I have neglected my blog for months! Mostly because several huge life events, culminating in my wedding, all happened this fall. So now I am happily, happily married and back to thinking about Christian faith and practice in everyday life, so of course it is hard not to wonder what these two things have in common. I am not just newly married, I am also not that distantly divorced, something that rocked my life theologically as much as it did emotionally. I am still working on my writing about that. This is also my husband's second marriage, and so we have spent a good deal of time reflecting and praying about what it means to enter again into a holy covenant, knowing both our own frailty and wisdom, as well as the grace of God. What have we learned? What do we know about love - of God, of each other - that we did not know before? I can only answer here for myself, of course, and I realize the answer is really, 'not much!' But I am ok with this answer, more so now than ever before, because I think there are some things I have learned about being in the presence of love, whether familial or romantic or divine. Because I have learned all the more that deep down, love is love, and practicing my faith in the love that surpasses even death is not all that different from practicing my faith in the love I have committed to with my partner. Because it is all practicing my faith in God. What do I know? Love is a mystery 'Let us proclaim the mystery of faith,' we say each Sunday at the altar: 'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again'. This is the whole basis of Christianity, and it is a mystery. And yet it is what gives us life and hope. The one thing I have learned so clearly about romantic love is that it has the same mystery at its heart, and it can't be forced, or put together ourselves. When we find it, we have to treat it the same way - with reverence, with awe. It is a huge thing. What happens next is so much out of our control, but to be in its presence and know it is incredibly important, too. As humans, I think it is very hard not to always try and do something. I think that love, any love, requires us not to do but just to be, to witness to the joy and the power of the love we are close to. The doing will take care of itself.
Forgiveness is the key Sin is a big topic, and it is sometimes hard to accept our own sinfulness, because it makes us feel that we are 'bad', or that we should be ashamed. But I think one of the greatest gifts that Christianity gives to the world is the understanding of ourselves as frail sinners, who are saved by a God who always says, 'you are forgiven. I love you.' And so I have found this also works well in personal relationships - to each day confess our loveless acts to one another, and to be forgiven by our partner and to be reconciled into an even deeper love. The key, though, in both religious and relational brokenness, is that it is not our job to point out others' sins, but to confess our own. And that we should spend more time asking for forgiveness than granting it. This is the harder path, but I can see no other way that brings us closer to God and one another.
Demons are real Early on in my relationship with my husband, I suddenly realized that most of what upset or scared me was going on in my head. I literally felt attacked by memories or insecurities or associations that would take up space in my brain and whisper in my ear: 'how do you know you can trust this person?' 'Hasn't this happened before - you know how that turned out!' and before I knew it, I was acting weird or suspicious about things that really had nothing to do at all with the person I love, even though the feelings seemed strong and real to me. 'What have you to do with us, Son of God?' the demons ask Jesus when he begins his ministry. The first thing that happens in the presence of real love is that everything that is not loving gets all stirred up and agitated. I suddenly realized this was happening to me - so fearful of being vulnerable, I was letting these loud, scary voices say things that had no basis in reality at all. And I discovered I could literally send them away by invoking Jesus' name. It had, and continues to have, a remarkable effect on my ability to be open, present and trusting in love as it is happening, not as I fear it might happen.
Relationships are not 'work' I honestly think that the worst thing we ever say about relationships is that you have to 'work' at them. I know so many people, myself included, who have stayed in dead or dying, loveless, even abusive relationships, because they thought they should 'work harder' at them. Never mind what this even means, it makes love relationships seem anything but lovely! This is not to say that relationships don't take commitment, that they don't take showing up and devoting oneself to being a loving partner. But ultimately, mostly, they should be pretty easy, pretty joyful, pretty uncomplicated. The first disciples, when they discovered Jesus and his ministry and the life of Christianity post-resurrection, pretty easily and quickly began sharing things in common, spreading the good news, eating and drinking and living together in community. Real love produces real energy of its own. If that energy is missing, I don't think 'work' brings it back, but I do think the same kinds of disciplines that bring us through spiritual desert places bring us through relational ones: prayer, restraint, generosity, confession, forgiveness, devotion. Not work; practice.
Being kind is everything 'Who is the neighbor?,' Jesus asks the lawyer after telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan. 'The one who showed mercy,' is the answer. 'Go and do likewise,' Jesus advises him, and us. I am astounded how many years of adult relationship it has taken me to realize that truly treating the one who loves me most in the world with gentleness, compassion and care may be the most important thing I ever do. Now that I know this, I am vigilant: I do not raise my voice to my husband; I do not say I am 'fine' when I am not (we call this the 'f word!'); I do not give him the silent treatment. If something is bothering me, I tell him. But much more often, I say, 'thank you,' for all the ways, big and small, he makes my life better every day. Also, my job as his partner is not to point out his 'faults' or imagine shortcomings. It is to remind him every day of the wonderful things about him that I notice and love, the things that reflect God's love of him. I just try to treat him as he deserves to be treated, and he does the same for me. It is miraculous how easy and joyful it makes most days.
I don't really know anything about love, and I don't know that much about Christianity. But I do know that I follow a path every day, one that requires me to take the time to pray, to rest, to share, to forgive, to give. And those things seem to bring me closer to God, and to others, especially the other with whom I share my life.