Love was His Meaning – Br. James Koester

Whenever a man expresses an interest in our life, David, who is the novice guardian, invites him to make a few visits to us here to the monastery. Over these visits he gets to know us, and we him. During those visits, he has a brief experience of our life. He joins us for the Offices and the Eucharist, shares in some of the household chores that need to be done to keep this place running, and is invited for countless walks along the river or endless cups of tea, so that individual brothers can have a conversation with him.

For a number of years now, when it is my turn to have a conversation with a prospective member of the community, I ask him the usual questions. Where is he from? What does he do? How did he find us? What is he looking for? I wait for him to ask me questions. Eventually I ask him the one question, indeed really the only question that I am interested in. I ask him if he has ever fallen in love before. For whatever reason, most men, when I ask that question are completely taken aback. It is not a question they are expecting. But for me the question, or in truth the answer, is essential.

Now, just to be clear, I am not interested in the ins and outs of his love life. I don’t want to know the gory details of his romances. I just want to know if he has ever fallen in love and what that experience was like for him.

Falling in love is one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences a person can have. By falling in love we discover our capacity for selflessness. We experience what it means to entrust ourselves, our souls and bodies to another. We learn tenderness. And we come to know what it means to suffer when eventually our hearts are broken and broken open. When we fall in love we become fully human.

The monastic vocation is, at its heart, a vocation to love. We come here, not to escape love, but to fall in love. We come here, not from a fear of love, but to become better lovers. We come here, not to avoid love, but to embrace love. We come here, not to deny love, but to know love.

Part of the cost of love is the price of suffering. To know love is to know suffering, when our hearts are broken and broken open. We cannot truly love if we are not also prepared to suffer. You know this. I know this. God knows this.

At its heart, Holy Cross Day which we celebrate today is a feast of love. It is a reminder that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”[1] By falling in love with creation, God could do nothing less than become fully human and come know the cost of love in suffering. When we fall in love as God did, we too will ultimately “stretch out [our] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross”[2] just as Jesus did.

When we fall in love as did God in Christ, we will know both the joy and sorrow, the privilege and pain, the delight and suffering that comes with true love. For true love is not about hearts carved into trees or doodled onto notebooks. True love is not about butterflies in the stomach or even sleepless nights of passion. True love is about a body nailed onto a cross.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus can only truly be understood when viewed through the lens of love. Indeed the cross, in order for it to be a sign of victory and not defeat; a sign of life and not death; a sign of hope and not despair can only be seen through the lens of love.

When we look at the cross through this lens of love we will discover as did Julian of Norwich:

Would you learn our Lord’s meaning in this thing?

Learn it well:

Love was his meaning.

Who showed it to you?


What did he show you?

Only love.

And for what reason did he show you?

For love.

Hold on to this, and you will learn more of the same. But you will never, without end, learn in it any other meaning.[3]

We come here tonight because all of us have, in one way or another, fallen in love. We have fallen in love with God, because God has fallen in love with us. As we are reminded in First John: “We love, because God first loved us.”[4] We know this each time we look upon the cross and see not an instrument of shame, but a sign of love; God’s love for us made manifest in Jesus Christ.

We come here tonight, all of us, to learn to be lovers: lovers of God, lovers of ourselves, lovers of one another. It’s not easy being a lover. Sometimes our hearts will be broken. But it is in the breaking of your heart that you will come to know the One whose heart has broken for you. It is this we see tonight in the cross. It is this we celebrate today. “God is love”[5] John reminds us. And we see that best as we gaze tonight at the cross of Christ.


[1] John 3: 16, 17

[2] III Collect for Mission, BCP, page 101

[3] Julian of Norwich: Revelation of Divine Love, Chapter 86

[4] 1 John 4: 19

[5] 1 John 4: 8

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  1. Mark on November 29, 2016 at 06:06

    I struggle to love as God loves. I struggle with the thought that I may never experience this deep human emotion with another.

  2. Elspeth on November 28, 2016 at 20:05

    I have been in love with my husband for over 30 years. It is interesting that we have had our disagreements and fights, and yet I know that he loves me deeply and that has helped me to blossom

  3. M. Gustafson on November 28, 2016 at 15:48

    We are just 4 months from the death of a loved one and Brother Koester’s words on love and suffering hit home. You can’t have one without the other – and God holds all. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  4. Susan Savage on November 28, 2016 at 15:17

    Thank you James.

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