The Context of Love Transformation at age 73
Homily given to the congregation at St. Johns on the Lake Church August 30, 2008
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ”: I Corinthians 13:2
“Three Things continue forever: Faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
Love is boundless – it is here all round us in people and nature. And we need not spend our lives waiting for love to find us. Yet we treat it as though it is scarce and should be saved up like money in a bank account. Tennyson had it right : “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Love is the kind of thing which when I give it away freely, I only have more. Love is God’s most important and greatest gift.
“The great tragedy of life is
not that men perish,
but that they cease to love.
We’re afraid of loving. “Be careful! You may be hurt…again.” It is vulnerable to love…Yet vulnerability is the key to intimacy. Loving is so worth that risk of being hurt! Helen Keller said, “Life is a daring adventure…or nothing at all.”
At age 73, I find myself…again, in a miraculous state of transformation. “Transformation” is akin to “change” but a quantum jump more powerful and significant than mere change, as hard as change is to accept. Transformation happens within something powerful called “context”. Victor Hugo said: “All the forces in the world cannot stop an idea whose time has come.” Context with intentionality creates an idea whose time has come.
Here’an example of what I mean by context: JFK created a context called “A man on the moon in next decade.” Once there was collective intentionality about this context, all the forces and negative nea-sayers who said correctly , We do not have the right propellants, we do not have the right metals actually became realigned and created the “To-do list” for the context. These two words – transformation & context hold the simplest and also most profound description of what has been happening to me. The context I have been creating in my twilight years … and for the rest of my life …is one of LOVING. Why didn’t I realize this earlier? I choose that the rest of my life be about loving.
And choosing to be within this context of love includes loving more than another human being, though my love for a very special woman, Karin, who some of you know, is pivotal in my transformation. It means also loving my children, my friends, my work, my time, (numbered as our days are…), loving the earth and the beauty God has created all around us, so evident in the wonderful island we live on, the Lake and the fish in it. But most importantly, loving my Self, remembering that I was created in the image of God is part of my transformation.
Will I attain perfection in this quest? Of course not! I will, as usual, stumble, fumble, and fall from time to time, as I have done dramatically in the past. But coming from a context of love, these foibles have been, are, and will be mere bumps in the adventurous road ahead, instead of failures. At West Point we had to memorize many things, most of which were not useful but mere rote exercises in obedience:
Definition of leather: “If the fresh skin of an animal be cleaned and divested of all hair, fat, and other matter, be immersed in a dilute solution of tannic acid, a chemical combination ensues. The gelatinous tissue of the skin is converted into a non-putrisible substance, impervious to and insoluble in water. This Sir, is leather.”
But one I had to memorize, Gen. Schoefield’s definition of Discipline, which has a lot of love within it, was applicable to my life as an Army officer, as a father, teacher, and as a man:” The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates stems from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels and hence manifests disrespect toward others, cannot fail but to excite hatred toward himself. While he who feels and hence manifests high regard toward others, cannot fail to excite love for himself.”
The thing that is beautiful about us is not our perfection but rather our imperfection. This is what makes us human. The hothouse fruits of life, grown in the “perfect” protective environment of the greenhouse, don't have nearly the flavor of those that are exposed to the wind and the rain and the elements. The same thing is true of people. Those people who are overly protected -- who look perfect -- don’t have the flavor of those who are more natural.
What’s beautiful is our humanity which may be imperfect, but real. Who wants a perfect partner, a perfect boss, a perfect teacher? I lift a tremendous burden off my shoulders when I shed my need to be perfect - to look as though I have all the answers. And this, for me, is a vital ongoing discovery!
While out fishing two evenings ago, I was watching a beautiful sunset unfold. It occurred to me that sunsets are totally unique. No two are exactly alike. No one says about a sun set: “It needs a little orange in the cloud cover …a little pink in the left side.” We allow them to evolve uniquely. We need to allow our fellow human beings to evolve uniquely.
As I wait in the silence of my unfolding love, there is an anticipation of something wonderfully expansive, regenerative, and extravagant. There is a sense of being on the brink – on the edge – where amazing things happen, where there may be hurt and rejection, but where there is also sharing of affection, joy, passion, and growing toward mystical oneness with another and with our creator.
It’s a wondrous time, this newness, this vulnerability like when I was a child. Is there any miracle on earth to compare with that of discovering love, and having that lover discover you, so vulnerably with each other? It is a miracle. St. Augustine said, “Surely he who does not believe in miracles will never participate in one.”
Every journey begins with a step. A flower unfolds petal by petal, a river meanders its way along to the sea, the sunrise and sunset come quietly with unique shadings of wonder, and love grows from grace to grace.
I’ll close with something the 14th Dalai Lama said at the opening of the Beijing Olympics in remembering the people of Tibet and the victims of Tiananmen Square:
“We can reject everything else: religion, ideology, all received wisdom. But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion....This, then, is my true religion, my simple faith. In this sense, there is no need for temple or church, for mosque or synagogue, no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practice these in our daily lives, then no matter if we are learned or unlearned, whether we believe in Buddha or Christ, or follow some other religion or none at all, as long as we have compassion for others and conduct ourselves with restraint out of a sense of responsibility, there is no doubt we will be happy.”