Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ 1 Corinthians 13:7
I have a friend who asked me from time to time, “How is it going with your soul these days?”
The first time, I was flustered. No one had ever asked me that question before, and it’s not the kind of question you can answer just like that. The next time, I was ready.
It is a good question. It helps me reflect on how I am doing. It stimulates me to dig a little deeper, to go beneath the surface of my life, to check in with my heart and soul.
We haven’t talked in a while, so I’ve started asking myself that question. It’s been a helpful discipline.
Honestly, it’s kind of a mixed bag. I’m joyful for the life of the gospel. I’m happy as the vaccines roll out and in receiving my own vaccination. Weary of long pandemic isolation. Anger and frustration about those who refuse a simple thing like wearing masks. Broken–hearted by the inequities the pandemic has laid bare. Despair as another gunman shoots up a mall or a school or a library. Pain as I share time and life with friends who are hurting.
How’s my soul today? I feel a little like Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings and transitions. Janus is usually depicted with two faces looking in opposite ways, one towards the past and the other towards the future.
My soul feels caught in a time between then and now, looking backwards and forwards at the same time. We live in a bent, broken, and fragile world and the power of God’s life sometimes seems so fragile. To borrow a phrase from Diana Butler Bass, “Resurrection, yes; and also haunted by insurrections of fear and falsity which are ripping the world.”
A mixed bag indeed…
Years ago, I learned about the legend of the dogwood from a friend in the southern USA. Once upon a time, the dogwood tree was exceptionally large, the wood strong and sturdy. It was used to make the cross. So, God cursed the tree and blessed it—cursed to be forever small so that it would never grow large enough again to be used for a cross, and blessed to produce beautiful flowers each spring, just in time for Easter.
Two images which describe the state of my soul these days. I know the knottiness of death and witness the flowering of new life from the gnarled wounds. I feel the pain of this time and also sense small signs of grace and hope in the midst of it all. I feel the impatience and hopelessness of social distancing and physical isolation, and also see tiny glimmers of a flickering, fragile light.
Isn’t this always the way with love? Love feels the pain of life and seeks signs of hope amid the pain. Love immerses itself in reality, and seeks a way forward marked by hope and light. Love feels both the sorrow and the joy.
I think that’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love keeps on keeping on in the midst of everything else that’s just going on.
I believe that kind of love is the stupendous and simple heart of Christian faith. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church says, “If it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it cannot be claimed to be Christian.”
The purpose of Christian faith is to form us as lovers. Too often, we’ve failed to do that. I can cite endless illustrations—from persecuting those who thought differently, to the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the forced baptisms of whole populations of people, to the Doctrine of Discovery, to Indian Residential Schools, to the failure to welcome members of the LGBTQ community. Too often, the church fails to love.
We can learn a new “Jesus–faith” which will transform us—a faith which welcomes diversity, which opens us up to new ways of seeing the world, new ways of living with our neighbours, and new ways of being the people God has made us to be.
In this sense, faith encourages my soul and gives me hope. I’ve known the darkness of the depths of clinical depression. I’ve known the mountain–top heights of ecstasy. Most days, like everyone else, I live somewhere between those extremes.
In all things, I choose the way of love. I choose the way of hope. I choose the way of gratitude. I choose to believe that God is at work in the world, bringing life and healing and goodness. That is one way in which I am tending my soul.
How’s your soul today?