My dear Good Shepherd family,
As this will be my last letter in the series on the Way of Love (but not my last Friday letter 😊), I thought it important to step back and summarize this way that God calls us to travel in our lives individually and as a community. Ultimately, the Way of Love is a way of living as Jesus would live were he in our world. It is being present, vitally awake, and aware, and connected to all life, in all relationships - just as Jesus would be; seeking to live in union with God, connected to our personal and church families, our friends and neighbors, all of humanity, and all of creation. It is living Jesus way of lifegiving love, striving for distributive justice in our world and respecting the dignity and worth of all persons. It is seeing all living creatures as our equals, as our brothers and sisters as St. Francis said.
So, if that is our goal, then how do we get there? It is important to understand first that this Way of Love is not another program that our parish is engaging in. It is not the newest fad, or the next best thing. It is not a workbook, series of teachings, activities, or events – although there will be teachings, and activities, and events that may assist us in seeing and acting in this way. The Way of Love is a way of being in the world – it is our very essence, our worldview, our way of understanding, and seeing, that is the very core of who we are. It is a way of being, rather than a way of doing – which involves simply planning, strategizing, and deciding what actions we should engage in and which things we should not be doing.
We can focus on transforming our being which will then influence our doing. Or, we can focus simply on doing, on changing behavior. Here is how these two ways of living the Jesus life of love might play out:
- The first way, focused on activities and doing, is the quick way and requires that we simply seek to act and talk as we think Jesus would. There are a couple problems with this way. First, we may misunderstand what we think Jesus would have us do or say, because our understanding is colored by our individual ego and will that remain self-serving and intact. Second, it becomes almost impossible to act as Jesus would have us act through our own willpower - and much harder to sustain.
- The other way - by focusing on being - is a much slower process and requires repentance, sacrifice, and the ongoing surrender of our ego and will to Christ. It entails the slow internal work of the Spirit, teaching us and maturing us. There are great benefits to this slower, self-emptying, harder path. There is the benefit of a deeper and more intimate relationship with Christ. There is the benefit of a deeper, more intimate connection with others and all creation. This second way results in a deeper internal transformation and a more authentic way of being. It also makes living in the way of Jesus love more natural, life-affirming, and life-sustaining.
In each of my letters in the Way of Love I have focused on one of a set of seven practices we may engage in individually: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, and Rest. The most important ones are the first four, as they address our very being – our essence. By turning to Christ, learning spiritually, praying, and worshipping, we continually transform our spiritual DNA – our essence and being. When we have done this, we can then naturally and authentically go out and Bless and Go. Then we may Rest.
As I wrap up, let me say that this letter has taken a LOT more time to produce than every other letter. Why is that? Well, making something as nebulous and hard to grab ahold of as a way of “being” clear and understandable is far more difficult than simply explaining something we “do,” that we can discuss in concrete details. I hope I have accomplished my goal. If this way of being still remains a bit hazy for you, don’t worry, bear with me. We will all work together in bringing clarity and understanding. Reach out to me if you have any questions.
And lastly, I want to say, as we move this Way of Love as a parish, it is important that we honor and embrace everyone in our family and those who come to us, where each one may be at in their lives. Each of us, at any given point in our lives, have our own way of understanding, our own beliefs, and life journey. This Way of Love will be seen differently by each person and may be confusing to some. Here are some ways individuals may come to this Way of Love:
- Some will already be well along the path in this Way of Love. They get it! They desire more, and to go deeper.
- Others will not understand it, but something about this way of being as an individual and in community intrigues and draws them. They hunger to know more.
- Yet others may be comfortable where they are at right now. They may have no current interest in learning something new, or seeing things in another way, or doing things differently.
- Some may even think this way is a bit hokey and ridiculous.
Let me say this as strongly as I can: “Where each person is at right now, is o.k.” Each person is a beautiful child of God, and is loved by God, and by our community for exactly who they are at this point. God loves each of us unconditionally exactly as we are. And yet, God also knows those ways in which each of us are living to less than our potential as God’s child. As we strive to live this Way of Love as individuals and a community, we honor the sacredness of each individual, trusting the Spirit of God to work in all of our lives, as God desires, and in God’s timing – shifting and moving and changing us as God wills.
May the love of God as known through the Spirit of God, sustain and fill us all.