John’s Gospel often makes reference to “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. There are theories about who that really was, but from the time of my Kindergarten Sky, I was comfortable with the assumption that it was me: I was God’s beloved child. I felt as though I were the only child God ever created, and I was cherished accordingly.
Certainly I was taught that God loved us all, but somehow I believed that I was spoiled with a special love made just for me. I didn’t carry any guilt about that. How could I question whom God decides to pour all his love upon? I simply accepted this love with tremendous gratitude. I am embarrassed to report that it wasn’t until May of 2011 when I realized just how wrong I was.
On this day in May, I was driving, when I heard the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Perhaps like many Americans, I fist pumped the air and said “YES!” from the depth of my being. I was celebrating an event Americans awaited for a decade as payback for the irreparable damage this man caused to the families who lost loved ones and to an entire nation, forced to stare terrorism in the face. He deserved to pay.
Before my hand could return to the steering wheel, I heard “But he was my child.” When I say I heard those words, I didn’t actually hear a voice. The words were clear in my mind, and I had a sense of pain, as if the speaker was deeply hurt by my insensitivity.
It was clear to me that the speaker was God, who loved me beyond measure, and who I had just hurt deeply. While I was truly sorry for that, my stronger feeling was wonder. God loved Osama Bin Laden? God loved him so much that my celebrating his killing was simply too much to bear? I could accept a cursory love for the man, but such a deep sadness from God?
God was hurt by my lack of understanding, and this snapped me out of my reverie. I collected myself, made immediate apologies, and prayed for the repose of his soul, as our faith requires.
From that day on, I saw quite clearly that God loves each and every creature of the earth as if we were his only creature, even when we commit heinous crimes. (How God deals with the crimes of Osama Bin Laden is between the two of them and happily beyond my comprehension. I do trust, however, that God will turn that evil into good, somehow.)
As for my crime of insensitivity, God rewarded me with a vulnerable expression of deep pain and sadness, placing our relationship in a position of greater closeness, should I choose it. To place one's self at the mercy of another is generous of course, but to feel such openness from God in that moment, inspired a love in me I never knew existed. "Enormous" is a poor attempt to describe this love and its impact on me, especially in my position as the offender.
Contemplating God’s Love
As I pondered the number of created beings on this Earth, the enormity of God’s love dawned on me in a new way. The love deposited in my heart could never be quantified, and yet I tried to imagine God emptying love into each and every created being, in the same way. How was this possible? Can such a feat be accomplished or, better still, even imagined? No, not in my estimation.
My new understanding of God’s Love catapulted my mind into deep mystery. It is a happy mystery to ponder, as long as I remember my limitations. The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Understanding is not total and complete–some things are still only finished in God’s hands.
In my naivety, I believed I had a “handle” on the love of God, as if I could see its boundaries and keep it in my pocket. With the boundaries out of sight and my feet standing on uncertain ground, I am happy to understand my error, and to admit my arrogance. This new love of God supports all insecurity, embarrassment or shame I may otherwise feel.
Now I can be comfortable in a place of not knowing. I will never comprehend God’s love, and I simply don’t need to. A song by Cory Asbury, Reckless Love describes God's love as “never-ending, overwhelming, and reckless.” While I appreciate each of these adjectives, I could think of more: expansive, forgiving, merciful, hidden, mysterious…..; the list continues probably into infinity.
How about a little challenge: add to the list in the comments. Ask yourself what adjective you would use to describe your experience of God's love. It will become a litany I'm sure. But more importantly, the exercise will help you clarify your feelings about God and perhaps how God feels about you.
In Spiritual Direction
So how does one delve into such a subject in Spiritual Direction? How can a person know that God loves them and how can we return that love? I think there are as many answers to these questions as there are adjectives to describe God’s love. The only certainty is that we cannot comprehend any aspect of God’s love without God.
I rely specifically upon the Holy Spirit, whose intercession is unpredictable and personal. As both a director and directee, I have witnessed things in a session that seem like miracles to me. These are miracles that I could not anticipate or “make” happen.
So, we explore the love of God in the company of God because without this, it is an impossible endeavor. Spiritual Directors are very good at helping directees stay this course of humility, because, if nothing else, we strive to stay close to God every day. If we cannot do this, we cannot be good directors. In addition to daily prayer, we remain in spiritual direction ourselves, seek supervision, continue our education, and attend retreats as often as possible.
In my first blog article, I mentioned several reasons why a person may wish to explore spiritual direction. But the truth is, if we cannot strive for a loving relationship with God, we will not get very far with other objectives. All things spring from the love of God because God pours love into all things.
I would say there is no escaping God’s love, but in reality, God gives us the freedom to choose love or not. For me, this freedom adds still another dimension to God's love. God empties this love with unending generosity, and with no strings attached.
To stand in the face of this intense love can be overwhelming to say the least. Intimidating and scary are also feelings that may come to mind as one begins to comprehend a deep, loving relationship with God. The company of a spiritual companion along the way can make all the difference. Having someone who listens without judgment and responds with compassion and experience can be a great help.
Having glimpsed this love for fleeting moments here and there, I highly recommend a YES! from the depth of your being for a journey to a love that has no end, no certainty and no name.
Look at that, God has turned my vengeful YES into something good.