My early beginnings taught me to distrust the world. I spent some years of my childhood in a country across the ocean behind tall walls called a missionary compound, an enclosure I was never to leave alone for fear–of danger, of attack, of getting lost. Yet I read and I see that God loved the world. It has been a challenge to me to reconcile God’s love of the world, so freely spoken and acted on, and some favorite sayings of my upbringing from sacred texts that tell me not to love the world or the things in it. Some sifting and sorting must be done!
This Lent I remember that I have experienced Grace in God’s worlds–the world of creation, the world of ideas, the world of artistry, the world of leading change in society, the world of people, so various and diverse. Some favorite poets give voice to that Grace: “My work is loving the world,”says Mary Oliver, “which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” Edna St. Vincent Millay is overwhelmed with God Grace as she prays, “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough.” And in this 5th week of Lent I want to ask each day, what can I do to love the created world? recycle? cut down my use of water? monitor my use of power–gasoline and electricity? make clear choices to live with what I need, not with what I wish for? I am sure that each day will be rife with opportunity to love the created world.
I want also to love the world of people that God loves. I have been collecting the change from my purse at the end of each day in Lent. It is my intention during Holy Week to give that money in love to a place of need in the world. Where will that be? the shelter for the homeless that my church supports? the food bank down at the beach? am international organization like Bread for the World, which works systemically to change policy of governments and to facilitate distribution of food to the many who are hungry? Each day I am keeping my eyes open and my ears sharp for the places where my love is called for particular expression.
There are letters to legislatures to sign, there are bags of supplies to be packed, there are offerings of time to be made. I want to be attentive in my own prayer to which ones have my name on them, the ones where I am called to be right now. And that becomes clear to me as I pray. Many of us learned early on in seminary that Karl Barth had told us that we were to pray each day with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. This Lenten practice makes sure that my practices are not only about my inward journey, but keep my loving on the world as well. These days I am so aware of grief and oppression in Syria, in Southern Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Colombia, just to name a few places. Each of us could make a list as long as our arm. How do I love these parts of the world that God loves? I begin with prayer, as specific and as focused as my knowledge can make it.
Reading again those “love not the world” texts, I see that what is not to love are the places where love is lacking–systems that thrive on greed and acquisition, not the welfare of all; systems in which oppression in institutionalized and those that are maintained by abuse of power; systems that give preference to specialized interests, rather than to the poor and disenfranchised, the little ones, the anawim, that Jesus loved. I recall Jesus coming in to Jerusalem, weeping saying, “If you, even you, had recognized on this day the things that makes for peace!” (Luke 19:41). That in itself is a prayer that loves the world that God made.
My work this week of Lent is, like Mary Oliver, loving the world, listening, looking, hoping for the opportunities that have my name on them, and the Grace to act on them.