Thursday, March 5, 2015

Love: Openness to God, Openness to People


Kallistos Ware's statement strikes me as helpful and corrective


"This idea of openness to God, openness to other persons, could be summed up under the word love. We become truly personal by loving God and by loving other humans. By love, I don’t mean merely an emotional feeling, but a fundamental attitude. In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of God himself in us. We are not truly personal as long as we are turned in on ourselves, isolated from others. We only become personal if we face other persons, and relate to them."

This quote by Kallistos Ware, the best modern-era articulator of Orthodox faith, came across my email inbox today in "The Daily Dig" from Plough Publishing.


This statement works on me, works me over.

The statement is common sense. But it is at the same time a corrective for many of us who earnestly try to be holy, to connect with God, to be tuned in spiritually. And, those of us who presume to lead others in spiritual formation--pastors, teachers, counselors, mentors, disciplers, faith leaders, theology professors.

Strangely, in the pursuit of godliness, many of us have gone through stages of being less than loving and even careless regarding people. We think we are being holy and leading people into holiness by preaching and teaching a "God first" policy. But "God first" priorities actually reflect an ungodly dualism. One is not above the other or at the expense of the other.

Jesus was pretty clear about the damning outcome of using devotion to God or deeper spirituality to excuse oneself (or a community of faith) from not being so attentive or responsive to loved ones and neighbors. 

Delivering sermons is not delivering people. Leading people in worship on Sunday does not supplant or supercede leading in loving neighbors and communities.

John Wesley, the forebear of my own theological stream, not only defined holy living as loving God and loving neighbor, but declared "there is no holiness but social holiness."

Kallistos Ware makes the point that only by loving people do we "become truly personal," or truly human--fully alive--ourselves.

Clearly, healthy spirituality--healthy living--translates love for God with love for neighbor. It's never either/or or one above the other. It's always co-equal--however difficult this sometimes seems. Loving neighbors is a lot messier and riskier than loving God. A faith community trying to love a neighborhood can be frustrating and at times feel all but impossible. We don't get to pick and choose neighbors. We just don't. Whoever they are, who we become depends on how we regard and treat them. 

Loving enemies, as Jesus compelled, gets crazier still. That could turn our world upside down.

Loving God, loving people. I take it as a fresh challenge to hold these two equally in heart and action. Come what may. 

So, God help me.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

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