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Love as a Possibility

Long ago I recognized that I have a few key themes in my spirituality.  That is not surprising, since I think key themes are the structure or building blocks of our entire way of thinking.  There is no doubt that one of the key themes is love.  Again that is not surprising.  It is probably a key theme for many folks.  Those who know the New Testament know that the writer of John’s Gospel and the three letters of John define God as love.  I am good with that definition.
My theology can develop from the affirmation that God is love.  As creator, God brings the world, you and me into being because of love.  Theologians would argue that God needs the world and us in order to have something and someone to love.  Again, I am good with that kind of theological logic.  In fact, it is cool to think that I was created in order to be loved.  It makes me wonder why I so frequently mess up this love-effect?
If I were made for love---and you, too---then the corollary means that we were created so that we, too, would be lovers.  Of course, I don’t mean lovers in the sense that we are always romantic.  Romance is nice and I have enjoyed that part of life.  But love is more than romance.  Love is basic care and it is deep compassion.  I have experienced the whole range of the virtue, love.  Love helps make humans what and who we are.
One of the ideas I have borrowed and used now for decades is the idea of “soul making.”  I grew up hearing that I “had” a soul.  That might be.  But I have also learned to say that I “am” a soul.  When I think further, I am convinced that we don’t come prepackaged as souls.  I am inclined to think we are born “with” or “as” souls, but our souls grow and develop.  I think part of our life’s mission is to be involved in soul work.  Soul work is the growth and development of our souls.  It requires life experiences---joys and sadness, wins and losses, etc.  All this becomes grist for the work of the soul.  I like to think I am still in process!
I was reminded of all this when I recently returned to one of my all-time favorite books by my Episcopal friend, Alan Jones.  It was Jones’ book, Soul Making, that set me on this way of thinking.  Through this book and others by him, I have developed my own ideas about soul making and soul work.  In that fertile book, Jones has these few sentences that I quote and then will develop.  “Soul making involves the willingness to cultivate a certain disposition towards the world and to other people: an attitude of receptivity and openness.  The question is: ‘Are we so wrapped up in ourselves that we have lost the capacity to be touched at our deepest?’  If we can still be reached by the world and what is in it, there is hope.  The soul is alive.  Love is a possibility.”
We start with Jones’ first thought.  Soul making includes cultivating a disposition toward the world and people.  He clarifies what he means by disposition; it is an attitude.  Then he notes two aspects of this attitude.  Soul making requires receptivity and openness.  I agree.  It is easy to see why soul making does not go well if we are closed people.  If our minds are closed to new ideas and new experience, we are condemned to move robotically through our lives.  And receptivity goes with this.  If we are exposed to new things, we need to be receptive or the new possibilities remain just that: possibilities.  That goes with respect to love as a possibility.
Jones follows this with a challenging question: “Are we so wrapped up in ourselves that we have lost the capacity to be touched at our deepest?”  Most folks probably assume their answer is “no.”  But is this honest?  I am not even sure I know honestly how to answer this question.  Have I ever been touched at my deepest?  I honestly don’t know.  I know I have been touched deeply.  This has happened in love and being with people in suffering.  But I don’t honestly know whether that was “at my deepest.”
Maybe it does not matter whether we know “our deepest.”  We can begin by letting ourselves be touched.  The next step, then, is to let ourselves be touched deeply.  Maybe our “deeply” can go deeper?  At one level, this seems like nonsense, but I know I have grown and developed my capacity to be deeper.  I doubt that “deep” is a quantitative thing.  We don’t start out a “1” in terms of deep and then develop to a “10.”  Deep is more likely a qualitative thing.
Jones gives us a clue how this deepening process goes.  If we can still be reached by the world and what’s happening in it, then there is hope, he tells us.  I am going to assume “being reached” is the same thing as “being touched.”  When I think about this process, I think about the learning and growing I have done around the issue of racism and sexism.  When we think about the decade of the 1960s, we know how challenging that time was for many of us who grew up with racist and sexist outlooks.  That period of time was a time of soul making.
During that period, I learned more about love as a possibility.  Romance seemed easy compared to the lessons the tumultuous world would teach me.  And I know I am still learning.  I know I have things to learn from the poor in my community and around the world.  And those who choose paths of violence are a real challenge to my soul making.  If I let myself be touched by the world and the people within the world, I am thereby open and receptive to what I can experience and learn.  I know there is more soul making to do because I don’t love the way I know Jesus and the saints love.  I want to close the gap.
In my head I know I can discover even more possibilities in love.  My central sacred question is how to live and love more?  To do that requires more soul work.

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