[To be shouted in Oxiclean infomercial fashion:]
“Praying to Love offers all the benefits of a life-giving relationship with the Creator of the universe, without any of the pesky “religious” baggage of traditional Christian language. Try it today, no money down. What have you got to lose but your pride?”
I’ve thought a lot about how to write this blog post. I wanted it to be witty and pithy, angry and abrupt.
I wanted to compare my new age, religious wordplay to the golden-tongued trickery of used car salesmen, excuse me, I mean certified pre-owned vehicles sales associates.
I wanted to reference linguistic terms and demonstrate the sheer magnitude of this revelation in my life through my impressive diction and impeccable metaphors.
But it’s been four years since my last linguistics class, and as much as I’d like to think I was smart enough to market God to myself, the truth is that it happened not by my own intelligence or trickery or marketing skills, but in yet another Fit of Unwarranted Compassion that I can neither explain or claim as my own.
In my memoir, this story will appear in the section after I tell my well meaning Christian friends that, no, I would not like them to pray for me thank you very much and before I, to my own astonishment, began praying myself.
In fact, this was the revelation that first loosed the chains of my dogged dependence on doubt and anger.
On May 31, 2009, I had a revelation, which I wrote in my journal as thus:
May 31, 2009
I have had a revelation: I can now say that I am not completely opposed to maybe someday admitting that I could possibly believe that …dun, da, da,da…God is Love.
At the time I wrote this entry, I couldn’t pray or open the Bible. I could barely go to church without fuming inside.
After a whirlwind semester abroad on what I like to call the “Poverty Tour of Central America,” my faith was ravaged. I had visited multiple city dumps and met with displaced farmers crammed into barrio after barrio filled with burning trash, bloated bellies, and pleading eyes. I stayed with families without electricity or running water in Nicaragua. I daily heard rants and cries from blind and crippled beggars calling out to me on the narrow streets of San Jose, Costa Rica. I listened to mothers and sisters and sons talk about their husbands and fathers and friends that went missing during the Guatemalan civil war. I heard horror stories of violence and desperation. I saw the devastating effects of globalization on small farmers.
I met a lot of people and heard a lot of stories that collided with my squeaky clean and comfortable view of God and the world.
Three years later, I still couldn’t reconcile how to pray to a God that allowed children to starve and ignorant consumers to participate in modern day slavery, oppression, and environmental degradation.
I had come to a mental place where I couldn’t under any circumstances pray without it meaning in my mind that I didn’t care. If I prayed to this God, it would mean the people I met and the stories I heard while abroad were meaningless. It would mean I was a liar and a hypocrite.
But one day in church—don’t ask me why I was still going to church because even now I can’t explain it—I began to think about a God not associated with white, wealthy Americans or prosperity or politics, but a God of Love.
Well, more accurately, out of the jumble of thoughts and ideas and emotions swirling in my mind while I scowled in my seat as an act of willful unparticipation in worship, this revelation popped into my head:
GOD IS LOVE.
A couple weeks earlier I had explained to a friend that I had been experiencing these “fits of unwarranted compassion” that I couldn’t explain. And I told him that “those fits of unwarranted compassion are what I now call God—if I had to put a name to it.”
At church I discovered an even better name for this compassion: love. And isn’t there a verse in the Bible (that I wasn’t reading) that talks about God being love?
I realized I had experienced this compassion, this love, in my life; I just couldn’t call it God.
So what if I changed the name?
What if I prayed not to the God who allows suffering, but to the God who allows joy, who offers hope, and who redeems the pain of his children?
What if I prayed to the God of Love? The God who IS love? What if I prayed to Love?
This momentary revelation literally changed my life; it’s the closest thing I have to a conversion experience.
This revelation meant not only that I could begin to have a conversation with Love (code for ‘begin to pray again’), but also that I could choose Love at any time. And, thinking back, I realized that I had always had the choice to Love. Which meant that Love had always been with me. Even in the dark night of my love story. Even in my questioning of poverty and injustice. Even in my rebellion. Even in my fear that I would never, ever find God again. Love was with me.
And somehow that brought me the freedom and comfort I desperately needed but didn’t think I deserved as an affluent American.
One of my favorite T.S. Eliot phrases (don’t think I forgot the T.S. tie in!) is the term “a grace of sense” from the poem “Burnt Norton.” Not a sense of grace, but a grace of sense. I believe that this revelation was one of those moments.
That day at Coast Vineyard, I was graced with the sense to stop quibbling with semantics and start living and following this Love I’d experienced, that I could no longer deny.
Because, seriously, what did I have to lose but my pride?