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Easter Six - Growing into Love

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love ... this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Easter Six. John 15:9-17.)We are promised that we are loved even as the only Son of God is. And we are commanded to love others in this same way. Wonderful and dreadful news. Wonderfully reassuring to know how loved we are - and overwhelming if not impossible to think this is the love to which we are commanded. It is after all hard enough to love those we like much less strangers and those who frighten us or offend us.

The alternate gospel reading for this week is John 16:16-24. You may want to read a reflection based on that text.


In church we talk a lot about love but church history, let alone our own diaries and hearts, would seem to suggest that we find it as hard as anyone else to actually love one another – even within the church fellowship, much less the wider world. Loving others is both the most natural and easiest thing we are called to do and sometimes the hardest and most demanding thing we are called to grow into.

 

Personally, learning how to allow myself to be loved and to love others more fully is my life’s work. It never ceases to amaze me how blessed I am and how incapable I am at loving! Other than just trying harder how do we grow into a more mature loving?

 

Henri Nouwen, a wonderful and very human priest, author and spiritual sojourner wrote over 40 books about living the life of faith. One which I have found very instructive and encouraging on what loving others requires of us and some of the how to grow more loving is his book from 1975 “ Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.” He describes the tasks of becoming more able to love and be loved as that of three movements, or shifts, or maybe conversions. Firstly the movement from Loneliness to Solitude, secondly the movement from Hostility to Hospitality; and thirdly the movement from Illusion to Prayer. Let me summarise as best I can in a short space.

 

Loving an other requires that we first have a capacity for solitude, an ability to be with our selves and with God. For if we cannot be at ease with our selves, if we are not familiar with our selves, if we do not care for our selves, then we have little to offer an other. Too often our loving has the motive of filling the void in our life and while the love of others does warm our hearts we need first to be able to be with ourselves in the presence of God. Love requires two or more mature and growing persons to share, to risk, to trust them selves with an other. In solitude we develop a space within, a spacious heart, into which we can invite the other.

 

Loving an other requires a capacity for intimacy, for the ability to be near to an other and to be known by an other. But with much of the world we are afraid or repulsed in some way so before we can love we need to be able to move beyond our hostility in our hearts toward others. Hospitality requires a readiness to allow an other into our hearts. Which is why we need first a spacious heart so that there is room for the other to be themselves. When we invite another into our heart there is always the possibility of surprising gifts. A little like a house guest who brings beautifully bound precious gifts and their problems which become yours! There are good or at least understandable reasons why our hearts are reluctant to be welcoming. Loving others requires handing over a lot of the control we think we have over our lives. And vice versa, we become others problem!

 

For with much of the world we attempt to be on “our best behaviour”. The intimacy of love requires that we bring what is best and what is flawed about ourselves. The call of love upon us is always calling us forward into becoming our truest selves. This is a journey that involves the all of us and so therefore it includes what is less honourable and noteworthy about us.  The commitment of an other to love us fully is part of what heals us, of what gives us encouragement and courage for the journey of growth and development.

 

The third movement takes us from the illusion of the self – the story we tell ourselves about our life, our motives, our side of things – into the eternal reality of God through prayer. We all tend to have a story about ourselves, or several stories depending on our mood. Some have very negative stories about our selves – how worthless or useless we are. Others have exaggeratedly idealised stories about good we are and how high our motivations are. Prayer takes us into the presence of God and therefore undoes our need to tell stories to our self about our self. In the presence of ultimate reality we are slowly, grace by grace, restored and grown into the maturity of love.

 

And so in some ways the commandment to love others as we have been loved by Christ is the commandment to grow in honesty, humility, courage, hopefulness, patience, surrender and trust. The commandment to love is always the invitation into the community of the divine and the human worlds where Jesus, us and our neighbours all meet in the embrace of God. It is the commandment that keeps us busy and growing all our lives. It is the commandment that reassures us that we are loved now, not as some future reward.

 

We are both on the road of life making our way home to God and we are already there! The work of love has already been done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We are now just growing into that reality more fully each day.

 

Jesus says, after all, that his words of commandment are so that his joy may be made complete in us. This is all for joy, so come, Lord Jesus Christ, come.

 

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