*Brian Wilcox. 'Solitude'. Flickr
Written on fifth day of silent retreat at Raven's Rest hermitage, in the Great Smoky Mountains, outside Hot Springs, North Carolina.
For much of my life, I longed for love. Thankfully, I was given a simple faith, early, and I was taught simply Jesus loved me. I did not question that. We children learned a song... "Jesus loves me this I know... for the Bible tells me so... Little ones to him belong... they are weak but he is strong... Yes, Jesus loves me... Yes, Jesus loves me... Yes, Jesus loves me... for the Bible tells me so."
Jesus became the image of love for me, a true friendship and, later, an intense kind of love affair. Much of my life, I have lived alone and celibate, and the divine Love has sustained me, nurtured me, and healed me when broken from the vicissitudes of life. I, after accepting an inner call to serve as a pastor, found out that the faith group from which I was taught love, could be a very unloving people, at times. So, as a pastor and a non-comformist, the church became, to me, a painful place of betrayal. That I welcomed everyone, regardless of creed, color, sexual orientation, ..., well, this was apparently too much love for many to embrace. I no longer attend a church, and I do not miss it. Yet, looking back, I realize that much of the systemic abuse arose from persons who were deeply afraid of this message of love. To have a God who loved everyone equally, and would hurt no one, this was too much love for many persons in the churches. So, finally, a sect I served as pastor said, "You don't fit." Thankfully, they spoke the truth, and I am glad not to fit.
The major turning point in this process in this love affair with the Divine ~ call it what you will ~ was an awakening experience in a little Baptist church, when age nine, that I find comparable to awakening in other faith paths. And what marked this opening was love. I felt simply bathed in a love that is beyond words, it was as though love washed through me, cleaning me inside, and moved over me, cleaning me outside. I knew I had been captured, and I would never be but a captive to this Lover. Now, I see how this Lover appears in many disguises, not just that given me in the Christian faith. I can celebrate all the faces of Christ, for Christ appears where love is present and as love present, and this has nothing to do with any concept of Christ or any concept at all.
While I have been changed over time regarding spirituality, and I no longer belong to the faith group of my childhood and younger years, I cherish that early I was taught I was loved and love is the most important grace we can receive and share. That simple message, in that simple song, set a course that connected me to, sustained me with, love. And, when in weekly sangha with Buddhists, and in weekly meeting with Quakers, I find this love is present, equally, in both places. And, when I leave these meetings, I find this love is still equally present, everywhere.
No, I have not always felt lovable or good at loving. I have often felt otherwise. I have often failed to love well. Yet, the truth of being loved and the importance of sharing love has been an anchor, not so much one I have held to, but one that has refused to let me drift away too far and get lost from Love Itself.
I find this same love in so many different ways of living in this world. If someone asked me, what is a spiritual life, the simplest, most truthful answer I could give would be one word, "Love."
* * *
A neighbor and close friend, George, visited the sage. The sage enjoyed his companionship, for he let the sage be just the human the sage is, never seeking any spiritual answers from the sage. In fact, the friend had little interest in any kind of spirituality. The sage was okay with that, for he knew many persons are deeply spiritual and do not know it. Possibly, that is why, he considered, they are spiritual, is they are not intending to be. So, as usual, the two sat under the shade tree out back, relaxed, drank cold tea, and enjoyed the scenery and fellowship.
Then, out of character, George asked to pose a question, what he called a "very serious question." The sage, surprised, welcomed the question, though he felt a little uncomfortable with such inquiry entering into their causal relationship.
"What is love?," asked George. Just like that, direct, blunt, and, yes, a big question, at least for George. "When I was younger," he said, "I thought I knew what love is, now I'm wondering if I've had it wrong all along. Growing older does that to some of us, makes us question what we thought we knew."
"Yes, it does," replied the sage, smiling and laughing. "Now, as to your question, and a very good one, indeed," he said. "Well, only a few days ago, I was walking down and up the mountain. On the way down, a delivery truck passed me. I waved and kept walking. I did not get a look at who was inside. Then, I got to the end of the walk, at the bottom of the mountain. I began back up. I was very tired, I wondered if I had made a mistake walking so far before turning around. And just as I was walking back up, the delivery truck was returning down the mountain, and it met me. A lovely lady was driving, and she lifted her hand, waving to me. But this was not any wave. She smiled, also, and a big smile. If I could have translated her face, it would have said, "So very glad to meet you today!" I have rarely seen such joy on a face I have met. And immediately my heart was cheered and I felt renewed energy in my body. She will never know what her greeting, and more, the spirit of her greeting, meant to me, a stranger meeting a stranger on a mountain road. Of course, that we were strangers is the cosmic joke."
"So," said George, "that is love?"
"You can say that, George, if you want to. Do you want to?"
George said, "Well, to me, that sounds like love, even if you were apparent strangers."
Later in the time together, just before leaving, George said, "Now, about that love we discussed earlier. How often does this happen to you? I mean, how often do you feel you're being loved?"
"George, always now, always now."
*Brian K. Wilcox. "Meetings with an Anonymous Sage."
* * *
heart overflowing with love
eyes seeing with love
love appearing everywhere
* * *
How odd that so many persons are desperate for love, like living beside a cool, clear stream and complaining of thirst. The Christian Scriptures says, "Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you." The same Scriptures says, "God is Love." So, we could read, "Draw close to Love, and Love will draw close to you." And, we get a big surprise, for we discover love was already close to us, already drawing us to draw close to love. And, so it is, so it is.
*noi photos. 'Calm'. Flickr
*(C)Brian K. Wilcox, 2019
Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered from major booksellers online, including the publisher 1stBooks.