God loves you. Or so we are told by bumper stickers and billboards in a way that seems to cheapen and deaden this most mysterious and amazing truth. Words alone cannot speak us into an experience of this love. Not even the Bible’s words, although it tells us of this love. But knowing about this love from words is much different than really knowing it, experiencing it in the depth of my being.
Not too long ago, I would hear people talking about knowing God’s love, and I would (at least in my mind) cock my head skeptically, squint my eyes a bit, and wonder: how can anybody really know that? As a life-long church-goer, I realized that I was supposed to know it, and at some point I’m sure that I used to know it, but I was at a place where the words of Ecclesiastes resounded in my heart: meaningless, meaningless, everything under the sun is meaningless.
You don’t have to think too hard or long to get yourself into that kind of lost. Trying to figure out the problem of evil and suffering will do that pretty quickly. When the Answers that your faith rested on are shaken and no longer suffice, a tailspin into this Ecclesiastes frame of mind is probably inevitable.
Yet I kept running into people who had questions similar to mine but who had found this peace, this joy, this confidence in God’s love, that I don’t know that I ever had. How did they get there? Could I ever get there? I had no idea. And no one could quite explain it.
Over and over, I’d hear or read someone speaking of knowing this love. Not knowing about it. But knowing it in the core of their being. It started to dawn on me that maybe this knowing was really crucial for any meaningful sort of faith.
When I learned that we are supposed to ask God the big questions like “what is the next step in my journey?” it took me just a few minutes to realize that maybe that was my next step. My next step was to ask my next big question: “God do you really love me? Is your love for real? Please help me know.”
The prayer of my heart became:
“The earth is filled with your love, O God.
Open my eyes.
The earth is filled with your love, O God.
Open my heart.”
This prayer went with me everywhere I went.
I began to wake up with the prayer:
“Awaken my heart to your love, O God.
Awaken my heart to your love.
Awaken my heart to love my children, to love my husband,
to love my neighbor, to love every creature.
Awaken my heart to your love.”
Somehow, over time, the reality of God’s love started to work its way through my heart, soul, and mind. Undoing me. Mending me.
I began to experience the Mother/Father love of God described by the Psalmist: “But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast, my soul is quieted within me.”[i] I could feel myself held, as if I were resting in the lap of God.
Henri Nouwen says that it is in this quiet space when you are with God and God alone that “you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” “my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.”[ii]
I think that is what was happening, is happening, to me in the Quiet.
Ruth Haley Barton’s words rang true for me:
How surprising it is to find that our deepest need is to know we can never fall out of that unconditional love within which we live and move and have our being. Beyond formulaic approaches designed to harness God for our purposes, we learn to relinquish control and simply be present to the One whose presence is the bedrock of our being. Given time, we experience that loving Presence as our ultimate reality. We learn in the very cells of our being that this Reality never changes; it is only that our awareness of it is sometimes dulled by the noise and clutter of life. . . . [O]nly when we know the love of God in a deep, experiential way can we be truly open and receptive to his will. Without this knowing it is hard to listen openly for the still, small voice of God.[iii]
Somehow, I began to know this love in my core.
That overwhelming, burning love I felt for my child splashing in his rain boots, umbrella in hand on a grey, wet spring morning–I knew that was just a glimpse of the love that God has for me, for my children, for everyone else’s children.
I don’t think I manufactured these experiences of love. I don’t think I can. But some might suspect the power of positive thinking. Sometimes, I might wonder that too.
But then there was a love that I know could not have originated anywhere with me.
The poet Mirabai comes close when she says: “All I was doing was being, and the Dancing Energy came by my house.”[iv] That happened to me too, but I was journaling, tired, struggling to stay awake until . . .
I think God wanted my full attention.
For me, I wonder if this indescribable love was a gift—as amazing as it was, I don’t think the amazement was the point. I wonder if this gift was to help me believe that the other experiences of God’s love were also real, not manufactured or imagined. Those are the loves I can take with me every day.
I know that I am. Sometimes I forget, but not for long.
And if I can know, really know, I’m pretty sure that anyone can.
“We do not move from meditation into contemplation, into self-annihilation, into death, in order to be freed from the intolerable wheel of life. No. We move–are moved-into death in order to be discovered, to be loved into truer life by our Maker. To die to self in the prayer of contemplation is to move to a meeting of lovers.”
~ Madeleine L’Engle [v]
[i] Psalm 131:3.
[ii] From Henri Nouwen’s article Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry, http://entermission.typepad.com/my_weblog/files/moving_from_solitude_to_community_to_ministry_henri_nouwen.pdf.
[iii] From Invitation to Silence and Solitude (Kindle Edition).
[iv] From Mirabai’s poem, “All I was Doing was Breathing” in The Winged Energy of Delight (Kindle Edition), compiled by Robert Bly.
[v] Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water, p. 236.