Little children, let us love in truth and action

It was a dark and stormy night….

With these words begins one of my all-time favorite books,
Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time,
which this year celebrates its 50th birthday.
L’Engle was a consummate story-teller,
a life-long Episcopalian, a seeker of knowledge and truth,
and perhaps one of the most influential theologians in my life.

That might be a startling claim to make
for one whose career focused on writing novels and memoirs,
but it is a claim I make without reservation.

L’Engle’s books – fiction and nonfiction –
are among those I turn to time and again
when I need to make sense of the world,
when things seem out of sorts,
when I feel lost or filled with doubt
or disconnected from anything greater than myself;
when my soul feels caught in a dark and stormy night.

I immerse myself in the pages of A Wrinkle in Time,
or A Wind in the Door,
or any of a number of L’Engle’s works,
and  I emerge with a renewed sense
of the interconnectedness of the universe,
of the ultimate power of good over evil,
of the presence of God,
and God’s love made manifest
in us and through us and for us in the cosmos.
For those are the underlying themes in much of L’Engle’s writing,
work that reveals a very cosmic theology
—a view of the world in which there is an overarching struggle for good and evil,
and in which the actions
of the smallest and least significant
have an impact on the entire universe;
a world in which the power of love
triumphs over the most insidious evil.

In A Wrinkle in Time, the Murry children are led on an epic quest
through the universe by three otherworldly beings:
the enigmatic Mrs Whatsit,
the loquacious Mrs Who
and the ethereal Mrs Which.
Their mission on the surface is to rescue the children’s father,
but this mission in reality
is but one small skirmish
in a great cosmic battle between good and evil.
In the end, their mission is a success
because Meg, an awkward and insecure teen at the outset,
realizes that the most powerful force
she has to exert is the power of love,
and  when she acts on that love,
she secures the release of her father
from the forces of evil that have imprisoned him,
the forces that would overtake the world if left unchecked.

Now I’ve purposefully left out most of the details,
because I’m hoping you’ll read this book
if you haven’t already,
but it is the power of Meg’s love for her father,
and the way she acts on that love
that come to mind today
when I hear the reading from the letter of John.

The author of this letter is probably writing sometime in the early 2nd century
to a community that has been divided
over a controversy about the true nature of Christ:
was Jesus in fact truly and completely human?
I don’t know that many of us spend much time worrying about this,
but for Jesus’ earliest followers,
who had to work out for themselves
doctrines and concepts handed to us in our creeds,
this issue had some important implications:
If Jesus only SEEMED to be human,
then he only SEEMED to suffer,
and if he only SEEMED to suffer,
then perhaps he only SEEMED to love as well
and the notion that we should love as Jesus loved
is suddenly and perhaps fatally weakened.

So our author is writing to affirm this community,
which has come down on the side of accepting  both
Jesus’ full humanity and his full divinity,
and then to exhort them to live in love
as Jesus, in the fullness of his being, loved them.

We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Just as Jesus laid down his life for us,
we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
In the early years of the church
this might have been heard as a call to accept martyrdom,
and indeed many of early Christians
literally gave up their lives for their faith.
But John’s letter proposes another way
in which we might lay down our lives for one another,
a way that may be every bit as challenging.

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

These words may be even more daunting for us
than they were for the early church.
In our 21st century secular culture
love threatens to be reduced to a fuzzy emotion
or a romantic ideal.
It’s something we feel, and it feels good,
but if the feelings aren’t there, well, we move on.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with feeling love
– it’s actually quite wonderful,
and it’s good for our mental, spiritual and physical health.
But when loves stops there,
when it remains just a feeling,
that’s when we miss the mark.

Because as Christians we are called to something greater.
We are called to make our love ACTIVE.
We are called to love others as Jesus loved us,
And while Jesus may have felt love for his friends and followers,
what’s recorded in scripture is not those feelings
but rather the actions that love led to
–      his healing, his teaching,
his inclusion of those shunned because their gender
or their poverty
or their physical conditions
or their status in society,
his care for all who came to him.

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

That kind of love is not so hard to do with in familiar settings;
we care with generous abandon
for those who are near and dear to us,
members of our church family,
friends and neighbors.
It’s not even so difficult when it comes
to providing assistance to the homeless and the needy.
We do that when we send mosquito nets to Africa
so that children won’t die needlessly from malaria;
we do it when we collect money for those hit by natural disaster;
we do it when we take hot meals to residents at Spooner House,
and when we bring food for the food bank.

But it’s not just in emulating Jesus’ care and concern
for the poor and needy and suffering in our outreach
that we are called to love in truth and action
It’s also in our every day encounters with one another,
not just friends and family
but also casual acquaintances and complete strangers.
And in some ways that is much harder than “doing outreach.”
Because to love in truth and action
means we have to be vigilant, thoughtful and intentional;
we have to set aside our pettiness, our grudges, our egos,
our self-interest, our tempers and even our pride,
and meet each and every person as one worthy of respect and love
— yes, even those persons we find it difficult to like.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s sequel to Wrinkle, A Wind in the Door,
Meg Murry is once again called upon to save someone she loves,
this time her younger brother Charles Wallace,
who seems to be dying from a mysterious disease.
As Meg fights for his life
(aided this time by a feathery fiery cherubim)
she finds yet again that her primary weapon is love.
This time she must show her love
not for a member of her family,
but for the principal of the local school,
a man who had made not only her life,
but also the life of her brother,
miserable at times.
When Meg reaches deep within herself
to muster love for someone she truly dislikes,
she finds a greater power than she ever would’ve imagined.

That power is available to us as well,
when we, like Meg, dare to reach deep within ourselves,
let ourselves overcome our fears and prejudices
and act on the love we receive in and through Jesus.
What might the world be like if we each did that,
tapped that love, acted on that love
and let its transformative power work through us in the world?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.


God talk

I cannot remember a time when church, God, religion weren’t parts of my life. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of being in church–sitting on the pew kneeler playing as a preschooler, learning the words to the prayers we said every Sunday (Morning Prayer in those days), going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, being an angel in the Christmas pageant, singing in the junior choir, church picnics on Rogation Sunday, playing with my best friend Christy (whose dad happened to be our priest, only we referred to him as our “minister” then) on the playground behind the parish hall. We asked a blessing before meals and said prayers before bed, and God was very real to me.

So I suppose it’s not surprising that when my children were born, I wanted that experience for them, too, and intentionally sought a church where they might feel as home as I had. Our parish in South Carolina was just such a place–warm, nurturing, welcoming. That parish played an enormously influential role in shaping my adult faith and it gave my children some of what I’d had and loved.

But things change, and we moved on and for lots of reasons we didn’t become part of another such place until my first three kids were almost grown. It was only in looking back that I realized how much of what  I had wanted for them they had actually missed out on. And not only were our lives different than my family’s when I was growing up, but the culture changed, too.  Church participation, a foundational faith in God– these things weren’t givens any more.

Now my daughters are mothers themselves. As a grandmother I want very much for my grandchildren to know about God, to experience the security and joy that comes from that, and as a priest it is my responsibility to help other parents provide that foundation for their children. It was in a conversation about this with my younger daughter that the idea for this blog was born–a space to do some “God talk,” to ponder what it means to be a believer in this here and now world, to consider what role church plays–and how to be church in a culture that doesn’t value church involvement the way the world of my childhood did, to work out how to share what I value so much.

I hope you’ll join the conversation.