A Meditation for Beloved Community from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Amidst a week of great challenges, and lovely moments… I find myself turning to the wisdom of one of my generation’s greatest poets, The Black Eyed Peas:
What’s wrong with the world, mama
People living like they aint got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to the things that’ll bring you trauma
Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorist here livin’
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and the Crips and the KKK
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah
Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Now, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all
People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt can you hear them cryin’?
Can you practice what you preach?
And would you turn the other cheek?
Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the Love?
Sitting in the tension of the paradox of joy and sorrow… I’m wondering, “Where is the Love?”
Reflecting on circumstances not unlike those that the Black Eyed Peas face, Austin, Texas singer-song writer, David Ramirez sings, “That aint love. That aint love. That aint love at all.” The Texas beat poet goes on, “You only picked up the pieces you want, that aint love at all.”
Presumably, “Love aint” house fires, foreign or domestic terrorism, police brutality, mass incarceration, power politics, housing crises, or exclusive systems… As the apostle Paul says, “Love aint” envious, or boastful, or arrogant or rude, or the insistence upon being right… “Love ain’t” irritable, or resentful… but what is love? And where do we encounter the flow of love in our lives?
Love and Clarity
On our recent retreat to the Snowmass Monastery, I had the privilege of sitting as the subject of a clearness committee.
Throughout the weekend, the invitation was offered to anyone who might be struggling to understand and connect their soul’s deepest longings with the realities of their role’s work in the world to sit in the context of community, and be heard into deeper speech.
Since I have spent the past five or six years of my life trying to understand the connection and intersection of my soul and role… And since I experienced a “breakdown spiritual awakening” when I fairly dramatically stepped out into the unknown two years ago—leaving the white walled establishment behind for the scrub brush wilderness of a life of service and community at the powerful intersection of the mountains and the plains… And all the while I have struggled… and wondered openly… about where my soul and role connects and collides in the world… I thought to myself, “Well, it certainly couldn’t hurt!”
Actually, I sort of thought it might hurt… so it took me all the way up until the last moment to commit to open myself to the process.
For two hours, which felt like ten minutes, I sat down to be part of a circle where I was gently and lovingly asked open and honest questions that led me down deep inside of myself. Amidst all of my ruminations about past and future… work and calling… the simple question was extended… “When do you feel most loved?”
Quite honestly, that question broke me open. It was the singular moment in the entire process that I felt most vulnerable… I felt most connected to the core of who I am through that question… “When do you feel most loved?”
“On slow, quiet mornings with Kaylanne,” I whispered. “As I read beside her in bed while she is still sleeping. On Thursday evenings, as the heat pours out of the wood burning stove, and we express gratitude during our liturgy at the Worker House. On Sundays, when Vern and Taylor play music during Beloved community worship… And as I ski down a ski slope on days off with my friends.”
“When do you feel most loved?” That question opened me up… As the river of love is known to do.
Thomas Merton writes about love opening him up… about love transforming him… he describes standing on the corner of Sixth and Walnut in Lexington, Kentucky when he was, “Suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that he loved all of the people around him…” all of the people moving in and out shops and storefronts… moving up and down the sidewalk… perched against the buildings begging for change… he was, “Suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that he loved all of those people, that they were his, and he was theirs.”
When do you feel most loved? When do you feel most in touch with the truth about who you really are, and most open to accept the truths of those around you?
Our book club is reading a book by Bryan Stevenson, entitled, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.”
Near the end of the book, Stevenson narrates a really moving breaking point in his work. At the time he had picked up the case of a man named Jimmy Dill who was scheduled to be executed in Alabama in less than 30 days. Stevenson suddenly inherited a very short window of opportunity to step in and attempt to order a stay of the execution, which would, in the least, prolong Jimmy’s life.
As Stevenson introduces the reader to Jimmy’s case, he explains the bazar way in which Jimmy Dill came to be living on Alabama’s death row, “Jimmy had been accused of shooting someone during the course of a drug deal after an argument erupted. The shooting victim did not die, and Jimmy was arrested and originally charged with aggravated assault. While he was in jail for nine months awaiting trial, the victim was released from the hospital and recovering fine. But, after several months of caring for him at home, the victim’s wife apparently abandoned him and he became gravely ill. When the victim later died, state prosecutors changed the charges against Jimmy from assault to capital murder.”
Jimmy never received adequate legal assistance during the course of his defense, and in spite of the fact that he suffered from an intellectual disability and had been physically and sexually abused throughout his childhood, he was given the death penalty.
Stevenson and his team of lawyers tried everything they could to have the courts issue a stay of Jimmy’s execution. But when the last hour call came from the Supreme Court that it was simply too late, Stevenson found himself on the phone with a man who was stuttering and stammering wildly, explaining that his execution would go off as planned. He would be killed in less than an hour. Stevenson sat for a long time holding the phone, while Jimmy tried to speak, and his heart was broken open.
While on the phone, a memory from his childhood that he had completely forgotten suddenly emerged:
“When I was about ten years old, I was outside of our church with my friends, one of whom had brought a visiting relative to the service. The visiting kid was a shy, skinny boy about my height who was clinging to his cousin nervously. He didn’t say anything as the group chatted away. I asked him where he was from, and when the child tried to speak he stumbled horribly. He had a severe speech impediment and couldn’t get his mouth to cooperate. He couldn’t even say the name of the town where he lived. I had never seen someone stutter like that; I thought he must have been joking or playing around, so I laughed. My friend looked at me worriedly, but I didn’t stop laughing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother looking at me with an expression I’d never seen before. It was a mix of horror, anger, and shame, all focused on me. It stopped my laughing instantly. I’d always felt adored by my mom, so I was unnerved when she called me over.”
When Bryan arrived in the presence of his mom, she scolded him. She told him he should have known better and there is no excuse for what he did.
“Now, I want you to go back over there and tell that little boy that you’re sorry,” she said.
“Yes ma’am,” Bryan agreed.
“Then I want you to give that little boy a hug.”
“Then I want you to tell him that you love him.”
“Mom, I can’t go over and tell that boy that I love him. People will—”
After she looked at him with the same look she had given him before, Brian returned to the group that had all witnessed his scolding.
“Look, man, I’m sorry.” Bryan said.
And then he describes lunging at the boy to give him a very awkward hug. Which startled the boy, but when the boy realized that Bryan was trying to hug him, his body relaxed and he hugged him back.
“Uh… also, uh… I love you!”
He tried to say it as insincerely as he could get away with. It made him feel less weird to smile, and say it like it was a joke. But then the little boy hugged him tighter, and whispered in his ear. He spoke flawlessly, without a stutter, and without hesitation, with tenderness and earnestness.
“I love you, too.”
And in that moment… if only for that moment. Both of those little boys were transformed by love.
When do you feel most loved? When and where in your life do you connect most deeply to the loving center at the core of your soul?
The apostle Paul, who penned this infamous ode to love, was transformed by love, too of course. As a successful young man, walking along a road, he encountered the blinding light of love and put away the childish things of his life as a success driven, rule making, dialectical thinking, perfectionist, and came to embrace himself within the context of the love that never ends.
When do you feel most loved? When do you find yourself most willing to open yourself to the continuous work of transformation?
Love’s transformative work doesn’t merely lend itself to the saintly elite of course… as the flames that consumed the Catholic Worker House reminded me… Love transformed Michelle, and Ben, and Doug and Tina Stein, and Joe, and… countless others who had otherwise “dys-appeared” from the eyes of the broader society.
When do you feel most loved? When do you feel known, and accepted and appreciated as you truly are?
I believe that if I were to revisit the question, my new response would have to include that clearness committee meeting in some way or another… in that particular moment, I felt myself being held, like a tiny little bird, in the loving hands of a group of people, that listened alongside of me, to the deepest ruminations of my soul.
I think that I experienced in that moment, and in a few moments since then, what it might have felt like for Merton, and Bryan Stevenson, and even Paul to be transformed by love.
As I have spoken with a few folks about that clearness committee process, I have explained that my temptation has been to describe that moment as an out of body experience, where it feels like I am floating on the clouds of love.
In reality, I believe that experience was not out of body, but fully in body.
In the flesh.
Instead of soaring through the clouds like some angelic being… I was suddenly standing with both feet firmly planted on the ground like a human being.
Rooted in the love that is the very ground of our being.
Open to the love that is the transformative embrace always present at our feet.
Accepting of the love that is the inviting us to fully embody and embrace our own life and our non-linear journey through it.
Not floating through the clouds of love, but standing with both feet firmly on the ground.
That Love is here.
Right here, among us, is an invitation and not a demand… An invitation to be opened by love…. And therein to be fully in body…
embodying the truest elements of ourselves—
that rest like an immortal diamond at the center of our souls always waiting to be opened.
Here it is. Right here—an invitation to wade in the water of love that is always at our feet.
“When do you feel most loved?”