Despite having recently led a retreat on Lenten practices, I’ve struggled with finding my groove during Lent this year. (It’s so true that we preach what we most need to hear!) I’m not necessarily seeking to perform perfectly (as would have been the case for my younger self), but rather to find my right way(s) to draw closer to God during this Lenten season. While pausing in stillness one day last week, listening for the voice of the Spirit, I got the idea to reflect more deeply on three key elements of the spiritual life, as outlined by the apostle Paul: faith, hope, and love.
In the interests of mixing things up a bit, I’m starting with love. I realize that all three of these words have been “secularized” to a large extent by American culture. In terms of love, we talk glibly about how we “love” ice cream or the latest meme from a social media trendsetter. We speak of loving our friends, loving new art, loving something we can grasp, or control, or an idea we can tuck away on our mental bookshelf and bring out later to justify our thoughts and actions.
Love meant something very different to Jesus. At the end of his ministry, during the very last meal that he shared with his disciples before he was killed, Jesus talked about loving. For him, loving was an action, a perspective, an attitude. It was sacrificial. Love for each other was the way his followers would recognize one another in the future. Paul tried to articulate what that meant once Jesus was no longer with them. He used words like patient and kind, and wrote of enduring and trusting in the eternal. For him, love was about persevering, even in the unknown, and bearing up under the worst of circumstances.
Many of us feel that we’ve been bearing up under the worst of circumstances over the past year. COVID-19 has transformed our lives in ways we could never have dreamed possible a year ago. The seat of our democracy has been stormed by domestic terrorists. People with power have chosen to disenfranchise their fellow citizens in new and creative ways simply (and profoundly) because they choose fear and scarcity rather than trust and love.
Yet, despite it all, that deeper sense of love remains. It may be hard to find on the surface of our culture, but it remains available to us, and we still tend to turn to it in moments of crisis. As Paul wrote, love never ends. The power grabs will pass, as will the people who make them. Paul dared to believe that he would move from a childish perspective of scarcity to an adult’s trust and hope in the Spirit’s power to work for good in the future. Yet he, like us, couldn’t see the full picture. It’s still unfolding.
I’ve written in the past about glimpsing the web of love and trusting in the alchemy of love, even during very challenging times. In this Lenten season, I am once again trusting in the unfolding of love—in that deeper sense that goes far beyond ice cream, to the recognition that every other being on this planet is just as entitled to receive love as I am.
Love is a sacred concept. How can you reclaim it?