|My Mum was a cheerful soul. In her world, there were no strangers, only friends she hadn't yet met. If she were going to run an errand, and the family had something planned in a little while, one of us would say to her: "Please don't talk to anyone. Just come straight home!" It often didn't make any difference, because she loved to talk, she loved to meet new people and get to know them, and she loved to have a "natter" with old friends, any day, anywhere.
When one of us was dispatched to bring her home, it wasn't unusual to find her entertaining total strangers, while my Dad stood back, his eyes sparkling as he watched her, his hand on his chin, a smile on his face, enjoying every word she said! Often he would turn to one of us and say, "Isn't she a wonder!" He delighted in who she was, in her enthusiasm and zest for life, as well as in everything she did and said.
It strikes me, as I think about all of this, that this is truly how God is with us, his beloved creation. He delights in us! He delights in who we are, in the things we are enthusiastic about, in the things we do and say. Yet we find that so hard to believe. And where on earth do we go to hear it preached? Not too many places, I'm afraid. The emphasis of so much of what we hear from preachers and teachers is not on God, and his delight in us -- it's on us, and how much we fall short. Now, I'm not saying we don't fall short of the glory of God, because we do -- but, that's not the good news! The good news is that God has a remedy for our falling short: his love and delight in us.
The priest at the church I attend, especially when he is praying informally, begins: "God of love and delight." This is quite in keeping with who he is, how he preaches and how he lives. One thing that he does that especially delights me (having worked for years in the children's program), is that he will drop to one knee in front of a little child who has come to the communion rail with his or her parents and, looking directly in the child's eyes, he will say very quietly, "You know that God loves you very, very much." In years to come, that child may not remember the precise incident, but I'll be surprised if he or she doesn't grow up with a pretty clear picture of a God of love who delights in his creation.
When God finished creating he said that it was "very good." Listen again! He said it was "very good"! Humanly, we hear negatives more readily than we hear positives. We know about the terrible things that humanity does, about how we disappoint God. But, for a change, let's turn our attention to some good news about our relationship with the "Lover of our souls. "
Isaac of Ninevah (one of those illusive Christians who lived in the desert in the early centuries of Christianity) said, "Prayer is immersing yourself in the sea of elation." That's radical! Is that how you would describe your prayer? Is this the language of your church? Isn't prayer painful, and hard work?
Elation? Isn't that love language?
In his book, Soul-Making, Alan Jones says, "The Gospel begins with God's joy and delight in us. "1
Why do we find the suggestion of God's joy and delight in us as the beginning of the Gospel -- the good news -- so hard to swallow? Can we not see God as the God of love and delight? As the forgiving father of the prodigal son? What is in us that can't accept that when God spoke to Jesus, he was speaking to us as well: remember what he said, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased."
God is well-pleased with us, just as a mother or father of a newborn is "well-pleased." Just look at that glowing face. Unless you are a parent, you can barely comprehend that amount of love. Why is this the portion of the Gospel that we don't hear? The part about God's unconditional love for us; about his delight in us; about his acceptance of us as unique creations; about grace (unearned, unmerited pardon of our sins!). Is it because it's too good to be true? But it is true. Let's not wait to hear it from the pulpit, though: let's remind each other, in our everyday lives with our fellow Christians, about this good, good news.
What happens to us when we experience God's love and delight? Sam Keen writes of his dad: "You gave to each of us the greatest gift that any parent could give a child: you took delight in us. You always made me feel that you were glad that I had been born, and that you were glad I was who I was."2
Yes, God delights in you. Like Sam Keen's dad, He's glad you were born!
If you are having trouble accepting that this is true for you, that the God of love and delight cares about you, then find a quiet place to sit in silence and just wait for God to show up. Give him a chance. It might take a little while for you to get quiet enough to realize that God is there with you, but take the time.
Do you think that it might be worth a try?
o be church members; every Sunday, several groups in the church provided and served a free pot-luck lunch in a nearby hall to which visitors to the church and to the city were invited; a small shop, owned and run by church members, within walking distance of the church, served light, home-cooked meals, and sold cottage crafts six days a week, offering companionship to anyone who dropped in; forty-plus small groups met all over the city on a weekly basis, inviting their neighbors to attend, and regularly helping those same neighbors (church members or not) with such things as child-care, shopping, and gardening chores.
Here is a thought from Alan Jones about sharing the faith:
Even though I am not much of a lover, I know that I am loved. This is a statement of faith the effects of which spill over, from time to time, into my experience. One of the side-effects of knowing that one is loved is the desire to tell others -- and to tell them in such a way that they are included in, not excluded from, the circle of love. 2
As my church completes its education building (sometime in the autumn), we will all be thinking seriously about how to share the faith that is such an important part of our lives. How best do we share the great gift we have been given? Because we know we are loved -- even though we may not yet be very good at loving -- we have a desire to share what we have received. How do we do it without bullying, without hurting, people? How do we share it so that it is a gentle gift? It seems that we must demonstrate it before we speak of it. Somehow we must show our love -- for God, for one another, and for all whom we desire be included in the loving circle that embraces us.
Sharing the faith with others bears thinking about, praying about, and doing something about -- not because we have to do something, but for love's sake. Because we have received so great a gift, because we are loved, and we know it, we are compelled to share what we have received, freely, without conditions. "Love one another, as I have loved you."
1. Alan Jones, Soul Making:The Desert Way of Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 2.
2. Sam Keen, To a Dancing God: Notes of a Spiritual Traveler (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).