A Choice Called Love

Sometimes loving is hard. Perhaps that’s because love is a choice, not an emotion, as Richard Rohr says. He also says love is who you are.

I sometimes look at my own thoughtlessness, jealousy, contempt, or self-centeredness and wonder how this can be so, but maybe we miss the point when we confuse these tendencies for our selves. As Jim Finley puts it, there is an invincible preciousness at our center that nothing we or anyone else does can touch. “Nothing less than love has the power to name who you are,” according to Finley.

Even when we believe that Love is bringing us into being, accepting the reality that love is our being requires a terrifying leap. Our faults are knowable, measurable, and don’t change that much. This self is in control and controllable.

Love is infinite, eternal, ever constant and ever changing, ever evolving, ever giving itself away as new and different forms. It is unknowable, unpredictable, unexpected, mysterious.

It’s easier in this world to stick with what is known. Easier but deadly because what is not love is not real. I am that am, God says. Love is. So anything that is not love isn’t.

What does it mean to make the choice that is love? Nothing less than a conscious participation in our own becoming, which is an inextricable part of the universal becoming. Every smile, every kind word, every nanosecond of patience with an exasperating child—given or received—creates the world. Every act of forgiveness; every thrill at the beauty of a tree, a song, a painting—given and received—creates us.

Love is an ever-present invitation. The preciousness at the center of our being and of all being calls to us. Every moment offers another chance to choose to listen.

 

Fear Less

Sometimes there is nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps most of the time. I didn’t realize how often fear is my go-to approach until one night this week it switched off.

I was puzzling through some non-life-threatening problem that I had invested with a great deal of urgency when it suddenly became clear that there was nothing urgent about it. There are life-threatening situations in this world that may warrant fear—fires, hurricanes, bombs, abuse—but whether the kitchen gets clean or the work assignment gets finished or the person likes me are not among them. Yet I invest these moments with such fraught energy.

I carry around a mostly unconscious, baseline assumption that unless I’m a little afraid, I won’t perform well. As if fear makes everything better. As if life were a performance.

This approach assumes a certain untrustworthiness in oneself and the world. This worldview does not admit the value of failure, the freedom of making mistakes, or, perhaps most importantly, the beauty of one’s self.

We are always changing and evolving along with the rest of creation, and though we participate in that evolution, we’re not in control of it. I think we’re taught that anything out of our control is scary, and that includes our true selves, hidden with Christ in God.

Maybe we have good reason to be scared of our true selves. The more we get in touch with the Love at the center of our being, the harder it will be to continue living as we have been. Our habits of thinking and feeling, the rules we’ve made for ourselves, the criteria by which we’ve reassured ourselves that we’re OK will all begin to feel empty.

But we’ll exchange survival for joy, stasis for dynamism, fear for trust, and self-protection for love. Not a bad tradeoff, all in all.

Tuning into the Divine Frequency

Life would be so much easier if fulfillment could be found in exterior things. The world’s most amazing piece of chocolate cake exists somewhere, so find it and bam! you’re done. Mission accomplished. Life well lived. Carefree from here on out.

But nothing outside of our selves—space intended—will ever satisfy us, a reality that can cause a lot of joy or a lot of suffering.

So many things seem as if they describe or comprise our selves but don’t: our accomplishments, our responsible-ness, our moral conduct, others’ opinions of us. Sometimes, though, we really mess up all of these things—I mean really, or at least I do—and so they can’t be who we are.

What’s left when everything our society teaches us to value or work toward is not us? In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr writes, “Gospel holiness…is almost entirely about receiving God’s free gift of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.” Or to put it another way in another tradition, “We don’t need to look outside of the present moment to find inner peace and contentment; when experienced with awareness, everything becomes a source of joy,” according to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

This sounds great but can be frustrating because there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves happy or become who we want to be once and for all. We are more than anything else receptors, and the best we can do is attune ourselves to the divine frequency, a station that only plays in the present moment.

“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through,” says the Sufi poet Hafiz. When we allow that music to flow through us, our actions become notes in the divine song—natural expressions of our true selves. I suspect this receiving and giving is better than chocolate cake.

Transformation Happens

I recently discovered another “cherished illusion,” as Jim Finley calls them, namely that I grow and change through my own initiative and on my own schedule. This is simply not true. We’re not so different from the rest of creation. We can no more decide to enter a new phase of life before we’re ready than a tree can decide to drop its leaves in spring.

If a six-year-old informed us that she was going to learn to drive or do calculus or carry a thirty-pound rock, we wouldn’t expect it to happen. Yet when we become adults, we think that we should be able to will ourselves to be whoever we want however and whenever we wish.

Just as shorter days mean less sunlight and therefore less green chlorophyll to hide the stunning reds and yellows always present but not visible in the trees’ leaves, we change in response to events in our lives, most of which are beyond our control. The big difference between us and the trees is that we often have different plans. Maybe we want to be green all the time or, come August, are impatient to display our more showy selves.

Though what’s happening doesn’t originate with us, we can choose whether to resist or participate. If you’re like me, there’s a fair amount of push back going on. At the heart of my resistance is a lack of trust in the cosmic becoming in which we all play a part.

Let’s be clear, there are a lot of reasons to mistrust: black holes, dying starts, war, famine. But let’s be equally clear that my cosmic plan doesn’t extend much past dinner, so just maybe the Creator of the universe has something going on that I don’t fully understand, something bigger than me and my preferences, and maybe, in ways we can live but not grasp, it is a “plan for [our] welfare, not for woe” (Jeremiah 29:11).

This transformation is happening, but it’s not being done to us. It is coming into being with, in, and through us. “The world becomes new, if one does not stand in the way,” my friend Bardwell says. Let’s practice not standing in the way.

A Wonder-Full Unfolding

In describing the transition to civilian life, a young man who recently switched from active duty to the navy reserves said he was taking the energy of being on high alert all the time and transferring it into being curious. This sounded to me like a brilliant idea for everyone.

I’m not claiming that in the day-to-day civilian world we maintain the same intensity as those who serve in the military—though people who have experienced trauma probably do—but that we often approach the present moment as a threat, a situation that could go wrong or needs to be controlled. If, instead, we approached our lives with wonder and curiosity, we could better participate in what’s actually happening, better recognize what’s coming into being.

Wonder and curiosity will remove our habitual defenses, and so practicing them requires a degree of trust. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that existence is trustworthy, even for those of us who have always had food to eat and a place to live. Perhaps this is because our definition of trustworthy means everything will come out the way we planned, or nothing will be painful.

Or maybe it’s because we believe that whatever has happened in our lives has its origin in something we’ve done, that we are the agents of our existence. This belief is just too small to take us very far. In a recent meditation Jim Finley writes, “Our freedom from the prison of our own illusions comes in realizing that in the end everything is a gift.”

Curiosity and wonder open us up to this realization; they are tools to recognize the true nature of reality as something we participate in and help co-create but don’t originate. As Finley might say, though we are not other than the Creator, we are not the Creator.

Finley would certainly say that God is loving us into existence breath by breath and heartbeat by heartbeat, and so we are invited to wonder at this love and at ourselves, who are the manifestation of it, with curiosity about how that love will unfold.

Disney Wisdom

Sometimes, you’re lying on the couch with a cold, grateful for Netflix and your mom’s chicken soup, and you think you’re watching a simple Disney movie but instead get a little gem of wisdom, as I did watching Moana.

Is it a feel-good Disney movie? Yes. Does it have cultural problems? Yes. Is it also, as all the best stories are, a window into how we might do this whole life thing more wisely? Absolutely.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to give away the plot of the movie, including the end. With some help from her friends, Moana crosses the ocean to restore the stolen heart of the goddess who gives life to the world. A lava demon is guarding the goddess’s island, but when Moana makes it past the demon, she finds that the goddess is gone.

Then Moana does a remarkable thing—she recognizes that the demon is the goddess. Without her heart, the goddess has gone from being a giver of life to a fiery, violent force that knows only how to attack and keep others out. Sounds like real life.

Inexplicably, Moana then chooses to do something more powerful than we generally imagine it to be: she trusts. She approaches this lava monster that was just recently trying to destroy her and says, “You know who you are.”

She doesn’t say, “I know who you are” but “You know who you are.” Moana has spent most of the movie figuring out who she is, defying her parents, moving forward despite her uncertainty. This might be the only way we can help others know themselves, by getting to know ourselves first.

We have so many stories of good overcoming evil in some giant, cataclysmic battle with a lot of violence and a lot of death, but in life, we don’t have hordes of evil beings. We do have plenty of people who have suffered in one of the myriad ways that cause us to lose our hearts.

We all have days when our hearts go missing, some of us more than others. If we can see the god or goddess within another on his or her worst day, who can say how we might give life to this world of ours?

Reaching Totality

If you want to get a sense of the interconnectedness of all being, start with a two-hour flight delay on your way to see a total eclipse of the sun. This will cause you to miss your connection, and then you might meet, as my mom and I did, a string of remarkably kind and helpful people.

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My sister, Mom, and I sometime before totality in Payette, Idaho.

The nicest and most interesting ticket agent ever explained that we could not fly anywhere near the eclipse, booked us on the next flight to Reno, and proceeded to tell us all about her niece who works for the Uruguayan national opera and her own passion for photographing whales.

The man behind the hotel desk in Reno in the middle of the night was patient and pleasant, and equally so the next morning when we checked out. The cheerful woman who drove us back to the airport to get our rental car regaled us with stories of the crowds that descend on Reno heading to Burning Man.

And then there were the people of Payette, Idaho, a town I never planned to visit but am grateful to have spent a couple of days in. Not only did the person whose phone number was listed on an online event announcement return my voicemail, she called her connections in town to find out who was offering camping spots.

We ended up with a gorgeous, large, and inexpensive campsite, thanks to the Miracle League of Payette, which offers adaptive baseball for children with disabilities and graciously serves as host when the eclipse comes to town, letting people sleep in the outfield and refilling the toilet paper in the bathrooms that, miraculously, offer running water. To top it all off, at the Dutch Bros. Coffee drive through, they gave us our frozen caffeine-chocolate-sugar sludge for free because we were first timers.

Not all of the kind people were strangers. My sister generously sacrificed spending time in the mountains, which she’d been greatly looking forward to, and met us in Boise. My friend Katie didn’t bat an eye when I told her she’d have three houseguests for a couple of days. She even let us cook her eggs over easy two mornings in a row, though I’m guessing by what was left on her plate that she doesn’t like runny yolks.

Don’t get me wrong, the sun turning black is indescribably cool. I recommend seeing it if you can, but don’t miss all the people along the way who help you get there.