Posts Tagged ‘love’

Sometimes I feel like I spend too much time writing about other people’s ideas, their works of art or their beautifully written stories, thoughts and inspirations.  I wonder if I can ever be original myself?  But there are other times when I realise that all our musings and opinions and expressions are combinations of many things we have heard before in all sorts of places, from all sorts of people and at all sorts of angles.  They pour into the melting pot processor that is our brain and from deep out of somewhere we each mould and create our own, individual perspectives.; perspectives which will pour into others’ melting pot processors to be diced up, rolled out, recombined with bits and pieces and re-presented. 

Just this evening I was listening to the radio and heard 2 pieces that really touched me, which I reflected on consciously for a while but which have now sunk down to a chamber somewhere, all ready to start the dicing process!

The first was an interview with Francisco Goldman, the author of ‘Say her Name’.  He chose to call it a novel, even though it is a sort of memoir to his young wife, Aura.  At the beginning of the book, the reader is told that Aura died by jumping into a wave with a body board in the Pacific Ocean in Mexico.  They had been married less than 2 years.  Aura’s mother and uncle blamed Francisco for her death and do not speak to him to this day.  For many months after the accident, Francisco drank heavily until he was told he was killing himself.  He decided he needed to do something with his life that wouldn’t embarrass Aura and the book, described as a beautiful love story and an extraordinary story of loss, became his life for the next few years.

I don’t know what the book itself is like.  In fact, I’ve read a none too flattering review of it!  But it was Goldman’s deeply personal reflections in the interview that set me wondering.  He questioned why, out of all the people in the world, one person should come to fascinate and captivate us so much that they should fill up our whole life?  And when that person dies, where does that personality go?  Sometimes he felt he loved Aura so much that he wanted to be her, to know what it was like to reside in her brain. 

The only way he could comprehend and accept what happened on that beach was to see every moment of Aura’s life leading to, and culminating in, her leap into that wave.  In the same way, all the twists and turns of his own life led to that heart-beat.  In some way, all their moments were bound up in that moment.

Goldman spoke about the importance he felt of conveying Aura’s mother faithfully and well because of the close relationship she had had with her only daughter.  And this despite her grief stricken accusations against him and his own survivor’s guilt, having so recently vowed to protect his young wife in any way possible.            


The second radio gem was a preview of Julian Lennon’s new song, ‘Looking for Love’.  It was one of those lovely moments when I turned the radio on on an off chance, not expecting to hear anything special and then something beautiful was just placed in my lap.  There were so many truthful lyrics but one line in particular struck me. 

‘I need to find someone with the purest heart and mind, it’s the hardest thing to find’.    

It was such an unusual, unexpected, simple sentiment.  How often is purity the quality that someone in a popular song is searching for?!  Isn’t it usually the opposite?  The beauty of the phrase was that just for this line, all instruments were stripped away leaving just the simplest piano notes (and I’m a sucker for the piano!).  The music itself was clear and pure for a short moment.

Well, that’s what touched me. 

You’ll probably be touched by a completely different line.  Or a whole other song.  Or maybe a scene in a film.  These things might not be originally ours, but when they touch us, they blend and integrate with all our other inner swirlings.  And sooner or later originality shows itself.


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I bet most of us have had the conversation (or heard the conversation) about ‘love is not a feeling’.   You know, the one where your parent or a preacher or a more mature friend waxes lyrical about how in today’s western culture we mistakenly associate love with mushy, gooey, lovely feelings and then feel our love for someone has passed or died when those stomach fireworks are no longer going on.  Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree with the sentiment that love is not primarily a feeling, (although I dearly hope that any future husband of mine might actually marry me because of some things he finds lovely and pleasing in me, not just inspite of all my flaws!  (“well dear, you’re certainly not much to look at but don’t worry, I’m going to grit my teeth and propose marriage to you anyway because I love you”!!)

But all this begs the question, well what is love then?  And lots of people have lots of answers to that too.  What strikes me, and what I come back to time and time again, is that love in it’s most simple but toughest form, is the overwhelming desire for somebody’s (or something’s) good.  That includes their physical, emotional, spiritual and mental good at the very least.  This is so simple but profound because it means love is no longer a selfish thing that is satisfying the lover’s needs.  It’s possible to do all sorts of things for someone’s good that may have no benefit for you and may even be detrimental to you.  They may never even know what you have done for them in secret.  Certainly Jesus was not feeling all mushy and gooey on the cross.  This definition of love also means that it’s ok to be cross with someone, to discipline them (in an appropriate way if this is your role) or to sometimes be brutally honest and blunt/harsh with them as long as the prime motive is always to help them flourish.  In fact, love sometimes requires these things, even at the risk of the person reacting badly to you as a result.  I regularly see Jesus acting this way in the gospels.

This ties in with another point.  Again, if you’ve been to church for a fair length of time (I don’t presuppose that most of us have to be fair, but if you have) then you will also probably have heard a preacher say that when God looks at Christians, he sees Jesus and therefore he does not see our flaws, we are truly pristine and wonderful creatures in his eyes.  To be honest, this idea is supposed to be comforting but it just grates on me and makes me distinctly uncomfortable.  It’s like God is wearing some cosmic rose-tinted specs and not seeing reality at all.  The whole point is that I want God to see me in reality, otherwise how can he really love the real me?  How can he help me in my difficulties and out of my flaws?  Who of us really wants a partner who puts their fingers in their ears when we try to express our brokenness to them, and sings loudly so they can continue to believe we are perfect?  Surely what we crave is someone who will be absolutely clear about our failings but love us unwaveringly anyway.  How else will intimacy and honesty develop?

The only way that someone could have that kind of honest love for another person (I am convinced), would be if they could already see something wonderful in their beloved but could also see their beloved’s potential and who they could be, perhaps the glorious being they were created to become.  That person would not let go of that vision and would continue to do all they could to help the other flourish and develop into their glory.  That’s how a mother sees her child isn’t it, the baby she once held in her arms so clean and fresh, full of potential?  She will continue to believe in the goodness of her child and the possibility of its redemption to the end, even if the child has grown up and royally screwed up its own life.  That’s how I reckon God sees us – not perfect creatures now, but the perfect creatures we could be because we have the seed for that in us already.  I guess the seed is his image and God continues to love the real us in the now in order that we might develop into the truly glorious us.  Every little bit of beauty and flourishing in us is a complete joy to him.  The kiss gradually turns the frog into the prince.  Forget the rose tinted specs, that’s the kind of love I need and, I believe, the kind of love he gives.

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I really enjoy the more or less annual summer road trip with my family from here to Switzerland.  I remember one year, stumbling bleary eyed into the Volvo at 4am, informing the neighbourhood we were off with repeated attempts at starting the engine culminating in a backfire, and then travelling along virtually empty motorways to the white cliffs of Dover.  Along the way a mist had formed at ground level and it was not yet late enough and warm enough for it to have evaporated away.  It settled in ditches and hollows and hovered above rivers with the sun rise piercing through it, looking, for all the world, like part of a cloud kingdom inhabited by goblins and imps.

But my most favourite part of the journey (bar lunch) is when we start winding through the Vosges Mountains of north eastern France.

The Vosges are in the red box!

As we do so, a great sense of calm and peace begins to descend on me.  Of course, the scenery is unquestionably beautiful, with some of the best views emerging from gaps in road-side forests around hair pin bends (“KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD MUM!!”)  The mountains are not particularly stark and intimidating like some, but instead tuck into each other and appear covered in a granddad’s green beard of trees.  Sometimes the distant landscape is so patch-quilted with gentle colours that I want to run my hands over its smooth softness.

Even the houses look carefully thought out and friendly with their pastel colours and decorative shutters.  It gives me the impression that people have taken care over their homes and land and therefore that somehow they care about life in general.

But maybe apart from all this, what I am really feeling is that I am very near the end of my journey and on the boarders of reaching Switzerland.  I’m nearly home.  The landscape appears more Swiss-like, the architecture and design more familiar and the towns often have such Swiss-German sounding names that I wonder how on earth a French person would even pronounce them!  Why should Switzerland feel like a home when in fact it is not my literal home at all?  Why don’t I get a similar feeling when returning to my physical home?

I think this is because I have so many virtually untainted happy childhood memories out in Switzerland.  Primarily these involve my whole family’s excitement at seeing loved ones again, knowing that they will be just as overjoyed to see us too, and particularly feeling safe and secure amongst this age-old family love and generosity, such that I and my cousins could just play together with no concerns about school or responsibility or even decisions about how to fill the next moment.  As the sun goes down over the Vosges Mountains and the shadows lengthen, I begin to feel as if I myself am being tucked safely in to them with heavy eyes after a long day’s play, just as they tuck into themselves and just as my aunts and grossmami have tucked me in many times before.

This feeling reminds me of a reminiscence by John Eldredge in his book ‘The Sacred Romance’.  He describes Sunday afternoons in summer as a child when he would often be at his grandfather’s ranch alongside many cousins, great aunts, friends and relatives.  As he sat on the step outside he could hear the elder family members talking and laughing and he felt very settled and content.  He goes on to say,

‘My sense of security grew from an awareness that all this had been going on before me, that though I was part of it I wasn’t responsible for it.  It didn’t depend on me.  You’ve heard that children care more that their parents love each other than that they love them, and that is the reason why.  It’s the assurance that there is something grand and good going on that doesn’t rest on your shoulders, something that doesn’t even culminate in you but rather invites you up into it.’

I don’t believe that even as aged adults we lose this desire for love, for security, for foundation and for a home that was there long before us. My 97 year old neighbour who died last year used to tell me that she still cried out for her mum at night.  At times I think that maybe this desire comes from the simple fact that we are conscious beings and therefore aware that one day we will die.  The unease that this engenders no doubt sometimes leads to a strong search for security and a sense of being looked after.  (Yes, I do have a mind that is (at the moment anyway) regularly tossed between the scientific and the spiritual, not that I think they always have to clash.  I sometimes wonder if anyone else out there knows how that feels!)

And yet the feeling that I get in the Vosges and that John Eldredge describes and that I’m sure most people experience at times is different than simple longing for self preservation.  There is something really lovely about hearing my mum, her mum and 2 sisters talking and laughing together, It’s as if, in their bond of love and shared experience, they’re holding together another bond from which many rope-spokes protrude, including mine.  They are their own little community but that community was going on long before I existed, it doesn’t depend on me but I can become part of it, rest in it, benefit from it and pass on the love and joy.

And now I know that God is a community, a bond of love between Father and Son which is the Spirit.  From all eternity this community has existed in great closeness and intimacy, and has continually poured out self-giving love from one member to another, almost like a dance.  Out of the joy of this love God created because love always desires to share, just as couples in love often want to extend their family and their love and so have children.  And the offer of this trinity God is that we can be taken up into their family community, into the bond and spirit of love as children if we wish to be, just as Jesus has always been the Son.  If the experiences we have in our own lives in our most joyful, peaceful moments are reflections of the kind of love that flows in the trinity then maybe that is the real home that we are ultimately looking for?

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All these excerpts are taken from ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ by Dallas Willard

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Over the last few years, my beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity etc have changed a huge amount, so much so that it sometimes feels like a complete re-conversion.  The experience has made me wonder what other important perspectives and wisdom I am currently oblivious to but might one day ‘see’.  It’s really hard having all your ideas thrown in the air and then trying to put them together again somehow.  What you based your life on gets pulled out from under your feet and things become very insecure.  But a lot of good has come from it so far.

It all started with a niggle.  That niggle had probably been there all my life but a few years ago it suddenly erupted into my consciousness.  I couldn’t hide it anymore.  I think what it all boiled down to was my anger at God for being boss.  For being the one not only who gets to call the shots and demand all the honour, but who also enjoys the fact that he is supreme and dislikes anyone who tries to muscle in on that.  Obviously, deep down I knew it wasn’t this crude (and the God I knew more personally wasn’t like that really), but basically that was the nub of my frustration taken to its extreme.  You might think my thoughts were immature and dumb but I think that the underlying sentiment is what gets taught/implied in church a lot of the time, even if not in so many words.  I was sick of it.

But, I had this strong sense that Jesus kind of knew what he was talking about and had the key to life the way it was designed to be lived, as if he was in on a secret.  I felt compelled to read the story of Jesus from start to finish without stopping to try and understand him better.  So often bits of passages in the bible get picked out and read totally out of any context and if this doesn’t lead to outright errors, it often just isn’t helpful for understanding what was really going on.  So I picked Luke (seeing as he was a Dr and therefore somehow I trusted him more!), sat cross-legged on my bed after work and started plowing through.

What struck me undeniably was that Jesus constantly talked about his ‘Kingdom’ coming.  That seemed to be his message, which is quite different to the one that tends to get pushed in Christian circles, ie, that you are bad/do bad things and thus need to receive forgiveness from God, which you thankfully now can because Jesus has taken the punishment on the cross for you – eek!)  To be honest, that second message never made much sense to me.  When I was 14 I helped at a Christian holiday kids club at easter and we watched a cartoon of the easter story-Jesus’ crucifixion.  Afterwards the leader said to me that he could tell I was deeply moved by what God had done for me because of the look on my face during the cartoon.  Inside I was thinking ‘heck, I was distraught for poor Jesus but pretty mad at God for doing it to him.  And for thinking it should have been me.  But I’m glad you don’t know that!’

Anyway, back to Jesus constantly talking about his kingdom arriving….  I began to realise so many things more clearly and hope to explore these more in future blogs:

1,  When Jesus talked about a ‘kingdom’ coming, what he meant was that God’s rule was for once actually becoming established.  Where Jesus was speaking and acting things were getting done the way God always wanted them to, such as in healings and caring for the poor.

2,  This kingdom was not a ‘pie in the sky when you die’ one but a real physical one on this earth.  Therefore what you do here on earth is not just getting you ready to ‘go to heaven’ but is actually helping (or hindering) heaven (ie, God’s rule) coming to earth.  In a very real sense, God isn’t concerned about whether you have prayed a prayer to ask forgiveness and then gone on your merry way, but whether you are ‘giving a drink to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick’ as Jesus himself says.  What you do here really matters and will last on to eternity if it is in keeping with Jesus’ Kingdom.  NT Wright has written some fantastic stuff about this, a good starting point being his book, ‘Surprised by Hope’.

3,  The essence or ‘rule’ of this new kingdom all comes down to love.  However basic (and dull?) it sounds, I really started to have scales fall from my eyes on this and it excited me!  I mean, Jesus even says (later repeated much by Paul) that all the law and the prophets boil down to love.  In other words, you can read the entire Old Testament inside out and keep to all the big and little laws but it’s all only there in the first place to help us to love.  If you love, you have fulfilled the whole law – that’s mind blowing and totally liberating!  It also started to release me slowly from the fear that God is self-centred and interested in his own glory.

4,  To carry this point on a bit further, while Jesus is teaching people up on a mountainside, he says ‘you have heard it said “love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you:  Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax-collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect then as your heavenly father is perfect.’  Again, is this not mind-blowing?  I mean, firstly, the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing and ‘love your neighbour, hate your enemy’ mentality comes from the Old Testament, from God.  So how come Jesus is suddenly overriding that?  More than that, he is actually saying that God loves and blesses unconditionally, regardless of whether someone deserves it or not, and if you don’t do that then you can not call yourself a child of God.  There is no family likeness!  But aren’t we used to assuming that God is ‘fair’ and ‘just’ so he repays according to how we act and what we deserve?  That if we do evil he will repay us with some kind of negativity?  Isn’t that what we think should happen?  Tit for tat.  It seems Jesus is equating God the Father’s perfection not with moral perfection and lack of any moral blemish, but with loving perfectly, unconditionally.

And don’t forget, Jesus knew full well about enemies, he wasn’t being naive and unrealistic.  He was talking to Jews who were at the time being ruled over (often barbarically) by the Romans, who were an occupying force.  Imagine Hitler winning WW2 and occupying Britain, it’s the same sort of scenario.  Jesus knew about real life enemies and was still saying ‘love them’.

5,  The reason I think God is able to act this way is because he realises firstly that trying to overcome darkness with darkness is just ridiculous and counter-productive.  But secondly, that fear and coersion may be able to curb and improve someone’s behaviour but they can not change someone on the inside.  Only love can do that.  Laws, coersion and punishment can stop you beating someone up but can’t stop you hating them and wanting to hurt them.  Fear of what others might think could stop you having an affair but wouldn’t stop you wanting to or day dreaming about it.  Jesus’ words focus so much on the importance of inner motivation and the type of character you have as opposed to how you’re seen to be behaving.  The unconditional love of God is the only thing that can affect inner change and free us to be able to love unconditionally as well.

6,  Therefore, laws become virtually obsolete.  If you really are filled up and perfused with love, you won’t need the law to tell you how to act because it will come much more naturally.  Laws are good in so far as they point you to how you should be acting, but they have no power to help you act this way.  This is a great example of this idea I heard from Greg Boyd (www.whchurch.org).  Imagine a man who is told that if he can convince a woman that he is a fantastic husband and to stay married to him for 5 years then he wins a million pounds.  This man then sets about finding out all about ways to act romantically, behave lovingly and generally convince a woman he is a great husband.  She marries him.  But eventually this woman of course begins to realise that this relationship is not real.  It’s too scripted and perfect.  There is no real love.  In actual fact, although her husband looks like a perfect husband, he really is only acting this way to gain money for himself.  He doesn’t really love her at all, it’s all about him.  This is sort of what it’s like when we behave morally but only so we can gain good things for ourselves such as a place in heaven or escape from punishment.  There is no real love or concern either for God or for others and it’s selfishly motivated.

7,  This difference between law and love is the difference between having a contract with someone and having a covenant with them.  God always makes covenants with us, not contracts.  But more on that later…………

These are some of the things that started to jump out at me as I read Luke and they’ve become almost like precious stones to me.  But they were only the beginning – man, it took me long enough to get there!  There’s lots more to talk about, some things that have brought clarity and others that have made things muddier again.  As my blogging goes on I want to explore these things, if only for my own sake, but I hope you find it helpful too!

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