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Participation in Love – Br. Curtis Almquist

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curtis4Song of Songs 1:8-13 | John 15:7-11

“Each of us should have two pockets,” the rabbis teach.  “In one [pocket] should be the reminder, “I am dust and ashes,” and in the other we should have written, “For me the universe was made.” (1) For you the universe was made.  Why so?  Why did God create the universe?  Why did God create you?  Out of love.  For the love of it.  But I’m speaking here of your being not just the object of God’s love, but also the subject of God’s love.  God needs you.  Those are the shocking words of Meister Eckhart, the 14th century German mystic. (2) God needs you.  And centuries later, Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, would confirm the same: “You know always in your heart that you need God more than everything; but do you know too that God needs you?” God does not need you to be eternal, or infinite, or omniscient.  But God created you, and God does need you, like an artist needs to create.  Why do painters paint, and dancers dance, and singers sing?  Because they need to, they have to.  In creating the artist expresses their own nature: who they are, and what they are, and for what they give their life. And so with God.  God needs us because love is of God’s very essence.  And love does not exist unless it is given away.  God needs you, because God is love, and love can only be realized and expressed in relationship: the give and take of love.  Julian of Norwich said that there was in God “a desire, a longing, and a thirst from the beginning,” and this longing is for relationship.  With you.  God, if not loving you, and if not loved by you, is somehow incomplete. (3) Love can only be realized and expressed in relationship.  God is love.

This is why, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  In the beginning, God created such a panoply of shapes and colors and creatures, mountain tops and ocean depths, sight, and sound, and sense, all of which razzles and dazzles with God’s glory.  But then, there is something amazingly more. God also created human beings in God’s very image, the imago Dei.  Why?  To be in relationship.  Because God is love, and love only exists in relationship.  What is God saying about himself in fashioning us as the creatures we are?  (This is the question of the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart.)   “[We are] called from nothingness – from dust – to participate in the being that flows from [God], and to manifest [God’s] beauty in the depths of our nature.” (4) And beauties we are.

Our first lesson for this evening’s liturgy is from the Song of Songs: “The voice of my beloved!  Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.”  Who is this beloved? My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away…”  Who is this beloved?  It is God.  It is God who is courting you.  And it’s not just for a fling.  This is love for keeps – “abiding love,” in the language of John’s gospel – a love that spans all eternity.  God is courting you.  You are the beloved.  And then God becomes your beloved.  The beginning and the end become all the same.  The same love.  Love engenders love.

This love I’m speaking of here is not a reproduction love.  This love is the original love.  This is the point of our baptism, where we take on the identity of Christ, where we are incorporated into Christ’s body.  So we hear Jesus say, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (5) The love we are given by God is the very love of God that informed Jesus. The God whom Jesus calls “Father” loves us – loves you – just as the Father loves Jesus.  You are that loved.  “We are created” – here I’m using the words of Rowan Williams –  “so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.” (6)

But love comes with great vulnerability.  You will be changed by love, and in the most wondrous, sometimes ecstatic ways.  And you will be changed by love in the most devastating ways, suffering with someone whom you love, and suffering because of someone whom you love.  Emily Dickinson says that “Only Love can wound.  Only Love assist the wound. (7) We see this so powerfully in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The angel of God come to Mary, announcing how God intends to give birth through her.  “How can this be?” she asks. (8) And Mary’s first response.  She is perplexed in her mind, because she is a virgin. And she is afraid in her heart.  Now why was she afraid?  Because of love.  She knew something already about the cost of love… and she finds the courage to say ‘yes’ to God.  She knew the cost of love.  And she taught Jesus the language of love – here, the words of Dean Michael Mayne.  “She taught Jesus by her own example that love must be generous, self-giving, non-possessive, and that always in the end it is costly.  No doubt it was as hard for her as it is for every parent.” (9) And just as Symeon predicted, the sword would pierce her heart of love undoubtedly many, many times in Jesus’ lifetime, given the cost of her love for Jesus. (10) Love comes with great vulnerability.

The only reason Mary would risk such vulnerability in love, the only reason you should risk such great vulnerability in love is because this is of your essence.  You been created by God with love, for love, to love, with love.  It’s of your essence.  It is the way to be fully alive.  If you get in touch with some resistance within your own soul, why God doesn’t love you, couldn’t love you, can only partly love you, but not completely love you, you are thinking only about yourself.  Think of God, of God’s longing, needing to love you, because love only exists in relationship.  And God’s relationship with you is one-of-a-kind, beloved that you are.  There’s no one like you.  You make God’s day.  This is God’s love on God’s terms.  You need only say yes to that.  You need not change to be loved by God; but the love of God will change you into who you really are: who you are intended to be, and what, and why you are so beloved.  St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century, said “When I face my Beloved with my entire surface, all the beauty of his form is reflected in me.” (11) God adores you.

  1. Quoted from The Rule of St. Benedict; Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister (New York: Crossroad), 1995, p. 81.
  2. Meister Eckhart, O.P. (c. 1260 – c. 1327), German Dominican friar, theologian, and mystic.
  3. This insight drawn from the Very Rev. Michael Mayne (1929-2006), sometime Dean of Westminster Abbey, in his Learning to Dance (London: Dart, Longman, and Todd, 2001), pp. 157-158.
  4. David Bentley Hart, “The Mirror of the Infinite,” in Re-thinking Gregory of Nyssa, p. 112.
  5. John 15:9.
  6.  The Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, “The Body’s Grace” in Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies, ed. Charles Hefling (Boston; Cowley, 1996).
  7. Emily Dickinson, in Letter 370.
  8. Luke 1:26-38.
  9. Mayne, p. 27.
  10. Luke 2:34-35.
  11. St. Gregory (c. 335 – c. 395), was Bishop of Nyssa in what would be today the south-central region of Turkey.  This quote taken from his Homily 15 on the Song of Songs. 
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4 Comments

  1. maida on April 7, 2014 at 10:06

    I love this sermon, and your voice that I hear as I sit on this spring morning. Thank you for reminding me about how God needs me, needs us, wants us. Sometimes it is hard to imagine, but once I do, it feels so rich, and so alive. Sending much love to you Brother Curtis and all the brothers!

  2. Holly Gilbert on March 28, 2014 at 12:49

    Wow, what a fantastic sermon! So true, and so beautifully and impressively said.

  3. Robert Shotton on March 28, 2014 at 04:51

    “Thank you” Br. Curtis Almquist: Before I read your sermon I had not thought that God needed my love, but your sermon, and references, have given me a new insight into the love of God – much more profound than I had before.

  4. Ruth West on March 27, 2014 at 17:07

    Thank you, Br. Curtis, for this clear and wonderful message. Sometimes it is very hard to realize that we are worthy of his love. But just as the Father loved Him, He loves us. Praise be to his name!

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