You know the experience when you become aware of something, something gets on your radar, and suddenly you start noticing this thing all around you?
You get interested in a made and model of a car you might purchase – and suddenly you start noticing them on the road when before they were just part of the traffic.
You get diagnosed with a disease – and suddenly you start hearing about others with the same problem when before you’d rarely heard of the problem.
Well, maybe it’s just because I’m going through a divorce right now. But it seems to me that the United Church has a proportionally higher number of divorced people than the general population. Or, is it just George Street Church?
As I reflect on the effects of a broken marriage, I wonder how it also affects my faith in the power of love? How does it affect my faith in the power of the God of love?
For years and years I was a true believer. I believed that if I just loved my spouse enough – that would get us through our troubles. When my love seemed to fail, when it seemed in short supply, I tried to improve my love skills. I read books. We sought the help of Counselors. I sought the help of Counselors. I worked on sorting out “my” crap and learning how to not mix it up with “our” crap. I learned about triangulation and how to keep our kids out of the disputes. I practiced letting go of the small stuff and keeping focused on supporting and caring for one another – making time – taking time – making love.
I’m still sorting out what happened. Over two years later I still deal with bouts of shame, of loss, of blame (me, her, us). What is see clearly now, through the fog of all these messy emotions, is that I was under an illusion that love could overcome all.
My estranged daughter’s 24th birthday followed a week later by another Father’s Day empty of appreciation brings the circle of pain round again.
So, what happens to us when we experience not only our own failure – but the failure of God to help us solve, sort out, heal, fix, reveal or redeem our troubles?
I think we can go the route of some Christians and just drop the idea that God is an active force in the world. That our prayers are simply expressions of what is best in us – sent out into space like songs with only a human audience. Sometimes it is powerful just to hear ourselves put things into words and speak them out.
But the idea that we humans are the lone intelligence in the world, to me, is the ultimate hubris. Poet priest John O’Donahue opens my eyes instead to worlds upon worlds filled by a Creator creating endless beings of heart and mind and hope.
Such a Creator holds – among so many other capacities – the capacity to act as a loving Father, an invisible friend, and the whispers of a wise Sister. Miracles happen all the time. What we call miracles are simply expressions of the fact that our human experience is limited. The doctrines of science we get taught in the name of “truth” simply serve to put boxes around our imaginations. We learn to divide experiences between “real” and “unreal”, “good” and “bad” and in so doing simply diminish the divine capacity each of us has to reach beyond definitions to grasp wonder and send our hearts free into the eternity present in every moment.
Nice poetry maybe. But what about when we hurt so bad the entire universe collapses into the searing pain of tortured body and soul? Where is the Big Daddy then?
The story of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert is a story of lost illusions. In meeting Satan, he faced the temptations of calling upon God to cure his hunger, to make his path easy, to test the power of love. (Luke 4, Matthew 4)
Instead this desert wanderer and Shaman walked empty handed from the power of such illusions to invite his people into the path of the suffering servant. Echoing Isaiah’s call, he claimed an authority born in every human. For those blinded by fear of consequence to see that fear not pain is the enemy. For those imprisoned by our mistakes to walk out of the “beds we’ve made” into a new day made free by the one who needs broken hearts more than hardened hearts. Release for those whose green and growing promises of future days shared - have become chains to a past turned to stone.
The power of love is the power that moves among us when we pursue the dignity, the freedom, the vision of a life shared. When we find ourselves diminished in the path we’re on. When we are no longer rooted and growing from a place of dignity and authenticity but somehow transplanted by duty and fear of consequences into a half-hearted servant self – how is that what a God a love intends?
The Bhudda says “all life is suffering. Yeshua of Nazareth says “follow me” as he walks away from pleasure and peace towards the suffering of neighbours, strangers, enemies, lovers. The power of love is truly revealed not as it lifts us from suffering but as it empowers us to keep turning prisons into schools, swords into ploughshares, enemies into those who teach us the limits of our thirst for love.
So why not stay and suffer through? Churches have often been the source of such advice. Such churches also teach the fear of God’s wrath. Tell people to live small and scared lives in pursuit of a perfection not found here on earth but perhaps in some illusion of a heaven free of humans.
The miracles of Jesus were to bring people from the sidelines of life into the circle of community. When I finally saw that my choices to stay were in fact crippling my soul and making my family worse, I stopped asking God to help me stay and instead sought the divine dignity within to help me leave. And God sent angels with skin on.
And there were demons too. My faith that God sends help when we fearlessly pursue life’s goodness and joys, has been affirmed. The goodness and joy of life is what feeds my creative fire to create an expansive, inclusive Church.
My God did not send Jesus to suffer on the cross to pay eternally for my mistakes.
My God sent Jesus all the love and joy he could contain. So much love that it spilled out of him in word and deed. So much love that he was unafraid to walk into suffering to free us from the prisons of guilt we dwell in. So full of joy that he was unafraid to live for love and pay the consequences.
On the other side of a broken heart lies a world of people unafraid to risk again. They know that a bad marriage is worse than the pain of divorce. They know, as all who pass through the desert hungry and scared know, that God stirs up the pot of love in this world when we let go of our white-knuckled grip on duty and open our hands to what life offers next.
The temptation to return to the illusion of peace - is to return to the helpless hope of waiting, waiting, waiting for the rescue that never comes. It never comes because it’s waiting around the corner for us to walk through the valley of the shadows of death, to discover the miracle of each new day.