“For God so loved the world…” – John 3:16
The foundation of this season is love—the love that created this crazy place we know as the world, the love that formed each of us into the people we are becoming, the love that we discover amongst ourselves as we go about the business of living. All of that love is beyond us, around us, through us, and in us; it is the divine and mysterious love that we associate with a newborn, the ultimate love given by the One who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings and our deepest longings.
Blah, blah, blah.
It is difficult for me to not just go on with the lovely, flowery words I have been carefully taught to use to know, describe, share and spread the love of God as we claim to know it. It is so much easier to default than to dig in.
And after all, many of us find great comfort, faith and even growth in those words. During many times in my life, I have. This is not one of those times.
This is not to say that I am not finding the love of God in my life. Quite the opposite. In the wake of a grief inducing experience with an institutional church, in shadow of Ignatian spirituality as I begin to call Xavier my home in many ways, the love of God has continued to surprise me.
In following the reflections of our students, staff and community this season, this has been reinforced for me. Together we have stopped, looked around, and noticed—noticed how we can change, noticed how we can share, noticed how we can be different in the world. The words of others have moved me, and have challenged me to be differently in this season. Sometimes, I have felt my heart break, for the pain the world, the challenge of the season, even at my own apathy examined.
But, if we are open to love, we are inherently open to heartbreak. Of this, C. S. Lewis says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” What then of God’s love? When God truly, fully, graciously loves us, God is vulnerable—to heartbreak, disappointment, grief, loss, and to all the pain it can entail.
And yet, God’s love came first. For God so love the world, he sent his only son. He didn’t love the world after we had it figured out, he didn’t love the world after a sacrifice was made, he didn’t love the world once a judgment was rendered, God’s love came first, as the foundation for it all. We broke God’s heart, over and over, again and again, and still God’s creative love continued and continues to find new ways to break into the world, full and loving.
Many are in mourning this season. The world of a small town and a whole country were shattered last week, countless hearts broken in the wake of unimaginable violence. But, if our God can love us so much that God can’t help but be among us, in the most vulnerable of flesh, born in humble and dangerous circumstances, if a mother can brave rejection to carry holiness into the world, if a father can humble himself enough to see how God is calling him, if the silence of a priest can speak volumes while angels tell everyone to not be afraid, if deception can outwit ambition to save a child, if God’s love is at the root of all of that—then maybe, just maybe, that same loving God will continue to find new ways to break into our hearts this season, new ways that we cannot imagine, much less articulate.
As I examine my heartbreak, at the root of it, I find the love of God. I am heartbroken that the church I had grown to long has closed. I am heartbroken that I had a hand in the end of that community. I am heartbroken to be separated from a community that shaped and loved me, and to find myself without another to do the same. How deep the love must have been for the grief to keep hold.
The story is not over. It still begins with “For God so loved” before anything else.
Abby King-Kaiser is the ecumenical and multi-faith minister at the CFJ. Her last job was as the pastor of a small church that closed over Labor Day weekend, just a few months ago. Once upon a time, she was an art major. The picture above is a doodle of hers. She is theologically indebted to William Placher and his book, Narratives of a Vulnerable God, for this post.