Thomas Merton wrote, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” As I sat in the silence of our church in the wee hours of the morning, praying, watching and waiting, I read these words as a mantra.
Too often we want to make everyone like ourselves. Too often we assume that we would be happier if everyone was like us. Too often we hurt others when we judge them to be ‘less than’ because they are not like us. Painfully, I admit that there have been times that I have found myself working hard to fit another’s image. I have succumbed to the pressure to be what I am not to have another’s acceptance, friendship, approval, and most importantly love. The trouble is, upon further reflection, I realize that it is not an act of love for another to pressure me into being what I am not. I also confess that I have tried, usually unwittingly, but not always, to make others fit my image of right living, right life, right being. I have come to accept that desperately trying to change another is not a perfect love. We are at our best when we can accept who we are and live that fully, without fear of judgement.
The church, in stillness, offers me a place to safely name how I have been a stumbling block to others being allowed to be themselves. This sanctuary, lit only by the soft light or candles, allows me to admit that I have tried to measure up to another and have abandoned myself in the process.
Good Friday is now here. Today is a declaration that God has accepted us, redeemed us, healed us and forgiven us. Henri Nouwen reminds us that “God offers us gifts of forgiveness and mercy, but for some mysterious reason we find these hard to receive. Let’s try not to forget the wonder of being able to return again and again to ask for healing.” As I sit in this sacred place it is hard to comprehend how much God loves me, and loves us all; difficult to understand why God would take on all human suffering and all that human pain. It is reassuring for me to know that God knows me so well and accepts me for who I am since it is God who created me, God who redeemed me in the acts of this day, and it is God who sustains me by the Holy Spirit left to guide me after the gift of the Resurrection toward which we journey.
We love the place, O God,
Wherein Thine honor dwells;
The joy of Thine abode
All earthly joy excels.
It is the house of prayer
Wherein Thy servants meet;
And Thou, O Lord, art there
Thy chosen flock to greet.
Being is the church in the quiet and stillness I heard the words of that great old hymn. This is the house of prayer and indeed I feel that I have been greeted by Jesus. If you are in the neighbourhood, by all means come in and be greeted by the one who paid it all on Good Friday that we might celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday.
I too found the quiet of the Church during my time of vigil had me reflecting on who I was and how I can become a better person. Viewing others for who they are and not who I think they are, or worse, think they should be.
Interesting. I think the quiet church is a quite different place, myself. The smell of wood that has been overheated in summer reminds you it’s just a building, really… what you find there in the quiet is all from within.
Trying to make yourself over for others in a way they find acceptable is something I have done my entire life. It is such a habit that I feel as though I am always on stage, always playing a role. Trouble with that is, you forget who you are after a while and you are always looking offstage trying to catch the prompter’s eye. “PSSSSsst, What’s my line?” I always know when I lose my character though, people give you an odd look that seems to say, “is he that stupid?” In the end it is just a way to keep distance between yourself and others. Oddly or not, that’s why I don’t like talking on the phone. It feels as though the person on the other end of the line is speaking right into your ear. Way too close for comfort!
Thank for this Robert…
I have some further thoughts….
‘It’s just a building, really….’ Indeed! – the beauty of an incarnational God is that even in something a simple and ordinary as ‘just a building’ the Divine can be found, heard, felt, spoken too, searched out.
The common denominator in all of this is the finder, the hearer, the feeler, the speaker, the seeker. Again…the incarnational reality of the Divine is brought to full life as the finder, the hearer, the feeler, the speaker, the seeker all allow what is ‘within’ travel to surface.
What makes a church so special is not what is in the rafters or the pews, or bricks or windows. What makes it a ‘House of God’ is the willingness for people to travel to the places of vulnerability within that space to acknowledge our shortcomings and celebrate our belovedness. We are at our best when we need not look to others for their approval, but when we come to understand that God sees us as beloved for who we are because indeed God has fashioned us to be who we are. Of course the challenge with that is that we must also accept that others are also beloved in God’s eyes even with their shortcomings. We come to realize that living in community means that those around us also, often, are looking off stage for their next line.
As the old hymn cited says, ‘it is a house of the prayer, wherein they servants meet.’ The key part of that sentence is the second part. We are a servant people. We come to this place to offer who we are to serve the purpose of Love. We offer in the place of wood and brick not who we might like to be but who are. It is hard for some of us to trust that God can accomplish all that is good and necessary with who we are (individually and collectively) because we have listened the ‘contrarian’ who whispers in our ear that we are not good enough, not pleasing in the sight of God, not equipped to do God’s work, not good enough, not like the rest. That voice inspires guilt, greed, need for power, etc.
Houses of prayer, and the sometimes quiet within them, are important because they can often give us the ‘space’ needed to hear the voice of Love that loved us into being reminding us that we are ‘beloved children of God with whom Love is well pleased.’ It is hard to hear that voice in the noisy climes of the ‘contrarian’ wherein the message seems to be that we can never do, be, or attain enough. Our House of prayer comes to life when people are in it. That is when the building becomes more than just a building.
I guess all of what I am trying to express here, as inspired by our response, is best expressed by the last couple of verses of another hymn that is more contemporary and better known to us – All Are Welcome.
“Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
“Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”