Love and Leisure
May 17, 2009
Our readings today are so filled with mention of love that it might surprise you that what I want to talk about this morning is leisure. But love and leisure are closely connected,and it is my purpose this morning to demonstrate how that is the case.
I don’t know if you can recall your earliest memory in life. I can. I think I was about three years old, perhaps younger. It’s hard to tell. But I certainly was old enough to be able to know my way around our house, to move from one room into another in the ordinary course of play in which three year olds routinely engage. I remember one day entering into my parent’s bedroom. I had done that hundreds of times before. But this day as I walked in through the door, I was stopped in my tracks. There was a beam of sunlight coming in through the window at a particular angle which allowed it to luminate all the dust particles that were within it. The effect was dazzling, a beam of light in which millions of luminous specks were slowly rotating. I stood looking at that apparition for the longest time. I had never seen anything like it. After a few minutes I was drawn to it and I passed my hand through the beam. The dust particles made way for my fingers, swirling like currents in a stream. I played with that sunbeam until it disappeared with the passing of the sun. It was my first experience of wonder.
Wonder is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we use the word “awe” to name it. Awe takes place when beauty or peace or an unexpected freshness pulls us up and somehow elevates us in a moment of amazement. Awe moves us out of our ordinary lives into the eternal, if only for a few moments. But in those few moments we come about as close as we can to knowing—not with just our head but with our whole being—the presence of God. You see, awe and love are connected. They are connected because in those elevated moments of wonder, we know that the thing we behold and indeed ourselves, have been created by a God who loves us. In those moments we understand what it means to say God is love and why Jesus commands us to remain in the love of God always.
Now the practical outcome of this is we need wonder in our lives. We require it. Without it, life becomes simply a matter of duty and achievement. Without wonder, our needs and our requirements fill up every minute of our calendars. Without it God becomes a word, a concept and our lives become empty. Now all of us at certain moments face a wonder that is inescapable. When we hold a newly born child or grandchild in our arms for the first time, when we stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon, when the purples and yellows and oranges of a sunset rivet our eyes and refuse to let go. In circumstances such as these, only people with hearts of stone remain preoccupied with themselves. But we need wonder more frequently than these rare dramatic moments. We need wonder on a regular basis. So how do we find it?
We find wonder through leisure. It is very important to understand what leisure is. Leisure is not the same thing as entertainment. Entertainment consists of the things we can schedule, a concert, a ballgame, a party, a vacation. But leisure is the ability, a habit of the heart, that allows us to see in those things and in all things, the beauty of creation and the presence of God. Leisure is the attitude that tells us it is not a waste to stop and gaze on a daffodil or to sit quietly for a few minutes and listen to the music of soft falling rain. Leisure tells us that it is important to recognize the beauty of our spouse’s smile and to relish the smell of the garlic in our grandmother’s marinara. Leisure says that there is a high priority to finding a few idle moments in even the busiest of days in which we can simply notice the beauty that surrounds us. The time we take to take that beauty in is not a distraction from life but actually delving into the very heart of living. It is in that moment that we touch the God whose life invigorates all things.
Wonder is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a necessary gift if we are to appreciate the presence of God in all created things. That is why the gospel today calls us to an attitude of leisure, an attitude that allows us to value the importance of wonder and to create a space in which we can experience it. Doing so is not optional or incidental. It is essential because every time we stand in awe, we understand better who we are and to whom we belong. Every time we are caught up in wonder, we know in our deepest heart that God is love.
Mothers Who Affirm Life
May 13, 2012
1 John 4:7-10
In the movie, “The Help,” which was nominated last year for Best Picture, twelve black maids serve well-to-do white families in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. Part of the responsibility of the maids is to care for the children of the white families as their parents are busy about other matters.
In the movie, one of the maids, Abilene, cares for a little girl, Mae Mobley. Mae Mobley’s mother was disappointed in her daughter because she was not particularly pretty and in some ways seemed slow. As a result, the mother often ignored her daughter. To compensate for this, Abilene begins telling the little girl every morning a familiar mantra: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Each day, the little girl hears those lines, and over time they sink in. When the little girl begins to speak, she repeats them back to Abilene: “I is kind. I is smart. I is important.” Then she adds, “And you, Abie, you are my real mother.”
Mothers give life, but real mothers give more than physical life. They impart to their children the awareness of their own value and worth. They do this through affirmation. This is, in a sense, the highest kind of love because it enables another person to grow to their potential, to become the person that they were meant to be. This kind of love has a divine dimension. All of us are here because of the love of God that instills in each one of us a worth and an importance. So every time that we affirm another person and lift them up by our love, we are reflecting the very love of God that called us into being. This is why John, in today’s second reading, says, “Let us love one another for love is of God. Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God because God is love.” The greatest contribution that a mother or father can make is to so affirm and love their child so that the child grows in an awareness of who they are. In doing this, the parent reflects the creative love of God.
Now I am very aware that there might be some people here today who feel themselves crippled in life because they were not loved as they should have been by a parent. They were not affirmed into the fullness of their personhood. If that is your circumstance, I would ask: Has not God placed in your life someone else who affirms you, someone else that calls you into being, someone else who—like Abilene was for Mae Mobley—is for you a real mother or father?
On this Mother’s Day, and in light of today’s readings, all of us are called to remember who the people were in our life who affirmed us and called us into being. We should be thankful for them, whether they be our natural mothers or fathers or some special person that God has placed in our life. Today is a day to be thankful for the way that they affirmed us and called us to recognize our own talents and ability. If those persons are still alive today, today would be a good day to tell them personally of our gratitude. Today is also a day for us to recommit ourselves to affirm others. We should dedicate ourselves to affirm our children, our grandchildren, our friends, and our coworkers. Each time we do that, we impart life and reflect God’s ever-present creative love.
Paul “Bear” Bryant, a famous Alabama football coach, said, “You know, I’m not much more than a plow hand from Arkansas. But over my life I have learned how to form a football team and to motivate them to win. You do it by affirmation. I say three things. When things go badly, I say, ‘I did it.’ When things so somewhat well, I say, ‘We did it.’ And when things are a remarkable success, I say, ‘You did it.’ To say those three things are all you need to get a football team to win games for you.”
Now, of course, Coach Bryant isn’t completely correct. It takes more than affirmation to win a football game. You also need skill and practice. But affirmation should not be undervalued, and the same is true in life. Today, we should be thankful for those in our life who affirmed us and called us into being. Of course, just because we have been affirmed does not mean that everything in our life will run smoothly. But, if we are never affirmed, it is clear that not much in our life will run at all.
May 10, 2015
Jesus gives us a commandment in today’s gospel, and it is not an easy one. We are to love one another as he has loved us. Now loving others in general is a noble and beautiful ideal. But loving particular people can be a challenge. When someone irritates us at work or at school or in our family, loving that person seems unreasonable. When someone ignores us or hurts us, loving that person can seem impossible. So it is understandable that we try to wiggle out of Jesus’ command. We say to ourselves, “That person is selfish or manipulative. That person does not deserve to be loved.” But Jesus has anticipated our objection and shaped his command accordingly. He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And how has Jesus loved us? He has loved us even though we at times are selfish and manipulative. He has loved us even though we do not deserve his love. So Jesus gives us no room to escape from his command. We are to love others, even though they do not deserve to be loved.
So how do we pull off this seemingly impossible way of loving? Jesus shows us the way. In the gospel, before he gives us the command, he shows us how we can follow it. Before he tells us to give love, he tells us to take love. And the love that we are to take is Jesus’ own. He says, “Remain in my love. Then my joy will be yours, and your joy will be complete.” Jesus is telling us that we must first take his love in order to give love to others.
Now what does it mean to remain in Jesus’ love? It means that we are to remember and to embrace all the ways that he has loved us. Jesus has loved us by giving us life, by giving us abilities, and by giving us family and friends. Jesus has loved us by walking with us on those difficult days when we struggle to hope. Jesus has loved us by giving us the wisdom to make good decisions and the strength to carry them out. In all these ways and more Jesus has loved us. And when we remember all those blessings, we remain in his love. Once we remain in his love, we are able to follow his command. Surrounded by the love that we have received from him, we are able to love others, even though they may not deserve it.
So do not despair when Jesus asks you to love someone who has hurt you or someone who annoys you. First surround yourself with his love. Draw strength from the love you have received from him, and then try to love someone who is difficult. If we try to love based on our own love, we will often not succeed. But if we draw strength from his love, we may find that it is possible to accept the people who irritate us and to forgive those who have hurt us.
To Love as God Loves
May 6, 2018
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; John 15:9-17
Jesus gives us a commandment in today’s gospel. It is simple and concise. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us. We are to love as God loves. Now this, of course, is a huge responsibility, and it begins by understanding how God loves. How does our God love the world?
Today’s first reading from the Book of Acts can help us. The passage presents a very important turning point in the life of the early church. Peter knew that he was to proclaim the gospel to all people. But his understanding of what would be required of people once they believed was too narrow. You see Peter, like all the apostles, was Jewish. He knew that God had chosen the Jewish people to be his own. Therefore, Peter simply presumed that when people began to believe in Christ, they would join the Jewish people and accept the Mosaic regulations and Jewish food laws. But what Peter learns in today’s gospel is that God intends to welcome non-Jews, Gentiles like Cornelius, without having them first become Jewish. Peter comes to understand that God’s love is wider than he had imagined. As he says in the reading, “I see now that God shows no partiality.” God loves the Jewish people, but God also loves the non-Jewish people. God is willing to accept people from every nation as long as they live their lives rightly.
This reading from the Book of Acts tells us that to love as God loves we need to widen our love. God shows no partiality, but we do. We tend to place borders on our love, to limit and constrain our love. We know that we are to love family and friends, and indeed this is our first responsibility. But then we conclude that whoever is outside that group is not our concern. Jesus’ commandment asks us to extend our love beyond the circle of family and friends because God loves there as well. We are comfortable loving people like us, people who share our culture, our race, our politics. But the gospel asks us to expand our love beyond those with whom we are comfortable, because our God shows no partiality. We are all proud of our country. We think that America is great. But then we can conclude that those outside our borders must fend for themselves. Jesus’ commandment asks us to enlarge our love, to become concerned how American economic and military policy affects other nations, to advocate for a just and generous immigration policy so that the good things that God has given to us in this country can be shared with other people God loves.
Jesus’ commandment is to love one another as he has loved us. That means that our love cannot be narrow, partisan, or stingy. Of course, it is difficult to stretch our love so that it begins to approximate the way that God loves. And many people would object to a love that is so wide. But when we love in this way, we will be following Jesus’ commandment, and we will show others that indeed we are his disciples.
The Music of Love
May 9, 2021
There are a lot of commandments. But in today’s gospel, Jesus tells us which commandment he considers most important. He says, “I command you, love one another.” It’s short. It’s clear. And it’s the work of a lifetime. But where do we begin? Who do we love? How do we love? When do we love? We can easily be overwhelmed by the task before us. What we require is a strategy to implement Christ’s command in our lives. Allow me to suggest one to you.
About a year ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, the famous classical cellist, Yo Yo Ma, downloaded a video on YouTube. He had recorded it in his own home during the lockdown. On the video he plays a beautiful song on his cello. That video was watched by more than 400,000 people. Its success inspired Yo Yo Ma to challenge his fellow musicians. He said to them, “You have the ability to make music. Music can be extremely helpful during this pandemic. So pick someone. Pick someone that you know or you don’t know. Pick someone who is sick or is healthy. Pick someone who is elderly or young and somehow isolated by this virus. And once you pick someone choose a song for them. Make it personal. Something that relates to their life and their circumstance. Then record that song on your cellphone and with a little note send it to them. You do not need to make a video that receives 400,000 hits. You only need to send your music to one person. So pick a person. Pick one person each day.”
Love is the music that Jesus commands us to play. And Yo Yo Ma’s challenge is a useful strategy for following Jesus’ command. So pick someone. Pick one person each day, and send them a sample of your love. Make it personal. Something that relates to their own situation. Obviously a good person to pick today, on Mother’s Day, is your mother. Whether she is thirty or ninety. Whether she is alive or deceased. Tell her what she means to you. Show her your love. On another day you might pick the person at school that people ignore or bully. Choose to greet that person with a smile and warm good morning. On another day you might choose someone at work who has just experienced a loss in their family and find a way of showing them some support. Pick someone that irritates you. Pick a friend you have not talked to in a while. Pick someone you just argued with. Pick whoever you want. But then send them a sample of your love.
It will be good for them and it will be good for you. Because whether you have noticed it or not, Jesus gives us more than a command in today’s Gospel. He also makes a promise. He says that if we love one another, his joy will become ours, and our joy will become complete. Loving another person is the way to happiness. Giving to another leads us to joy.
So both the command and promise are clear. Let us begin today. Pick someone. Send them your love. Begin to build a lifetime of happiness.