I Want to Know What Love Is Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Foreigner’s 1984 ballad, “I Want to Know What Love Is” came to mind as I was preparing this week’s message. Many of us have spent our lives sorting through the contradictory messages we have received about love. Our parents told us they loved us, […]
I Want to Know What Love Is
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Foreigner’s 1984 ballad, “I Want to Know What Love Is” came to mind as I was preparing this week’s message.
Many of us have spent our lives sorting through the contradictory messages we have received about love. Our parents told us they loved us, but not all parents knew how to show love consistently. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by societal pressures, economic stress, personal loss, and other causes of pain.
They were doing the best they could, but as children we didn’t have the skills to analyze their motivations and behavior, we just knew to not make noise when daddy came home from work or not make a mess when mommy was busy or not ask questions when given an instruction. Life at home for many of us became an ongoing process of strategizing about how to stay safe.
Of course that’s just one scenario. Some of us had great parents, but it’s important to know that others had a lot of pain. Some of us may not have had parents and felt as if we were a burden on those who became our caregivers. Others had to help raise the younger children or contribute to household income.
And if we didn’t feel loved or supported at home, we probably looked elsewhere to get those needs met. At school, there were good teachers whom we adored, but those teachers had so many children to care for all at once, and while it was good if they made us feel loved, their primary job was to teach us, not parent us. And, if we were really close to one, there was the pain of separation when the school year ended.
In addition to those wonderful teachers, there were the not-so-good ones who yelled, threatened, neglected, and shamed…felt like a repeat of home life for some of us. If neither home nor school felt safe for us, perhaps we turned to religion.
Many pugnacious preachers told us that God loved us, but would nevertheless abandon us to eternal damnation if we didn’t follow certain rules or hold certain opinions. God’s love was conditional; God’s grace wasn’t freely offered but purchased with our acceptance of certain beliefs. We were told God loved us, but also that God was still willing to abandon us to everlasting perdition if we didn’t believe this thing or refrain from that thing. That was, at least, the message we received too often. God’s love was more frightening than comforting; and that left us wondering what love really was.
If home, school, and even church were places filled with fear and the possibility of rejection, how were we ever to know what real, healthy, unconditional love was?
Then, some of us in addition to being in dysfunctional homes, frightening school environments, and abusive churches, were also “different.” Maybe we were same-gender loving, or gender non-conforming. Bullies in the neighborhood made fun of us, preachers screamed vile pronouncements about us, politicians legislated against us. We couldn’t teach school, serve with honesty in the military, adopt children, get married, become ordained in most churches, and in a few southern states, our very relationships were criminal. Expressing our love openly and honestly was condemned, discouraged, forbidden, even punished.
Even now when things are much better in many places, the work isn’t over. Look how long we’ve waited for marriage equality! There is so much fear and self-loathing in the world that we even have to fight to be able to celebrate love; that’s how much healing is still needed in our world.
A Course in Miracles teaches, “Only the self-accused condemn.”
The people who told us we weren’t lovable, that our love wasn’t legitimate, that our lives weren’t living miracles of divine love, they were expressing their own fears. They honestly believed themselves to be sinners, worms of the dust, beggars unworthy to receive even the scraps that would fall from Love’s table, and if they had such fear and shame in their own lives how could they ever affirm or appreciate those who seemed to be different from them? They couldn’t even celebrate their own goodness; the best they could do is look for someone to feel superior to by comparison.
And so the wealthy looked down on the poor, the citizen looked down on the immigrant, the person in the dominant race looked down on the racial minority, the person with male privilege tried to control women, the adult knocked around the kids, the heterosexual demonized the gay or lesbian.
Loving themselves so little, the best they could do is find someone to look down on. The people who caused us to wonder what love really was didn’t really know any more about it than we did. They had never heard they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, so they couldn’t see our goodness, and not seeing it, they couldn’t tell us about it.
No wonder so many of us had so much relationship drama before we found someone who could see past our issues, baggage and hang-ups to the divine nature within us. No wonder some of us felt lonely even in a relationship. No wonder some of us never really trusted love, not even the love of friends; and the idea of loving ourselves just seemed like airy-fairy new age nonsense.
We had known so much pain that we truly believed love was an impossibility. And yet, we longed to be loved. And we knew we had love to give.
We wanted to know what love really was, so we could learn to accept it and share it, and be healed by it. The use of love’s name in vain had wounded us so deeply, what we needed, deserved, and passionately longed for was for it to be revealed to us and in us in such a pure and miraculous way that our hearts would be healed and our souls would be whole.
And that’s where today’s gospel reading comes to our aid.
We hear Blessed Mary saying today that her spirit rejoices in God who has granted her favor.
This is a powerful affirmation! As an unwed expectant mother, there are very real challenges ahead for her. There will be stigma and vilification, and very likely poverty and even slave status. For her in the midst of uncertainty and potential danger to imagine there are blessings in her challenges, that there is hope in the midst of her difficulty, that there are possibilities greater than the situation at hand is a great act of faith and courage. As a woman in a patriarchal society, she is virtually without status anyway, and now her position is made more precarious. Still, she chooses optimism and claims to be blessed in spite of the difficulties in front of her. She loves herself enough to affirm herself even if no one else in the world will!
We can’t control every situation, but we can choose how we respond to situations. Luke’s Mary demonstrates the power we have to choose optimism. We have to ability to love ourselves through the difficulties in life, to praise our potential, to be gentle with ourselves, to encourage ourselves, and to speak words of blessing even and maybe especially in the midst of trial and heartache.
Luke has Mary demonstrate what our Voltaire quote states: Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. We can’t always navigate away from the rocks, but we can have hope, courage, peace, and even joy even if we hit the rocks. That is all the more possible if we believe we are unconditionally loved and forever held by God.
That’s the message of Love Sunday.
You are loved, lovable, whole, innately perfect, made from the true love that is the foundation of the universe.
You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
If that’s hard to believe it’s just because you haven’t heard it enough. You’ll hear it at Sunshine Cathedral every week, but you can also hear it daily by doing what Mary did. Say it for yourself.
Affirm that you are blessed. Declare that God will never abandon you. Choose to believe that God’s love is all-inclusive, unconditional, and never-ending. And then, with Mary, we can say, “My spirit rejoices in God!” Of course it does! Because God is Love, and True Love will never let us go.
That’s what love is…It is the divine Reality that is the Source and Substance of your being, It is the universal and eternal Presence that flows through you and holds you, It is the creative Power that has given you the ability to affirm your own worth and believe in your own goodness. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
God is Love.
Therefore, I am loved.
I am in God, of God, and forever loved by God.
And so it is that I rejoice in God!