I started replacing the word “God” in the prayers and affirmations of the liturgy with the word, “Love.”

It was a revelation. I hadn’t realized how much my mind and heart still held of a god who isn’t Love.

I did the same thing with hymns, and the first time I sang Patrick’s Breastplate the new way, I couldn’t stop crying.

“I bind unto myself today

the power of Love to hold and lead,

Love’s eye to watch, Love’s might to stay,

Love’s ear to hearken to my need,

the wisdom of my Love to teach,

Love’s hand to guide, Love’s shield to ward,

the word of Love to give me speech,

Love’s heavenly host to be my guard.

Love be with me, Love within me,

Love behind me, Love before me,

Love beside me, Love to win me,

Love to comfort and restore me.

Love beneath me, Love above me,

Love in quiet, Love in danger,

Love in hearts of all that know me,

Love in mouth of friend and stranger.”

There is no perfect way to approach the holy, the divine. But, love, we have been told, comes closest.

“Beloved, let us love one another.

For love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knowers God.

He that loveth not knoweth not God for God is love.

Beloved, let us love one another!”

(1 John 4:7-8)

So I’m still learning to know God, to grasp what is at the heart of the universe.

And to enjoy being loved.

Here, Part 3 – A Conversation Cont.

Here, Part 3 – A Conversation Cont.

“You’re here.”

      -“I am.”

“In the middle of the night, with the snow falling so softly and steadily.”

     -“Yes.”

“I still haven’t figured that out.”

     -“Don’t worry, you won’t.”

“Really. Do you like playing hard to get?”

     -“It’s actually not about me.”

“It’s not?”

     -“It’s not.”

“But…isn’t everything supposed to be about you?”

     -“Why would you think that?”

“‘All things have been created through him and for him’?”

     -“Who is ‘him’?”

“You, I thought?”

     -“Okay, if that’s the case, who am I?”

“Huh? How am I supposed to be able to answer that???”

      -“I’m not trying to play existential games with you. You know me. So who do you know me to be?”

<pause>

<pause.>

“Love.”

     -“So, ‘All things have been created through Love and for Love.'”

“I like that, but I’m lost.”

     -“Stick with me. I’ll get you there. And what’s love ‘all about’? What does love care about?”

“The one loved.”

     -“Exactly! And I’m Love. It’s all about everything but me.”

“What about your ‘glory’?”

     -“What’s the glory of Love?”

“Ha! I know that one…’You’ve got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love!'”

     -“I love your jokes, but close enough. Does Love play hard to get?”

“No. That’s not what love is about.”

     -“So who is ‘playing hard to get’ in this?”

“Oh!…Oh.”

     -“Your words, not mine.”

“Why is it so hard for me?”

     -“Because you make the wrong things all about you. You have a hard time just being loved.”

“I do?”

    -“Yes. And when you stop making the wrong things all about you, you know you have a hard time just being loved.”

“What do you mean?”

     -“You don’t want responsibility for the things that are about you, like loving. And you want to take credit for the things that aren’t about you, like being loved.”

“Ouch.”

     -“I know. Being loved makes you vulnerable.”

“I’ve always thought it’s loving that makes you vulnerable.”

     -“It does, but not as much.”

“Really?”

     -“Loving leaves you in control.” 

“Huh???”

     -“Yes, your love can be rejected or betrayed, but you can still choose to love or not. You can even make yourself a martyr to love. But being loved? There’s nothing you can control about that. Accepting it makes you deeply vulnerable.”

“And that’s why I have such a hard time figuring you out?”

     -“Yes. It’s hard for you to really accept love. It’s hard for you to trust love.”

“Wow. It is, isn’t it.”

     -“And I am Love.”

<awkwardly long pause>

“I’m in pretty bad shape then.”

     -“No. Remember, I am Love. It’s not all about you either.”

“Will I ever get this figured out?”

     -“You’re further along than you think.”

“I am?…How?”

     -“You love.”

“I do. But I’m pretty bad at it a lot of the time.”

     -“You do your best. That’s love. It’s not all about you.”

“Oh! Right. Okay.”

     -“Don’t worry. Stick with me – I’ll get you there.”

“The snow is still coming down.”

     -“It is. Isn’t it beautiful? I love it!”

 

(The Conversations, part 1 and part 2.)

A Doubter’s Creed

A Doubter’s Creed

“We believe in God…”

The Creed is an ancient statement of belief that many Christians around the world recite each week. There are several creeds, and the Nicene version is commonly used. Most every line is the result of an argument – as much an assertion about what beliefs “we” don’t accept as of what “we” do affirm.

That history troubles me. I know too well what drawing those lines in the sand between “us” and the other does, what an insistence about what we know to be true of great mystery can become.

It comforts me that the Creed’s actual language is “I believe” rather than “I know” (though it seems it has been treated much more as a statement of the latter).

But what about when I am not even sure what I believe? Then it comforts me to remember that the Latin credo may be better translated “I trust,” than with our modern, enlightenment understanding of “believe.”

But credo has deeper roots than that. Its original meaning is “to place one’s heart.”

Where does my heart find its place, its rest?

Not always in the carefully constructed words of the Creed, words that sometimes revel in mystery and sometimes seem to wall it in.

There is an early tradition in the Eastern church called apophatic theology that says the only way to think about God, the Divine Good, is by asserting what God is not. Everything that we say God is falls short – incomplete at best and too often misleading altogether.

The best of the apophatic tradition leads not just to an intellectual exercise or sort of mental qualifier footnoting everything we assert about who God is. At its best, it opens us up to approaching God beyond our categories. It expands our ability to trust God beyond our understanding.

If Ultimate Reality is Love, definitions don’t come easily.

Love is messy and confusing and full of pain as well as joy. Too often I have experienced love as qualified and redefined past any recognizability or, in truth, any actual loving.

That is not love. Love is not an intellectual exercise. Love is not rejection, not alienation, not abandonment. It is not self-serving and doesn’t keep score. Love isn’t arrogant or presumptuous. Love doesn’t find satisfaction in being proven right. Love doesn’t look back, doesn’t hold back. Love doesn’t give up on people.

The old Anglo-Saxon word “believe” comes from the same root (lief) as the German belieben, which means “belove.”

When I’m not sure how to say the Creed, not sure what I think or “believe” about these things, it helps to know what and who I love. It helps to know I place my heart, my trust in Love.

And it helps to know that when he was asked what was most important, Jesus didn’t say anything about what we were supposed to believe. He said the most important thing was to love.

And when I don’t know what I believe, I do still know I love.

The Shapes and Spaces of Love

The Shapes and Spaces of Love

Love changes us, or at least it does me.

Being loved has changed me. It’s helped me recognize who I am and dive deeper into who I’m meant to be. Seeing myself as capable of inspiring love, regardless of how life may get in the way, has been profound.

It’s impossible to quantify, but sometimes it feels like loving has changed me even more.

Loving someone makes room in my heart for them, a space that grows to accommodate and welcome a particular person. And the thing is, that’s not a generic space – it’s a space uniquely shaped to who they are. Other things get adjusted and changed to make room as the space takes shape.

And it goes beyond the person themselves.

I notice things I would have missed before. I ask different questions – of myself as well as of the world. I’m continually inspired to try to see things through a different perspective that is not my own.

And in the process, how I see changes. What I see changes, and how I understand it. I’m stretched and grow into – not someone else – but someone who is both a broader and a deeper me. I become more myself in ways I never imagined, and I find things in myself I never knew were there. I love that journey (even while it’s scary as anything).

Venturing into love is always stepping out into the unknown. It will always show us things we didn’t know about ourselves and the world. And all those things won’t be pretty.

I’ve discovered things within myself I’ve wanted to look away from and forget, but love means facing them and dealing with them, as hard as that may be. I’ve encountered things in our world, things that wound and shape others, things that should never be. But love doesn’t look away. Love steps up and steps in closer to embrace it all.

Kiss the demons and name their lies.

But I also discover profound beauty, both in myself and others. Strength, kindness, generosity of spirit, courage, forgiveness, hope, longing. Minds that are dreaming a better world and turning those dreams into reality.

Love is always an adventure. If you’re in it for an outcome you already have all the architectural drawings for? Well…then you’re in love with an idea that’s dead. Life is always changing – growing and fading and creating something new along the way.

Love creates shapes and spaces that weren’t there before. It recreates our lives and it recreates the world. We can enter and embrace that with wonder or with fear (mostly we can’t help but have a mix of both).

But if we can let the wonder win out…the possibilities of the journey are glorious.