Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 7, 2014
It’s a joy to travel to meet interesting people in interesting places in this new work I’m doing. It’s also a joy to come home, the experience enriched by the unfettered, exuberant greeting which I get from our dogs when I walk in the door. Their excitement makes me feel swell. (Truth be told, I get just about the same reaction whether I’m gone for a week or if I just run out to the grocery store for a quart of milk. Dogs may be high on the ladder of spiritual evolution, but they lack a sense of time, which in this case, works to my favor.) On occasions when I’ve been asked to cite examples of unconditional love, I have noted the reaction of my dogs. I may have to rethink that.
Last week, I attended a conference with a variety of interesting speakers who spoke on the theme of our identity, specifically our identity as Christians. Woven throughout these conversations, a mosaic of perspectives, atheists and believers exploring the challenge of being a person of faith these days, was the persistent call to discover our identity in the unconditional love of God. In other words, it was a conference about the meaning of grace. As one speaker stated, that grace is the solid rock on which we stand and all other ground is sinking sand.
One of the speakers was church historian, Dr. Ashley Null. He said something which made me perk up my ears (not unlike my dogs) and perhaps unleashed a new way of thinking about grace. He said that there is a difference between unconditional love and unconditional affirmation. He said we get unconditional affirmation from dogs. In my case, they extend that affirmation without the slightest knowledge of the inner workings of my heart, soul and mind, the good thoughts and the petty ones and the ones that are even more unseemly. That affirmation feels good, for sure. In that respect, it’s a good thing. But it is not the same as unconditional love. And it may not be enough.
More from this speaker, who said: unconditional affirmation never challenges your right to see yourself as the center of the universe. Unconditional love is different. It calls us into relationship, calls us to surrender at least some of our illusory autonomy for the sake of knowing and being known by God, by neighbor. It accepts us where we are, but invites us to a new place. As Dr. Null said, grace is the power of God’s Spirit wooing us homeward. It is an alluring not a compelling force, triggering a synergy by which the divine graceful love inspires gracious human love. It causes us to change. It causes us to grow.
I believe that for the healing and wholeness of our souls (another way of describing salvation), for the healing and wholeness of our world, we need unconditional love, not just unconditional affirmation. (Sorry, pups.) The upcoming week which we call “holy” celebrates the urgency of that deep human need. Its narrative, sorrow and love mingled, is offered as annual reminder that we are on the receiving end of unconditional love. The week describes God’s persistent, alluring outreach to us, stretching out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into saving embrace. Unconditional affirmation may come our way. But unconditional love provides the foundation for our identity.
As you prepare for Holy Week, give thanks for the love that surrounds us, depicted in the hymn text in the column on the left. That love meets us where we are, without condition, and calls us to a new place. Let that love be the strong foundation on which you walk this week. And see how you can share it.
– Jay Sidebotham
|My song is love unknown, my saviour’s love to me. Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die.
He came from his blest throne salvation to bestow, but men made strange and none the longed for Christ would know. But, O my friend, my friend indeed, who at my need his life did spend.
Sometimes they strew his way, and his sweet praises sing, resounding all the day Hosannas to their king. Then crucify is all their breath, and for his death they thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight. Sweet injuries! Yet they at these themselves displease and ‘gainst him rise.
They rise and needs will have my dear Lord made away. A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay. Yet cheerful he to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free.
Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine. Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.