If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers,
and understand all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith,
so as to remove mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions,
and if I hand over my body
but do not have love,
I gain nothing.
Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know only in part,
and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes,
the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult,
I put an end to childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide,
and the greatest of these
Seven years ago today, my father passed away. I was holding his hand and urging him to let go. It had not been an easy transition, and he had ceased calling out to long-dead friends and relatives that my mother believed were visiting Dad and urging him to cross over. I want to believe that. But at the time it was like listening in to a one-sided phone conversation into eternity.
I prayed for him to go. And yet I was not prepared for the shock when his pulse fluttered beneath my fingers. My world shifted on its axis so perceptibly that I felt dizzy. I suddenly realized that I was almost the age he was when I was born and had a brief self-centered thought that he had known me for half his life. And yet, we certainly knew each other imperfectly. Especially, when I was a child, there were things he did that were absolutely incomprehensible to me. It was only later, when I was an adult with children of my own, that I realized the same was certainly true about me to him and to my own children. We are often not transparent to those we love due to their own wounds and trigger points, but also because we WANT to be opaque, thinking that that may protect us from being hurt by those same ones before whom we are vulnerable because we love them.
And yet do we ever know those we love? Author Norman Maclean commented on this in his beautiful story, A River Runs Through It, which was made into a lovely film by Robert Redford. One of the most perfect scenes in the film is at the end. Norman's father, a Presbyterian minister, is preaching a sermon right before he retires, and is referencing the loss of his wilder, troubled, younger son and on the mystery of family relationships:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.”
My father was not a perfect man, but I certainly wasn't a perfect daughter, and it's funny how, in the end, the many ways that our loved ones may have failed us begin to pale as we consider all the small ways they gifted us and blessed us and strengthened us and enveloped us. We all do the best we can-- or at least try to, and hope we don't irreparably hurt each other along the way. The river of our life runs over the rocks and under the rocks that make up all that has happened to us or that we have done. That river looks like it is being redirected by the rocks, but eventually with time the rocks themselves are carved and smoothed and reshaped by the rocks. Love can do that too.
Hopefully, if that happens, we get the chance to try to make amends to those we love-- and we then seize that chance and act upon it, which is often an entirely different source of potential failure and regret.
I once watched some Tibetan Buddhist monks crafting a sand mandala. I was lucky enough to observe it just as they were completing this intense, intricate piece of artwork. After they finished it, they paused, and then they swiped across it, destroying the beautiful image they had just spent so long deliberately creating and then just as deliberately destroying. The entire process had taken days, and it was finished for only a few moments, and then it was gone.
Too often we spend too many hours creating a mandala out of our resentments instead of the love with which we have been blessed. But instead of examining the mandala of collected wrongs that we paint in sand, we need to smear our palms across our handiwork of anger and let the wind carry the grains of sand away. Hopefully, if we have been hurt, we allow the person who has hurt us to return to us as well. We certainly cannot truly live while we clasp the iron weight of resentment to our hearts and cram it into the space in our hearts where love belongs, instead. A work like this takes time, and oh, if we could have that time back! What if we spent that time trying to build a true labor of love, focusing on the beauty of a conversation with a parent, and reminding ourselves of the good others try to do for us and that we do for them?
We have to remember and embrace the unblunted wisdom in the lines of one of my favorite songwriter/ poets, Mary Chapin Carpenter: "Forgiveness doesn't come with a debt."
No matter what, my father's presence in my life was and will always remain an absolute force in my life. Love is that. It molds us and shapes us. We long for it, yet we don't give away enough of it ourselves.
And yet, love is what we are called to do. Both the messy, intimate, personal love between lovers, between parents and children, between friends, between siblings, and the love we are called to bear toward each other in our churches, our communities, our world. Our love for each other moves us toward the hope of who we are really supposed to be, of who we are intended to be.
Unlike God, we are imperfect lovers. We are faltering friends. We are capricious children. Our hesitant attempts at love lead to imperfect knowledge. This is because our attempts at love are imperfect as well. But there is perfect love. And it is the greatest of all gifts given to us.