Love. Love. Love. This Sunday's readings open doors to the complicating depths of love. John's Gospel offers us a formula that can be and should be applied to our lives together today: Remain in my love; this love is joyful and whole; this love generates friendships; and fruits of love will remain.
Remain in my love
Remain comes from the Latin re (expressing intensive force) and manere (to stay). To stay not just again and again, but expressing intensive force.
Perhaps a similar sentiment is to be rooted. Be rooted in my love, God says. Be here, dwell here, stay here. Don't go anywhere. Don't look for other places. Be here. Be in my love.
Professionally, I consider myself a nomad. My string of experiences sometimes translates to jobs with benefits, but my spirit to work aligns itself to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, whose movement is graceful and fluid.
Spiritually, I am inclined to follow God as a pilgrim does, journeying from one place to another, intent on paying attention to "the way" of the journey, of relationships, of moments of grace.
All this is to say that remaining does not come naturally to me in the concrete sense. Like the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness, I spend much time being reminded of God's rootedness in my heart and God's location to have been recorded in a constellation of my past discernments.
To remain in God's love invites us to be centered and rooted in a love that is boundless, endless, all-engulfing, so generous, so caring, so true. We develop a confidence of God's providence, whether we find ourselves in a land of much bounty or a land with minimal resources. To remain or to stay in God's love leads us to a deepening or trust that frees us to take risks.
This love is joyful and whole
You wouldn't think that taking risks leads to joy and wholeness, especially if the risk involves a loss of some sort. Yet our faith excessively pleads for a unity and reconciliation that is only genuine to our merciful and compassionate God if it is filled with awe, wonder, gladness, and sometimes even surprise.
Ironically, I felt joy and wholeness when ministry meant being with people who were suffering. When I was in New Orleans, I felt a deep sense of unifying purpose each day as I lived in the realness and the mess of a broken world that required real decisions to bring about change. Now, learning from my students as they explore oppressive systems, connecting history with our story, and tending to the gentleness of a question or curiosity that seeks truth or clarity or wholeness is also a deep experience of joyfulness.
This love generates friendships
Over the course of the last few months, I've had a chance to be with young adults from all Christian denominations as they explored their own vocations of service to God and God's people. Just as the first retreat was beginning, participants already experienced a trusting and abiding friendship possibility with one another because they sensed their own purpose being cared for in this new community. God is breaking through the divisions of class, gender, race, theology, doctrine, practice, geography, language and time, and we are befriending one another.
Because of globalization and social media, friendships these days are not restricted to one place, one time, one language. Friendships in the Lord happen each day on social media as we like or share experiences with one another that are important and offer us gravitas as we live lives respectful and mindful of one another's experiences.
I trust that my friendships with Quakers, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Seekers, and Nones (people who do not identify with any tradition) will last because they are rooted in a God of love, of wholeness, of joy and reconciliation.
Love is expansive. Just when I thought I wouldn't have any more time to make a friend, God's grace is effervescent, and time for friendships in the Lord seem to rise to the top of my to-do list. It is with intention, prayer and discernment that I ask God how else I can be a friend to those who are strangers and estranged by me. Because really, if we were all just friends, we would love one another with intensity, thoughtfulness and hope, especially during times of injury, impatience, fear and miscommunication.
Fruits of love will remain
"Now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Love abides, remains, stays. There is no way to lose or destroy love. And love will bear fruits. Perhaps the fruits of love are good relationships, maybe a lasting nonprofit, or even a series of good choices that cultivate both your own image of yourself and God's dream for you. Fruits of love may also be in the real experience of those things that are opposite: the end of a relationship, the closing of a business's doors, a series of poor decisions that led you in a circuitous way toward a few trusted people or experiences.
St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks about the ability to be and remain indifferent in sickness or in health, in richness or poverty. Love remains when we are free from all the things, ideas, people that bind us. Love remains when we live into the joy of God's providence, mercy and compassion.
Take a moment to reflect on this Sunday's reading with great focus, fervor and discipline. Use the prompts below to help you in your practice of love. And as Jesuit Fr. Pedro Arrupe has said: "Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything."
"Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).
"Perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God's" (St. Augustine).
On the Contemplation to Attain Love from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius:
In contemplating the love of God, we ask for the grace to love as God loves. To this end, Ignatius offers two critical insights:
1. "Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words" . Love must be put into action; words are not enough. Having been schooled as disciples these many weeks, we must now do something. Ignatian spirituality is one of mission.
2. "Love consists in a mutual communication between the two persons". Just as the love between two persons is marked by giving and receiving, the love we share with God enjoys a certain mutuality. God wants our friendship. God wants to be known by us. These divine desires are the source of our desire to know, love, and serve God.
[Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She teaches bioethics, feminist theology, Christian sexuality, and Christian Scriptures at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at contemplativecompanions.org or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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