Most of the visions of my early childhood were dedicated to seeing God in everything. It was more than a challenge. Sometimes it felt torturous. Trying to wrap my mind around some concepts was hard enough, but seeing them as an expression of God bordered a lot of the time on nearly impossible.
But as I aged, I got used to the idea more and more. I can even say to myself, quietly, when no one is looking, that the AIDS virus is an expression of God. Death is, after all, in the purview of God. And AIDS is a means of death.
Just a means of death.
But, oddly, (not perhaps for me) the one concept in the universe that I never would consider as an expression of God is romantic love. I would never consider it as an expression of God because, simply, I would never consider it at all.
It struck me as a root to madness. Or to overwhelming boredom, which would, in turn, lead to madness. It seemed a veritable potpourri of emotion: anger, frustration, envy, hysteria, euphoria, you-name-it, it seemed to be in the stew.
And for what end, I always wondered? What’s the purpose of all this chaotic emotionalism that leads most of the time (at least it always felt to me like most of the time) to heartache, bitterness, indifference, or just more anger?
So not only did it never occur to me that it had anything to do with God. I couldn’t even see where it had anything to do with people.
Talk about an infection.
But so now here I am, very much world-weary, having to consider this concept. A concept that, for me, even though I don’t like to think about it, began in my heart with my brother Geoffrey. Not that I felt romantic about him or our relationship, just that there was a level of real intimacy and honest affection between us that could have provided me, as I grew into a woman, the fundamentals of what could have matured into romantic love.
But nothing in that relationship matured, and quite a bit of my emotions about Geoffrey became frozen in time with his death.
So, following the natural bent of my mind which is to pull apart things until I can find some sense in the overall construct, I tried looking at the different elements of divine love — love for God and love for the beloved — and seeing how they conform and how they differ, love for God versus love for the beloved.
It takes courage to love. To stand by God, no matter the ripples in your own life and in the lives of those around you and around the world. It takes courage to stand by your beloved, even if things feel hopeless. Without courage in either relationship, the relationship would not stand.
So far, God and the beloved are on the same track.
It takes intimacy to love. We have to let what is most private out. And we have to handle it with delicacy, both with God and our beloved. With God, we have the assumption that he knows everything about us, but in our relationship with God, we also have to know everything about us. We have to share that knowledge with God, so that we know where we are with God at any given moment. And is that not the same with our beloved? Do we not have to handle our private revelations with delicacy and tenderness, both for our own sake and for our beloved’s?
Two for two, then.
It takes freedom to love. By this I mean that in love we are free to step beyond the barriers in the relationship. We can trust that the relationship will be there no matter what happens. With God, we come to know through our myriad experiences that there are no barriers to God’s love for us. But what about our barriers to loving God? How do we get beyond them?
With our beloved, we have the freedom to stay. No matter what is said or done. I knew a couple like this once. She could not stand to be in a committed relationship, and he stayed. He stayed until she stopped trying to leave. And they are still together.
So, here, there begins to be a hint of distinction between the divine love we experience with God and the divine love we experience with our beloved (if there is such a person in our lives).
The first big difference I see between the two types of divine love is separation. With God, there is no separation from him, there is no loss. It can be there from our first breath to our last. And even no matter how many times we turn away from this love, we can always turn back. With no recriminations. With no penalties. Without even any scoldings.
But we can separate from our beloved. We can lose him naturally and unnaturally. And this can cause a grief that burrows through our hearts down even into our souls. And this grief can literally end our lives. I have known people who have curled up and just died after their beloved died. First one, then the other.
Another difference I see is forgiveness. I can forgive another person. I can forgive him because life goes on, and matters settle. I can forgive him because I can see how part of my pain sources from my own complications.
But how do I forgive God? This is the big question of my life these days. I discovered just the other day that I have never forgiven God for the pain my children experienced during the end of my marriage and all throughout the eight torturous years of the divorce proceeding.
When my daughter was two, like most two-year-olds, she would become enraged if I even sneezed in her direction. Her anger would come to her out of the air, it seemed. My approach to these seizures was to become very tender and very accommodating. I would give her anything she asked for. Of course, in her anger, she wouldn’t ask much of me.
So as the fit would work its way out, as she demanded things I would say, yes.
I have learned that in life, if you really want power, all you have to do is say, yes.
Of course, her response to anything I offered her would be NO!
As time would pass, invariably we would come to the end of a meal, and I would offer her a scoop of ice cream as dessert. Would you like some? I would ask sweetly.
And then that priceless look of growing awareness would come into her eyes.
Because in my parenting, once you’ve stated your position, there is no going back. No rewriting of the request. No means, simply, no.
So, no ice cream.
And she would breathe normally again. And come to terms with the fact that it wouldn’t be until after tomorrow night’s dinner that another offer of dessert would be made.
I have discovered that this kind of obstinacy marks my own anger with God, an anger that has swirled inside me, undetected, for the last ten years.
There are, it seems to me, perfectly good reasons for entombing your heart in stone. It cuts down the experience of anguish very nicely.
I have also discovered that were God to offer me my heart’s desire, I would probably clench my fists, harden my eyes, and scream, NO!
(My daughter must have gotten it from somewhere.)
But, being me, I would probably not come to the realization very quickly that I just cut out my own heart with my own knife.
So, then, the question remains, how do you forgive God?
How do you forgive the wind? How do you forgive your own breath? How do you forgive the beating of your own heart?
It strikes as an unanswerable question.
How do I even deign to kneel before God and instead of bowing my head, shake my fist and rant? The writers of the psalms seem to know how to do it. Even Job gets to the point of articulating his shock and horror of God’s treatment of him to God. Right to his face.
Perhaps this is where courage really comes into the idea of divine love.
But, for now, I realize that instead of focusing on the feelings, not something I am any good at anyway, I can focus on the commitment. Yet another element of divine love.
I can say, and mean it,
We can learn to work together.
We can learn to live together.
We can learn to love.