Love in search of love

Fourth graders sat in a circle surrounding a blue rag rug, the light from a few fragile votive candles flickering upward on their downturned faces as they studied the Bibles before them. For the fourth week they were reading the texts of creation from Genesis, savoring each verse, exploring the mysteries they had not realized before were embedded within the Word of these ancient texts.

They chuckled at the LORD’s creation of all creatures in a clumsy attempt to find a partner for Adam and agreed with fourth grade forthrightness with the boy who laughingly announced he would rather have a good puppy for his buddy than any girl! They sat in silence before the great first love song of man to woman, “Is this not flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”, and sighed in unison when one girl – the child of divorced parents – whispered under her breath, “I wish it was still like that.” Then, on cue, they tittered as one being upon encountering the final verses of Chapter 2, “. . . And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (KJV)

Dissolving into the shared mirth of the almost-adolescent faced with issues of nudity, they almost missed the quiet comment of one child in their midst.

“I wish my heart could still be naked.”

Those children closest to her paused, checked in their mirth.

“I do too,” said one.

Without a word from me, the children began to discuss those things which they wished they didn’t fear they had to keep hidden in their hearts: moments of darkness, of unkind words, of jealous thoughts.

Into this Spirit-filled conversation, rose the head of the serpent, wily and crafty.

“But were Adam and Eve cavemen?” asked a boy.

A fig leaf settled over the discussion, sealing away the open conversation –conversion — of their hearts before God.

In a moment the room was divided, anger and bewilderment simmering under the surface of the community and occasionally breaking forth in a statement of judgment, one child against another. Evolution or creationism? Was the truth these scriptures intended to convey that of how humans were created, or was it “What is the intended relationship between humans and between humans and their creator?” Was the text historical in nature or metaphorical?

In the intense struggle to let the children be taught by the Spirit and not to interpose my own thoughts, I was saved, again, by one of the children.

“Perhaps it’s the story of that seed. [1] You know, Miss Kay, the story of the seed you told us when we were in the Little School atrium. Perhaps God made us, but God made us with the seed of heaven inside of us which is growing and changing us. Perhaps this story says God made us, but that it isn’t important just HOW we were made. Perhaps it’s more important what the story says we are being made INTO.”

Her classmates questioned this. How could we be transformed, and by what means could such an alteration be accomplished? Although we could see she had some kind of vision of humankind’s metamorphosis, we could all also see that she didn’t, at age ten, have the words to express it. Finally, in frustration, she blurted out only one word: “Love.”

I reminded them then of what they had identified the week before as God’s motivation in the creation. The prior week they had said that God had had so much love, God had wanted to share it, that creation was the first act of love. They remembered then that when we had wondered “Why does God say ‘Let the earth . . .’, why doesn’t God just say “Plants!’ like God earlier said ‘Light!”?, that this same young girl had jumped up and said, “It’s covenant! God invites the earth. The earth builds signs — trees and things that point to the sky — to mark the covenant like the stacks of stone that Jacob used. The earth wants to love God back. Oh, I know! The light (Genesis 1: 3) was the light of God’s love, and the earth loves back!”

Remembering this discussion together, they, in immediate unison, agreed that our transformation was into beings that so loved each other and God that no heart had a need to be hidden, that all hearts could be naked before God and one another. The creation was being made new, changing into a cosmos in which all creatures became aligned in perfect, deep harmony with one another and with God. The children had cast the texts of creation into a story of “Love in search of love”, a story know to us in the Bible as covenant.[2]

As the atrium time ended, I walked the fourth grade class to lunch, and I wondered. Perhaps covenant is not established by a smoking firepot who moves through the midst of Abraham’s sacrificial offerings (Genesis 15:17) or by an agreement made amongst thundering clouds atop a desert mountain (Exodus 20). Perhaps covenant is a nuptial hymn, a celebration of an act of becoming one flesh, an incarnation transforming each of us who, being implanted with the Word and Spirit of God, is undergoing a metamorphosis, preparing to bring forth a hitherto unknown divinity.

In that revelation the movement within the gospel of John — from the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10) to the parable of the True Vine (John 15) — unfolded as the movement from our opening experience of love — the initial thrill of joy felt when our beloved speaks our name aloud for the first time in the tender moments of our new relationship — to the more intense, deeper joy of the nuptial hymn sung by the beloved the first night of shared life:

This at last is flesh of my flesh

and bone of my bone,

this one shall be called part of me

for from me/for me she was made.

Is this not the oldest, the first love song of creation? Sung at the beginning of time by the Creator as an invitation to the creation, it calls out the joy our Creator knew and which fills our own being when finally we fall like found sheep into the Shepherd’s arms to abide as one with God. No longer just sheep called by and held in the love of the Shepherd, we are transformed by God’s nuptial hymn into becoming one with God’s own self, branches of the one vine: “and they shall become as one flesh” and “I am the vine, you are my branches” melding into one concept.

The Shepherd who calls our name magnifies God’s love song begun for us at the beginning of creation. We are called into a relationship of complete communion, into a complete interchange of devotion, by a cosmic hymn of Love, in which we are melded into one flesh with the one who calls us to abide in him, for he, already having sown within us the Word of his kingdom, abides in us already.

And how does this calling first begin for us? How do we first hear this nuptial hymn of God? It begins as it began eight years or more ago for then five year old Molly, who bent her ear to the sheepfold in the Little School atrium, then looked up at me, shocked and joyful to announce, “Miss Kay, Miss Kay! I hear it! The shepherd is singing a song. It goes, ‘Molly, Molly . . .’ But I don’t know how it ends yet.”

Bend back, Molly.

Listen!


[1] “Another parable he set before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in this field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof .” Matthew 33: 31-32.

[2] Cavalletti, Sofia and Coulter, Patricia. Ways to Nurture the Relationship with God.Chicago,IL: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Publications, 2010. iv. Coulter sets forth the idea of covenant as the deep desire of God to love creation and of our deep longing to respond in love in return.

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Of Zacchaeus, Holy Week, And My Grandmother’s Favorite Song

Amazing Grace was my grandmother’s favorite hymn. I used to hear her humming it while the fried chicken sizzled in the Crisco of her electric skillet. Then, in the dreamy carefree vacation time when love was as simple as the measuring scoop sunk full in the sunlit flour of her kitchen, Amazing Grace was a song of summer. Each summer my family loaded up the station wagon and, like lost Okies, drove from the green California hills across the Nevada and Arizona deserts to the sun-baked paradise of Grandmother’s house in Oklahoma where love abided.

I was proud that someone had written such a beautiful song about my Grandmother. Grace Ensor was a kind, gentle woman who was true blue from the hair on her head to the loyal faith she had in those she loved. So, at the age of five, I wasn’t surprised that someone had written a song about her. I too thought she was amazing.

The only part of the song that confused me was that part about being lost and being found. I couldn’t remember my grandmother ever finding me. I could, however, clearly remember being lost.

It was the Christmas of my kindergarten year, and my parents had taken my brothers and me to the Cornish Christmas celebration in a neighboring town.  I was enthralled by everything that I saw: the costumed tommy-knockers who capered in the parade, the softly falling snow, the scent of the hot Cornish pasties for sale on the corner, and, most especially, the display of Christmas toys in the shop windows. Barbie with her platinum hair piled into a beehive waved from one window while Chatty Kathy called from another. Childhood offers tough decisions, but standing there I knew that if only I could have both of those beautiful dolls I would be happy until the day I died. I grabbed my mother’s sleeve, turned to tell her of my idea about the meaning of true happiness, and then everything I thought I knew came crashing to pieces.

The sleeve I had grabbed was not my mother’s. In fact, I could not see my mother anywhere. Or my father. Or my brothers. I knew then that silver haired Barbie and silver tongued Cathy meant nothing; my happiness, my whole world, depended on me finding my family again.

Of course, I didn’t.

I was too small.

The crowd was too large for a five year old to be able to find anyone in the crush of celebrators.

My parents, however, had realized that I was lost even before I knew it myself, and they had started a search for me. The place in my chest that had become empty and scary when I discovered I was lost overflowed with true and utter bliss when my mother’s arms scooped me back into her love, safe once more. So you see, my grandmother couldn’t have been the one in the song who found me. My mother had found me. I knew; I had proof; I had been there.

Little did I know then that being lost was a characteristic, a type of trait in the children of my family.  Perhaps this characteristic of being lost was what had drawn me to my husband when we were just young things in love. Perhaps I knew in some telepathic way that he too had been lost in his youth, had at the age of four rambled away from his mother in the mountains of New Mexico and had gone missing for eight hours. Of course, unlike me, he had delayed his finding like a true prodigal by refusing the assistance of those who found him. “Oh no”, he assured the man who found him. “I can’t go with you. My mother told me never to get in a stranger’s car.” So like all the lost who are found, his father and mother came to him.

Once when I was playful, I called him Zacchaeus. Just as my grandmother loved the hymn Amazing Grace, I loved the story of Zacchaeus. Because I could remember first hand the joy of being found, I could hear a million times the story of the short little man found in the tree by Christ. Like me, Zacchaeus had gone to see a parade, had been short, too short to find security in the midst of a crowd, and like me and my husband, he became the found, not the finder, despite his intentions.

If my husband and I bear the imprint of Zacchaeus, then the type strikes true in our son. Our similarities resonate in our offspring. Like his mother and father before him, our son is a master of getting lost. Far more painful than the memory of being lost myself is the remembrance of the time he disappeared in the blink of an eye from my side. He was four, we were walking one bright and sunny day into the museum where I worked, and then suddenly I was alone. He had taken a path different from the one I had chosen for us, and suddenly he was no longer with me, no longer where I could protect him and keep him safe.

Like my mother before me, I called the police, and we began a search for him which seemed to stretch for millenia. We searched every room, every closet, every nook and every cranny of that museum to no avail. It wasn’t until we had searched the surrounding park without finding him that the officer in charge asked for his complete description in order to put out an Amber Alert. At that moment I knew the true terror and despair of loss.

Beau, Beau, my son, my son was gone, he was lost, and I would have given my very life to find him and keep him safe. At that moment, before I could reply, I had to close my eyes, grip the reality of the torn and rough upholstery of the patrol car seat, and squeeze out from behind tightly closed eyes and mouth a heartfelt prayer, “Dear God, please find him; please find him safe and unharmed; please place him in my arms again.” Then, just as I opened my mouth to offer his description, the police radio crackled to life: “A man in white is waving in the parking lot; he appears to be carrying a child who matches the suspect’s description.” Soon, when I squeezed my son with all my being and asked if he had been afraid, he said with a wisdom beyond his years, “No. I knew you would find me.”

You see, somehow, even as a child, he knew – as I had not – that being lost is not about finding your way. It’s about being found, and Love is about finding.

Of course, by then I knew that my grandmother’s favorite song wasn’t just about her, and the next time we sang Amazing Grace in church, I suddenly realized that grace is only appreciated by those who have understood they are lost and who have suffered the emptiness such awareness brings.   Grace, like any true gift, is not sought. Like the love of my mother one Christmas long ago, it comes as a surprise and a great relief and brings joy more fulsome than I imagined at age five when I thought possessing beautiful toys would bring me happiness til the end of my days.

I share with my brothers, my husband, my son, Zacchaeus, the lost lambs of the Good Shepherd parables, and all of God’s children, a spiritual — not geographic — characteristic of being lost. Grace is the gift of the one who is searching. It was the gift of the Finder to all creation before our human history even began. And perhaps we remember this most appropriately in Holy Week, when our Father proved to us, to all of his children, that he so loves each of us, he would allow no power in the universe, not even death, to separate even one of us from him.

The last time we sang my grandmother’s favorite song in her presence was at her funeral. And that time, when the sunfilled emptiness near the flour cannister and skillet of her kitchen outlined so sharply the horizons of the love we had known there, the hymn was a comfort rather than a source of pride.