The Inexpressible Delight of God’s Love
“See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life.”
What’s your frame of mind during Lent?
Past instruction and experience lead many of us to spend Lent in clutch mode interspersed with bouts of guilt when we fall off the Lenten wagon. Suddenly we remember what we gave up for Lent (barking at others, wringing our hands in worry, making a point until it becomes that “dead horse”, etc.) or what we vowed to add to our usual measure (another prayer time, a session of lectio or another Office). Benedict does ask us to “wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” (RB 49.3) Usually this means trying to make up for our unworthiness. Now, we know we aren’t perfect; far from it. Yet, what if we took a different look at what these “negligences” might be? For example, what if our practices for Lent had a goal of realizing God’s love for us, a truth that we may well have neglected?
God’s love can be difficult to grasp. Is it for you? I still struggle with the heart knowledge that I am loved by God. Embracing this comes and goes depending upon how I judge my actions and thoughts at any given moment. Upbringing and experiences as a child can impact our ability to know God’s love. Many of us were raised by well-meaning parents, teachers, clergy, etc., who rewarded our good behavior with positive attention and love. The learned pattern of “being good brings acceptance and love” was then transferred to our relationship with God – we must be “good” to be accepted and loved even by God.
Scripture gives us another pattern. Jesus has promised to prepare a place for us so that we can always be with him (John 14:2) and said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) In his letter to the Galatians Paul explains that by believing in Jesus Christ we are justified by faith and not by works of the law (Galatians 2:16). As baptized Christians we are marked as Christ’s own forever. How awesome is all that?!!
As adults we may intellectually understand that God’s love for us is not an “if – then” proposition. But how do we move this truth from head to heart to really know God’s love for us? What spiritual practices thinking can help us toward the goal of knowing God’s love for us on a deeper level?
I have found that Scripture read slowly with trust and openness to the truth can touch my heart. God reaches me through the words of God’s steadfastness and love. Try it – Read the following slowly, knowing that they are God’s words to YOU.
But now thus says the Lord,
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
Do not fear, for I am with you.
Isaiah 43:1a, 2, 3, 4a, 5a
There are many, many passages like this that can draw our hearts to the God who awaits us. The Psalms are a wonderful resource for growing to know God’s love. Try Psalm 139, for example, and Psalm 23.
We can also find pointers to God’s love in Benedict’s Rule.
“What then dear sisters and brothers, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life.”
I usually think of our love being expressed when I read the following passage. What if we reframe this and deem it God’s love bringing the delight to us?
But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of [God’s] love.
The superior of the monastery is another revelation of God’s love in the Rule. Benedict explains that the abbot or prioress is to hold the place of Christ in the monastery (RB 2.2). All that the superior is to be or to do, then, is a reflection of Christ who has revealed God to us. The superior is to be compassionate, to love the monastics (64.11), to let mercy triumph over judgment (64.10) and to strive to be loved rather than feared (64.15). This is a reflection of God.
And surely we find the revelation of God’s love through other people. Who are the women and men who have helped you on your way—who have provided support, shelter, communion, friendship or even challenge? How do they wear the face of God for you?
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. I’ve included another one as the tool associated with this article.
This Lent, whatever our practice, we can remember that we are loved by God. With this in our heart, we can more fully be God’s channel for love to others. And let us also “look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” RB 49.7b
The questions at the end of the article are from drawn from Jan Richardson’s wonderful book In the Sanctuary of Women, p.156.
To reach the tool for this article – A Tool for Embracing God’s Love, click here.
© February 2013 The Rev. Dr. Jane A. Tomaine