Come then, my beloved,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers are appearing on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come, then, my beloved,
my lovely one, come.
(Song of Songs 2:10-13 NJB)
Throughout the Christian tradition, Christians have experienced a relationship with Jesus Christ in such deep and rich ways that they have described it as a union. Regarding this union, Jean Varnier says, “It is not reserved for those who are well-known mystics or for those who do wonderful things for the poor…. [It is for] those poor enough to welcome Jesus. It is for people living ordinary lives and who feel lonely. It is for all those who are old, hospitalized or out of work, who open their hearts in trust to Jesus and cry out for his healing love.” This is great news, especially for any of us who are “poor enough to welcome Jesus”– his healing love is available, right here, right now. We don’t have to try to make ourselves presentable to God.
Why am I talking about union in times like these when oppression, injustice, pain, and terror are a daily reality for so many? I am talking about union because I believe the beginning of healing for me and for the world begins in the love of God. How are we to love our neighbors, let alone our enemies, when we don’t know deep in our bones the limitless love of God toward our troubled and wounded selves? I know from my own experience that I can’t will myself to love others or even my own self. But the more I live in the truth of God’s deep and unchanging love towards me, love grows in my heart for myself and for my neighbor. In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton describes this dynamic powerfully:
The beginning of the fight against hatred, the basic Christian answer to hatred, is not the commandment to love, but what must necessarily come before in order to make the commandment bearable and comprehensible. It is a prior commandment, to believe. The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. That faith that one is loved by God although unworthy–or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth!…. And until this discovery is made, until this liberation has been brought about by the divine mercy, man is imprisoned in hate.
Love for ourselves and our neighbors arises from the vulnerable trust that we are loved by God as we are now–with all of our issues, histories, and the frailties of our individual personalities–not as what we believe we should be in the future when we manage to somehow get our lives together. Experiencing the love of God for ourselves enables us to pursue God’s kingdom, the kingdom of the God who is love, to come on earth as it is in heaven.
You and I are loved more than we can ever know. I pray that as we are rooted and grounded in the healing love of God, we will grow as agents of peace and healing in our beautiful and broken world.