On the nature of love
Love is a strange thing. I still don’t know quite how to describe it.
Love is part of the fabric of what joins us together as humans. In my recent reflections on the nature of love, there is one special moment of my life that keeps coming to my mind over and over again. I can’t shake it. So I offer it to you, as an inadequate way of capturing the essence of love and yet being one of my most profound encounters with it.
We were transitioning churches at the time and in that process we attended a small gathering of believers. We didn’t know anyone and we didn’t come with any agenda. We just came to participate with them in gathering around and making much of Jesus. I was broken and raw, slightly cynical of the church, but still clinging to hope that somehow, somewhere in the middle of the messiness I could still find Jesus. And in that small little church meeting in a borrowed space with folding chairs—I did.
I don’t remember what songs we sung that night. But I’m pretty sure I was singing loud and swaying along like I usually do. I don’t remember what the message was or how on point the theology was in that particular sermon. But I do remember right at the end when he stopped almost as if he had heard directly from heaven and asked if anyone in the room had a certain issue that was bothering them. I froze. It’s like he knew me although he never had met me.
He never promised there would be healing, but just that he would like to pray for that person. But me being me was WAY too scared to step forward in a moment like that and also a tad skeptical. However, after the service I worked up the courage (along with a little gentle nudge from my husband) to go and talk with him. I told that man how I wasn’t quite sure, but I thought maybe he was talking about me. He smiled, and asked if he could lay his hands on me and pray for me. I nodded—wanting to believe that something could actually happen but my theological questions and past life had me second guessing that such a thing was even possible.
He put his hands on me and started to pray. At first, nothing.
But then, out of nowhere the most wonderful sensation began to rush over me. I felt like I should be scared, but there was nothing to be scared of. Instead peace, comfort, and feeling of being totally loved and simply held.
And then just as quickly as it came, it was gone. And with it the excruciating pain that had been behind my right eye for months. It still hasn’t come back. I looked up at him, part shaken, part shocked, and part wondering how to put into words what had just happened. He simply said:
“Receive it as a gift of God’s love to you. God loves you. ”
I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live.
Since that day, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on that event. I wasn’t looking for a miracle. I didn’t need a miracle. Not everyone receives a miracle that asks for one. Why should I have a miracle? Was it even a miracle? Is there science that can prove or disprove my claim? What do we even mean by miracle? I have more questions than answers (like most things in my current mode of existence). However, this is something that in my reflection I have found to be true. One of the most miraculous parts of my existence is that I am loved by God. For me, the real miracle is not so much the healing, the miracle is being loved. In that moment, I experienced the fleeting wonder of crossing into a place where the space between earth and heaven becomes thin. When God is not just known, but experienced. I don’t have a theology for it; nor do I think I necessarily need one. All the ways we meet God—through scripture, traditions, spiritual disciplines, nature—they are all filtered through the lens of experience. And I don’t think experience can always be explained. And I’m okay living in that space of tension.
I encountered divine love from a place that I least expected it—the touch of a stranger’s hand. Isn’t that just like Jesus though? To show up in the places where we least expect. To show up in the ordinary moments. To meet us right where we are. To show up in moments when we have almost lost hope. To show up and breathe new life into us. To remind us that we are not forgotten, forsaken, or ever truly alone. To assure us that we are indeed loved.
Since that day, I approach the world with a little more of a sense of wonder, of awe, of humility. I see imprints of the divine everywhere not just in worship songs and sacrament but also in the waving grass, the sharing of a meal, and in the smile of a passerby. I believe love is powerful. I believe that God is love. I believe that we can only truly reflect God’s fullness when we too lean in and participate in this ever-giving love. Love is constantly remembering the scandalous reality of incarnation—God is with us. Love is the unseen force weaving like a thread uniting us all despite differences of language, culture, and religion. It is by living in relation with others and the world around me, that I too somehow experience this mystery of divine love. And I think that I—and all of us—are better for it.