Life That Lasts

I recall singing that old hymn, “Where the Roses Never Fade” at funerals. Tears fell down as people gathered to say their last farewell to a lost loved one.  During those times, when words never seem enough, I’m always grateful for the promise of a life that never ends.

I am going to a city 
Where the streets with gold are laid,
Where the tree of life is blooming
And the roses never fade.

We pass through many shadowed valleys here, and the soul is weighed down by the grief and loss of all that fades in this life.  What comfort it is to lift our souls up, and to look for the roses that won’t fade.  

“Too many people feel like emotional robots these days, and are not willing or able to engage in the ups and downs of life.” says psychologist Betty Phillips.   “This emotional numbness,“ she says, “feels like the phrase from Shakespeare, ‘creeping in this petty pace from day-to-day until the last syllable of recorded time.’”  The antidote to emotional barrenness, is found in our ability to smell the roses, and experience a full range of emotions such as joy and love in beauty.

The roses that don’t fade are the great spiritual virtues such as faith, hope and love. By desiring and pursuing these qualities within us, we will discover the life that lasts.

 “A man is raised from the earth by two wings–” says Kempis, “simplicity and purity.”  

The soul is transformed like a butterfly when it looses itself in Christ so that it may gain heavenly wings.  The Messiah proclaimed in his suffering, “I am a worm, and not a man.” Psa 22:6.  We understand from this that Jesus on the cross was reduced to the likeness of sinful man, the worm, in our place.   Because of Jesus, like the butterfly, we who were the worms are becoming people of righteousness.  This transformation happens when we learn to despise all that is passing and hold on to what is eternal.  Teresa of Avila says,

Oh, to see the restlessness of this charming little butterfly, although never in its life has it been more tranquil and at peace! May God be praised! It knows not where to stay nor take its rest; everything on earth disgusts it after what it has experienced, when we are transformed like the butterfly, having risen from the cocoon, we never again find a permanent resting place in this world. (Interior Castle)

Nevertheless, our new freedom brings with it new desires and the enjoyment of the things that last:  eternal qualities such as faith, hope and love. These qualities are the nectar the little butterfly now drinks.  

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  John 12:25

Faith inspires in us to see beyond our immediate situation and its passing troubles.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Hope gives us an ability to rise above our dashed expectations and remaining optimistic about what is still possible.  “Hope is not disappointed,” says Paul, for it trusts in the ultimate goodness and mercy of God.

Love finds a way to heal and restore everything that is broken.  Love conquers all.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.  1 Corinthians 13:4

Staying Open

I want to stay open to the stirrings of God’s Spirit more often this year.  He is pursuing us daily but I so often miss those moments. This year, I want to be more tuned in.

With all that science, can you tell me how light enters the soul?” Henry David Thoreau.

Discovering God’s love is like finding the ivy-covered gate to a secret garden that has been closed for years and forgotten.   Once discovered, we have the choice to enter the garden and be changed, or remain outside with our longing and our safe life.   One of our human contradictions is that the thing we long for is often the very thing we work to keep out.   Like young lovers who play hide and seek with their affections, we are perhaps afraid of getting hurt by love.   We may simply fear the cost of true love, and the grace that is free but not cheap. The oddest part of this scenario is that I might be working hard at getting to know God while at the same time resisting Him.

“Divine intimacy can be powerfully appealing and yet frightening at the same time,” Mary Ann Schofield.

To move past my natural fear of change, is a choice I want to make more often this year.   That choice can mean leaving some of the familiar surroundings that feel safe, but may be blocking my growth. The self limiting perspectives and the unquestioned assumptions that I cling to,  are being tested.  The unbounded love of God cannot be controlled or tamed but continuously moves us to the boundaries. The Spirit draws me beyond the need for intellectual order into the cloud of unknowing, where love remains.  Sometimes I recoil, however, these thin, liminal places are God’s preferred points of contact with the soul.   Here we are transformed as our ego self is diminished and the fire within is able to be ignited afresh.

God is pursuing a relationship with us continuously, even as we resist Him.  How much more beautiful life will be, when we can stay open and connected to His reality.

“Contemplation is a long loving look at the real.”  – Walter Burghardt

 

Beguiled By Love

The trees look forlorn under the weight of a September snowfall, an early reminder of the chills to come.   My mind drifts to any number of friends that might be waking up today feeling like those branches. The grief for a lost love one, the concern for a troubled relative, the hoping against hope for recovery from cancer, are the burdens they carry.  Prayers are always welcome, but in the end it is love that remains.

“God is love”, says St John. This disciple whom Jesus loved has seen his share of visions. The presence of the risen Jesus once left him on the ground like a dead man.   Jesus said, “Do not be afraid!” (Rev. 1:17) “Perfect love drives our fear,” adds John from experience. (1 Jn 4:8)

 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. “ (1Jn 3:1).

It can get confusing trying to understand the love of God, especially when we suffer.   Is the “do not judge” Jesus really the same God as the fire and brimstone one?  Or,  as Marcion thought, is the angry God of ancient times a more primitive lower Deity?   I’m learning to appreciate the mystery of God as much as the answers.

The cure of the soul, as it is in the case of chemo treatment for cancer, may seem worse than the disease,  nevertheless the intention of God is for our good, for love seeks the good of the beloved.

God came near in the person of Jesus, as if he could not contain himself any longer.  In God becoming human, we see the true character of our unchanging, loving God.

God is “as it were, beguiled by goodness, by love, and by yearning and is enticed away from his transcendent dwelling place and comes to abide in all things.” –Pseudo Dionysius

Some children passed our yard in backpacks and winter coats on their way to school this morning. They pulled the snow-laden branches and released a joyous downfall as great soft clumps of white fell all around them. These troubles that weigh us down are “light momentary afflictions,” that are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Co 4:17)

In the sacred center of our being, the ground of being as it is often called, we encounter the love of God that can carry us through every season of living.

Love That Won’t Tie You Up.

The wedding party of smartly dressed young men and colourful bridesmaids lined the front of the chapel as the bride glided slowly up the aisle to meet her husband-to-be.  At the right time, I began to recite,  “Dearly beloved we are gathered here today . . . . ” Within any wedding crowd there are a variety of people:  some  married, others not;  some fondly remembering their wedding day, while others have sadly moved on. Yet, each one knows that this day is good, and love is wonderful. The two become one and live happily every after.   In reality they spend their first few years figuring out which one they will become. One piece of advice I shared that day was to love in such as way as to gradually, learn to set each other free.   True love is the most liberating and beautifying energy in the world.   Love that liberates however, also calls for the highest degree of devotion, forsaking all others.

Love, it will not betray you or dismay you or enslave you, it will set your free.  Mumford and Sons

Jesus love for us, bound him to the suffering of the cross, but in freedom He lives today.  His love releases us from the inner prisons of the soul that keep us bound.   Inside of us are self-destructive addictions that take root and wind around the soul. These passions keep us tied to destructive responses to life, such as rage. We are usually able to stay composed but then out of the blue our impatience flares up with even the smallest slight. In rage we feel for a moment strangely in control but then we are left with an emptiness. The ego self is energized by a desire for self protection and relief from the pain of living.  Yet, living for the benefit of our ego self we start to view others as obstacles to our happiness.  We can try to apply ourselves to the commandment to love others as ourselves, but our good intentions fail us.  The pure love of God can free us from our blindness, but we must be willing to be accept a love that won’t cater to our self centred demands.

Much of human life can be understood as addiction to patterns of life that ease pain but are physically and spiritually debilitating. They give the appearance of help but conceal the price. – Wendy Farley, The Wounding and Healing of Desire.

Like a flower opening up to the sunshine, a soul that is daily lifted up toward the source of light,  Jesus,  is able to outgrow the weeds of sin. Be captivated by this one great desire and love will set you free.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast!
Yet sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy presence rest.