March 23: Love at a Distance


Yesterday I suggested we all have stepped backwards in societal time to an earlier, less frantic age.  While there are unanticipated blessings in this moment, there are also spiritual, emotional, behavioral and relational threats beyond the existential threat of contagion.  My parents taught me that character is who one is when no one else is looking.  But what of character, mental health, spiritual integrity when some are looking very close for a potentially long time?!

One time travel piece, or rather time-recycled movie I did not include yesterday, is the classic Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.  Bill Murray’s character is a cynical, womanizing local weatherman who magically replays the same dreary annual Groundhog Day ritual in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania over and over and over again (1993 Spoiler alert!).  He cycles through every emotional response to finally not only accept this seeming eternal fate, but to redeem his former life through helping others.  When he finally learns to love sacrificially, he is released from Groundhog Day with a beaming Andie MacDowell by his side.

I received a text yesterday from a good friend who asked if spousal distancing was permitted in this time.  I jokingly responded with today’s title, from another movie, in jest.  But my friend brings up an excellent and very Lenten point: how do we navigate with grace extended, intimate daily congress with our closest relatives and partners in a very stressful and uncertain time?

The wisdom of our tradition here is essential!  Essential for us especially now, especially for the long-term marathon of social isolation which seems to be our fate.  So from the Christian toolbox, these modest thoughts:

  • The invitation is always a call to love.  God is love, God loves us, and we are to love God back and deploy that same love with those whom we are closest to right now.
  • Love for a Christian is never a feeling, and always a decision which is sacrificial and demanding!  The essence of the gospel is Jesus laying down His life for us, and calling us to take up our particular cross to follow Him into that kind of loving.
  • This kind of loving comes only from God and not from me!  Being patient beyond measure, gentle beyond reason and gracious beyond logic is literally supra-natural, not at all natural!  This does not mean compromising personal safety and permission to abuse is given or tolerated.  Far from it!  But it does mean sharing a kind of love which is a calling from God available nowhere else.
  • Love under stress always confronts and confounds human pain, suffering, anxiety and fear.  It must because perfected love leaves no room for these old haunts of human life.  If the voice speaks from these old canards it is never from God!
  1. The Franciscan author, priest and teacher Richard Rohr states that pain not transformed is pain transferred.  He also teaches that to listen is to heal.  Could we be called in this time to reflect on where and how pain is shared between those closest to us?  Can we listen with the intent to heal and to love?
  2. When has God showed us the greatest tenderness, gentleness, grace and comfort?  How might we use our own experiential moments of these gifts to release these same qualities of our faith journey with those closest to us now?
  3. How may we best love God, ourselves and those closest to us today?

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