"How does it get from your head to your heart?"
How do we get the knowledge of "God loves me" past empty, rote words we can quote, and into the deepest experience of our souls?
Somebody asked me that last week.
For me, it was a long, slow process.
It started with realizing that I "knew" but didn't experience that God loved me. I tracked down the whys and wherefores of that in a fairly cognitive process, and challenged that feeling with the truth whenever it surfaced.
At that point, I thought I was done, because I had this new rational/intellectual/theological understanding of God's love for me. In my faith tradition, that was the whole story: know the truth, as previously defined by this faith tradition, and it will set you free.
Looking back, I can see that there was a problem at this point in the process. Namely, I "knew" that God loved me, better than before, but I still didn't experience it much.
The problem was, I wasn't a bad person.
There were no sermons being preached at me, in all my goodness, telling me to stop being so damn good because it was going to kill me.
I could keep being just as good as I ever was, doing all the high and holy missionary things that I always did, while also now believing that I didn't actually need to do those things to earn God's love.
I would keep doing them just 'cuz. They were so good. Why would you stop?
Fortunately, I was given the gift of a nervous breakdown.
And that is where I finally experienced Love: in that place of total brokenness.
Some of that experience came through this very strange and mystical feeling of Love that I'd have while lying in bed, shaking and crying.
I just knew God loved me. I can't explain it.
A lot of it came through other people, who knew every single thing and loved me through.
No more strength, no more success, no more pedestal.
No more pretend.
And Love was there. In the mess. In the Real.
For me, there was no other way to experience Love than to experience it.
It was not something I was ever, ever, ever going get just in my head.
Love doesn't work like that.
Love works on the mystical plane of connection between our real selves, and the real selves of others: God and the people who love us.
"May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully."
I don't think our churches get this or encourage it.
Many of our Protestant faith traditions have their roots in the Enlightenment, "The Age of Reason." As a result, we have an enormous problem with mysticism. We want a very black and white, right and wrong explanation for everything.
Many of us have experienced this kind of thing in church. If you're depressed, if you're anxious, if you're gay--just stop it. Stop thinking those bad ways and you'll be fixed.
If you're being abused by your husband, be nice. The Bible Clearly Says, they will be won without a word. Go back. Be nice. You can't leave unless adultery.
And I understand why it's like this. I do.
- It's truly, truly terrifying to let go of all that certainty.
- Everybody likes a clear-cut answer.
- It's part of our developmental process to be black-and-white thinkers when we're young.
- Change is scary. We all hate it. The status quo is way more comfortable.
Without a nervous breakdown, I would never have let go. Desperation is what changed me.
I was too firmly rooted in my own need for control over every aspect of my life--including my spiritual life--to let myself be re-rooted into the wild uncertainty of a God who, as CS Lewis says, is not a tame lion.
Sometimes it feels like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff, thinking, wow, are we really going to leap from here now?
And then we do leap. And it scares the crap out of me.
But there is a joy and a power in it, even when I'm scared.
(I think the joy and power aren't mine at all--I get to feel this little bit of God's emotions in those moments, it seems to me. I know that sounds real mystical, but I'm all up into that. Whatevs.)
I think my part in this whole process is mainly honesty and vulnerability, with myself, with God, with others.
When I'm sharing my true self, then I get to connect with the true self in God and other people.
That's still scary sometimes.
I'm horribly tempted at times to trade in Love for approval and applause.
But then I see what Love has done in my life, and I know: I won't go back.
The truth is this.
I believe in Love, and I revel in the experience of it,
even though it's too big for me to explain or understand.
And Love believes in me, and it never lets me go.
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.