The Way Sleep Finds Me

A “can do attitude” is the natural byproduct of what is commonly known as the protestant work ethic – an ethic that assumes that where there are idol hands, the devil must be at work. And whereas, a well-intended virtue is behind the inspiration of such an ethos, it invariably fosters the knee-jerk reaction of “don’t just stand there –do something!” A reaction, more often than not, fraught with unintended consequences. I liken this unto the commonly employed vacuous bromide “Make a difference!” An ambiguous admonition so completely devoid of moral discernment that it could be reasonably argued that Adolf Hitler “made a difference” . . . so maybe “doing something” isn’t always the best policy.

My point isn’t to promote a laissez faire sensibility, but rather to suggest that a slowing of our reflexive impulse to take action might allow us a moment’s discernment to determine what the actual problem might be, so that an actual solution might be determined. And trust me when I tell you – I’ve lived long enough to know that, more often than not, it is the clamoring voices calling for immediate action, who inevitably are the ones, almost without exception, who jump to the wrong conclusion . . . and then impose their solution on the rest of us. So it’s best to remember – wisdom is never in a hurry.

The wise are always capable of distinguishing between what can be changed and what cannot . . . and never confuses the two. Wisdom knows that we can’t change (fix) one another – we can only become an inviting expression of being changed. It also knows what can be held, and what must be let go. And it knows that the most meaningful lessons learned, are the ones we’re not even trying to learn. In this way, wisdom is far more identifiable by what it doesn’t do or say. Like the wisdom of sleep – you can’t find it by looking for it.

The problem with trying to fall asleep – is that “trying to fall” is oxymoronic . . . and if you’re trying to sleep – you’re doing it wrong. It’s taken me a long time to learn the art of sleep – learning to power down my conscious mind so that my subconscious mind can begin the process of curating my dreams. The trick is in letting go of each thing as if placing each one into God’s hands – offering my grateful prayers as the whispering dark lowers my body into the stillness, for a few small repairs. This is the way sleep finds me – in a state of contented surrender . . . I give myself to it, unconditionally.

This is also the way love finds me – one by one I hand over to God everything I seek to control, knowing each to be an impediment. Because in the same way that the mind can come up with many foolish reasons for withholding sleep – the mind comes up with reasons for holding God, and those he places in our lives, at arm’s length. But the love of God bids me come without hesitation into his presence, so that the necessary repairs of my heart can be made. So that I might know myself as his beloved and be filled with the overwhelming desire to see his Kingdom come . . . where love is all!

. . . and love never fails

All This Scandalous Love (1 of 4)

When I was a child, I heard the story of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) as a cautionary tale of self-destruction and self-delusion. A story about a person who had wandered away from the presence of God simply by allowing all of the impermanent things of this life to displace God. Like Esau trading away his birthright to his brother for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). It was a life of reckless dissipation, burning hot and fast like a grease fire – until it burned itself out . . . and thankfully, the father was there, willing enough to pick up the pieces at the end.

As a younger man, having acquired a nuanced appreciation for theological detail, I discovered the cautionary tale of the older brother embedded within the telling of The Prodigal Son. I observed that it was possible to wander away from the presence of God without actually leaving home — to do all that the father required without ever giving the father another thought. That you could simply follow the arch of your own ambition, seeking the same impermanent rewards your prodigal brother had been chasing after . . . just in a more socially acceptable way. But even then, the father would be patiently waiting for your return.

Now that I’m much older, I tend to grow impatient when I hear a preacher teaching on The Prodigal Son – I just want them to hurry up and get to the part where the father can see his son from afar off and goes running out to throw his arms around him, welcoming him home . . . because this is the whole point of the story. No matter the sin, of which each brother represents, the father’s love is always at the ready, patient and eager. It is a shamelessly pursuant love, finding its beloved wherever they are lost.

prodigalson“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This is the Father’s love – self-emptying and sacrificially redemptive. This is why Jesus tells this parable – to remind us that the Father’s love is relentless . . . and will pay whatever cost.

All this scandalous love, poured out so unconstrained, knowing no shame, openly declaring itself for all the world to hear. Jesus enters the world as the ultimate expression of love — God with us, joining us in our struggle, saving us from the ravages of death. The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are events that can, no doubt, be appreciated as profoundly theological, in the same way that I ruminated over the role of each brother in the parable. But the real crescendo here is best experienced in realizing that this is the Father gathering you into his arms — so that you would know that you are loved . . . regardless of what the rest of your story might be.

. . . and with a love like that, all that’s left to do is get onboard.

When Love Calls Your Name (2 of 3)

It was a cold December night when I first met my wife. It was a Christmas party – I showed up with some other girl . . . and Doreen (my wife) who doesn’t drink coffee, brought coffee for everyone else (and that was my first clue). And even though she and I only spoke for a few minutes, she ended up inviting me, through a mutual friend, to a dinner she was hosting at her house, between Christmas and New Year. So as they say, the rest was history – we were married the following May. And we’ve been married now for 35 years. We have 7 kids and 4 grand kids . . . with another one on the way.

That was the night my life was forever changed. I went from being a vagabond poet, living in the wild impermanence of a single life – into a shared path of abiding love with my sweetheart, a woman who has been so completely woven into my life, that I can no longer clearly identify exactly where I end and she begins. I guess you could say, that December night, was a night that love called my name, pulling me into another dimension, making my life much larger than the life I was living. But that is the way of love, it is unconstrained, and will not be domesticated . . . as if it could somehow fit into the small life it originally finds us living.

Love is a powerful thing—it will take you to extremes. With love, you’ll experience the greatest of joys, and invariably, you will experience the deepest of sorrows. But here’s the thing — more often than not, we are hardly ever prepared for what love is actually calling us to do. Because we falsely assume that we can have our own agenda with love . . . as if love had no agenda of it’s own. When we define love as getting everything we want — then it really isn’t love at all . . . because real love is incapable of being selfish.

AdobeStock_144177491_webEven the person with a healthy appreciation for self-love doesn’t subscribe to a selfish love, as much as they practice a form of self-identifying love – correctly identifying themselves as the beloved of God, as one who bears his image. For they know that love has been calling their name long before the foundations of the world, and it is that very love resonating within them that they have identified. Because love set apart from the ineffably transcendent truth, that God is love, is nothing more than a meaningless self-indulgence pretending to be something more.

St Benedict is said to have pondered – what could be better than to have the Lord call your name? Because it is a profound intimacy, to be known, and to be loved in just this way. This is the very love that took Christ to the cross, so that he could reconcile us to himself – becoming the love story, by which all other love stories are measured. So yea, that’s love calling your name – are you ready to allow it to forever change your life? But before you answer that, remember — there really isn’t an option where it doesn’t.

“I threw the dice when they pierced his side
— but I’ve seen love conquer the great divide”

Being Loved (7 of 8)

The question of whether life has purpose, meaning, and significance is the very heartbeat of our presuppositions – but like much of our philosophical formation, it remains in abstraction, allowing the more pressing issues of our day to day to take center stage. And even though these presuppositions often abide largely undetected, or are ruminated on as the grand themes of life, far removed from our practical daily experience – they still seem to have a way of making themselves ever-present, taking the shape of longings and desires stirring within us, seeking resolution.

The transcendent forces of love and beauty defy definition – the best we can do is to offer our experiential descriptions of them. I would argue that they are elusively defined precisely because they are transcendently sourced — affixed to the underlying purpose, meaning, and significance of life. So that all that is evocative and beautiful might give us a glimpse of what makes life meaningful — all of us having an abiding desire to be known and loved, intuitively drawn back to the transcendent source from which love comes.

The adage “love is blind” is a bit misleading — seeming to suggest that love is somehow left in the dark about who we really are . . . and if ever discovered would soon depart. But love is eyes wide open – choosing to look beyond our faults and failings, choosing to embrace us as we are . . . so that we might be truly known and truly loved. Because behind the larger philosophical question of whether or not life, in general, has significance, is the question: does my life have significance? . . . and love answers with an emphatic – Yes! This is the starting place for knowing what it means to be loved.

imagesGod is love (1 John 4:8) isn’t meant as a scriptural Hallmark greeting card sentiment – rather, it is an ontological cornerstone on which the whole of creation is to be understood. Because the otherness of God is shrouded in mystery, it is the transcendent nature of love that gives us a peek beyond the theological definitions of God to find a knowing of him (and ourselves), that defies definition. So when we read “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” ~ Romans 5:8 . . . God isn’t only showing us how much love he has for us, but he is also revealing something essential about himself – that love is who he is and what he does.

It is a curious thing that such a cruel device of tortuous execution would come to symbolize the most profound expression of love – in fact, the epicenter of all love. That the very love that spoke creation into existence, is the same love that took Jesus to the cross . . . and now love itself is measured in this way. But being loved and feeling loved are not always the same. Being loved, for each of us together and separately, has been sown into creation from the very beginning. And in a redounding crescendo that split history wide open, love was on full display for everyone to see, in the cross of Christ. So you may not always feel it – but being loved is an inescapable fact of who you are.

This Pierce Pettis song always explains it better than I could ever hope to . . .

An Irreducible Love (3 of 3)

Is there an ontological core to love, after you strip away all of the superficial affectations? I suppose an affinity for chocolatey confections would no doubt be winnowed away as conspicuous hyperbole, right out of the gate. Then we have the libido la bomba of hormonal attraction and desire which only employs love as a pretense – which wouldn’t seem a likely candidate, either. But what of the squishy warm feelings of sentimentality? This strikes me as more symptomatic than substantive – more smoke than fire. Could it really be that love is just an onion – after we peel away all of the superficial layers we discover that it was nothing more than superficial layers?

And is love really as mercurial as people describe? Falling in and out of love, as if love were some kind of fashion accessory, discarding yesterday’s news for the next big thing. But wouldn’t that be more of a commentary on the capricious and fickle imperfections of love’s practitioners, than on love itself? Then of course there are also those who believe love to be nothing but an illusion – nothing more than a brain chemistry trick of the mind. The spaghetti monster of the evolutionary process is just pushing the buttons and flipping the switches of our DNA, so as to assure the survival of our species – therefore, love at its core, is simply a matter of survival pragmatism.

love-rocks-19277324I can’t help but feel like I’m being gaslighted by such a bloodless reductionist explanation – as if love were merely a means to an evolutionary end; as if love had no intrinsic value; as if it weren’t an essential key to unlocking the deeper meaning of why we exist. So if we are to embrace an irreducible love, a love that serves as a guiding principle, it must rise above the manipulative vagaries of our emotions, yet still be viscerally accessible enough to everyone regardless of circumstance. In short, it must be affixed to an immutably transcendent source.

1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love – God isn’t simply loving, or the source of love, he is the very substance of love. In context (1 John 4:7-12) we are being admonished to actually partake of God himself, by loving one another. This passage reaches its crescendo in verse 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I’m particularly intrigued by the syllogistic construct of this verse (1) God isn’t seen; (2) But if we love one another; (3) God lives in us; (4) His love is made complete in us. It seems to be suggesting that an invisible God (premise 1); is made visible when we love one another (premise 2); and then as a result, God living in us completes us with his love (conclusion).

For those who have lost their way and can’t find the invisible God – God’s love (God himself according to 1 John 4:8) is at work in us, creating a breadcrumb trail home. We have the privilege of becoming the very face of God to everyone we meet, through the power of love. So love isn’t merely the means, but also the source . . . its the whole point! So that even in the smallest of ways – like my love for chocolatey confections (a.k.a. brownies), my love of them can serve as a reminder of his presence, of his goodness to me, even in the little details of life . . . which of course explains my overwhelming desire to praise him with every mouth full.

I am always undone by how this
Pierce Pettis song defines love