Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
--A prayer for those we love, Book of Common Prayer p. 831
For Valentine's Day, I had to steal a line from a "friend of a Facebook friend." She said that some people were celebrating Valentine's day today; others of us would be observing Celibacy Appreciation Day! Then I saw this post last Friday by my friend Muthah+, and that got me to thinking...
The picture of the Christmas cactus above is the first thing that got me to changing how I felt about Valentine's Day, and was the sentinel event about "how I got to thinking about love."
About eight years ago, I was just being a real grump about Valentine's Day. I was grousing about all the flowers that were being delivered around various offices at work, and I was exerting a lot of energy snarking about things like "Oh, yeah, flowers from people who beat the crap out of their spouses at home and then send flowers. Why don't people just be nice all year long and bag the hearts and flowers crap?"
Then a couple of friends decided to turn the tables on me. They had delivered to me a tiny, half-dead Christmas cactus with a big red ribbon and a sappy card! I laughed pretty hard over that.
Now, over time, the joke has been on them. The result is the luxurious plant in the picture above!
But my Christmas cactus is a valuable lesson. I have the ability, through love and care, to take things that the world might see as "half-dead" and, once in a while, be a part of something loved and growing! We all do, really. Obviously, that doesn't always happen. But when we choose to love something or someone in a certain way, at the beginning of our journey, the possibility is there.
What Muthah+'s post got me to thinking about is that, for a long time, I never understood what my capacity for love is all about. I always thought my ability to love and be loved was "broken." I felt undeserving of love and incapable of truly loving, because for some reason, it just always seemed that any relationship I entered into that had a certain level of psychological and/or sexual intimacy just blew up. Oh, it wasn't that I didn't desire it--I dearly did. But I always found that after the pheremones wore off, that was when the trouble started. Eventually, the "parting shot," after it blew up and we parted ways, was that the guy involved ALWAYS said a version of the following:
"I want you to love ME above everyone else. But loving you is like having to love a whole damn crowd of people. There are all these people in your life that are always calling, or hanging around, and then when you and I are together, you want to be ALONE. I can't do this!"
What I've come to realize, is that there are some of us, that, barring a one-in-a-million encounter with another person just like me, are more or less called to be solo for at least a part of our lives, maybe longer. Honestly, "celibacy" is just a crappy word for it. "Celibacy" implies taking a formal vow to not have sexual relations. It involves a moment of formal commitment and a vow. I often joke that one day, I woke up and realized I was "the accidental celibate." I don't remember a day I ever said, "I'm done with this, for now." I just somehow knew I led a happier life in a life where I was able to show love to many people, in many ways, and when I tied my love to just one person, I was too prone to giving up parts of my psychologically healthy self to maintain those relationships, and it ultimately was neither healthy for me, but it was not healthy for the other person, and it was cutting away a lot of opportunities for me to love others in ways many people don't have the time or energy to express love.
But here's the kicker. What I've come to realize is that it does NOT excuse us from giving OR receiving love. As God's beloved children, we are born with a built in capacity for love. If we don't use it, we become like that little Christmas cactus once was--small, dried up, and potbound.
I think I got the "giving" part first. Even before I understood what was going on, there were always these people in my life that I discovered I could occupy a unique niche for them, whether they were male, female, old, young, single, or married. I got satisfaction from these relationships, and innately, I knew I was loved back, although actually feeling that love hadn't come yet. I knew it was there, and I sensed its presence, but more like an object in the room rather than a part of me.
As time soldiered on, I realized I was getting a little potbound. I had to put this soul plant of mine in a bigger pot. I started to learn about that by discovering aspects of "The New Monasticism." I started to consider the possibility that what I once saw as a part of my "broken-ness" was not a broken thing at all, but maybe the greenest, most alive part of me, and I was simply not tending it properly. So I set out on a journey to learn how to tend it. I have learned some good lessons there even though some of the lessons have been hard or painful.
Then came another possibility for a bigger "pot" for all this. I had to start considering the possibility that part of this call, this call to be challenged to love in a different way than the mainstream, was that the larger Church could be a part of it. Now, people who are called to anything, lay or ordained, in the Episcopal Church, are not required to explore love in this way. No one is going to make me take a vow of celibacy unless I felt called to certain forms of monastic orders. But our church makes it clear that there is room for people like me, and many forms that takes within the larger framework of the Church. I am still working through that one. Once again, Muthah+'s mind was paralleling mine. She mentions it in a subsequent post:
"Religious life was a place where people who were not desirous of having and raising children found a place to live lives worthy of the call of Christ without the constant pressure to reproduce or protect the family lands. Religious life was a place where one was safe from being called into combat or from being a commodity to be auctioned off to the highest bidder."
In recent months, I have come to a place, in exploring this possibility, that it means I have to mature, regarding some things about love. It means I actually have to feel that love that others give back when I show them love in my various and sundry ways. I can no longer observe it like an object in the room. That presented a new challenge. It meant I had to start to do the work to take long-ignored, long-buried feelings and, one at a time, "name it and claim it." I had to accept the notion that I am a beloved child of God, not simply a hopeless, broken, dirty sinner. I had to accept that in feeling this love, there would be times I will be burned. It meant that I had to take things I did not understand, and instead of trying to control outcomes, or guarding my words to force people to respond in certain ways or choosing words that would wound people when they got too close to my broken parts, to take these feelings to the altar instead and give them to God. I had to learn to trust in what I could not see or understand. I have had to learn to "give Time time to be Time."
All of us are called to love and be loved in our Baptismal Covenant. Exploring how we are to do that might not be as easy as it seems. It's why the above prayer from our Book of Common Prayer is one of my favorites. I have grown to love the prayers in our BCP that remind me, "I don't know everything, but God does," and that remind me to trust in God's knowledge, not mine. This is a hard call for me, because my friends would tell you that in some things I am "scary smart." My ego, frankly, likes to be the "smartest person in the room." Much of where I have fallen into sin was in covering up when I am not, or when someone challenged that facet of my ego and I became resentful of it. Humility, for me, has been mostly about accepting that I am not the smartest person in "God's room." I suppose I will wrestle with that one in some form till the day I die.
But of this I am sure--there is transformation, transfiguration, resurrection and ascension in this path--this path of truly understanding how we are called to love in God's kingdom. I would not trade it for all the hearts and flowers and Valentine's Day cards on the planet, thanks be to God.