Love as joy can keep us living fully, right up to our fingertips, till the end of our days. Or, perversely, love, clouded by fear of loss, can make us shut down our capacity for life too soon as we hoard and husband instead of sowing and reaping, feasting and dancing.
We tumble into the world, bloody and brimming with new life. Primed by innocence, we begin instantly to explore the topography of the new surroundings in which we find ourselves. We respond instinctively to the sounds and texture of our environment and the undulating contours of our psyche. We quickly understand what love and pain, joy and sadness look and feel like.
Those first motions of discovery open doors into new dimensions of experience, new ways of understanding ourselves and those around us. That rush of learning could last a lifetime and sustain us. Or it can atrophy, if we let it, turning us back into ourselves, into ever shrinking circles of existence that stifle newness, that keep us from knowing more about ourselves. From connecting with others with an ease and lack of guile that make for good neighbors, enduring friends, healthy families and communities.
Our sense of purpose and belief in the meaning of life, our bulwark against despair come from continually expanding our circles of existence. Our vitality lies in letting go of old certainties, recognizing that there is little juice to be squeezed out of old platitudes, that we need the nectar of newness even as we drink from the fount of tradition. Re-invention and re-examination of ourselves are the closest things we have to an elixir of life.
Love requires that we let go. Of ourselves and others. Of those we love and those who have loved us not. Or who love us in ways we do not fully understand. That we yield willingly to what life brings our way. That we release what we nurture and nurture what life releases to us: new people, new perspectives, new ways of doing old things. But I was reminded by my husband, the one whose love most sustains me, that we need to strive for the wisdom to truly know which changes to embrace and which to reject. When to let go and when never to let go.
Thomas Merton cautions that “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” In the same spirit of living life in all its fullness he says: “If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.”
It would seem impossible to forget that we have only one shot at living the life we are handed. But we do forget, and often. We can choose to take life in big hearty chunks, relishing every bite, tasting every crumb. Or we can parse our life out in pieces too small to be savored. Too small to save us from the bitterness of a lonely, embittered exit. Why measure out our life with coffee spoons?
Is this perhaps some part of Christ’s message to Martha when she complains about Mary “who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Luke 10: 38-42
Was that an invitation to us to not resist the call of the one life we are given? To seek out joy and fellowship, to celebrate life as it comes at us, not lament its brevity, wallow in its burdens, or live in fearful expectation of when we are called from this life. In so doing, we might find ourselves in the presence of grace itself here in this lifetime.
- from martha to mary |my journey to the heart of god (maryhess.com)