Reflection – Anne Stewart
‘The how-to of love’
We talk about love quite a lot in church– you might have noticed! We
go on and on about it, but then so did Jesus. Through the witness of
Jesus love, surely, is at the centre of all we know God to be! We can so
easily forget though, or fall back into protecting ourselves before we
look out for others. We can forget how self-less, wide and all-encompassing living out this
love of God’s is. We talk about love and often we assume we all know what we mean by it.
But I wonder how often assuming such things lead to the breakdown of relationships.
When someone doesn’t love us in the same manner that we understand love to be, then it
can be hard to feel loved. Maybe the limitations of the English language are not so helpful
here. We have one word for it and expect it to cover a multitude of different ways we can
love. Have you ever heard the story of the couple where the woman despairs because her
husband never tells her he loves, to which he replies, but I wash the car every Saturday!
There are many ways to love someone, with or without words.
The love that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Romans is the love that those
following Christ show to one another, and then take on into their encounters with others in
their communities. It’s agape love which is the big love of God for humanity and
humanity’s love for God. It’s a covenantal love, given without condition, or with the
expectation of anything being returned. In chapter 12 of Paul’s letter, where we came in
this morning, Paul lays out the nuts and bolts of how to love, the agape way.
Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message, which we read from today, starts his
interpretation of the passage this way: ‘love from the centre of who you are – don’t fake it’.
Right from the get go, it’s straight and clear. Love from that God-shaped core of who you
are. Love by being a good friend. When I was quite young, I considered social work as a
career. I remember thinking at the time that there would be no need for this work if
everyone was, and had, a good friend. Of course, that is perhaps an overly optimistic view
on life and the reality is that we are not all good friends, all of the time. We can all be cruel
and unkind, we can all pass by on the other side of the road to avoid what is too
uncomfortable. We can struggle to practice playing second fiddle – or excuse ourselves by
declaring that one’s a bit tough. In a world where competition is encouraged and
economically incentivized, deliberately playing second fiddle is a very big call. Stay awake,
(be present), be cheerful and expectant. Keep the flame inside alive. Don’t quit when it gets
hard, pray harder. Give yourself to others and I love this bit – ‘be inventive with
hospitality’. I read this as the invitation to be creative in how we host, or care for, one
another – like really trying, like going the second mile, like knowing them and working out
the best way to serve them and make them feel special. Can you think of an occasion in
your life where someone went out of their way to love you?
A little while ago someone confronted me with the information that I had been heard, shall
we say, ‘expressing exasperation in an unkind way under my breath’. It was not easy to
hear. I don’t remember doing it, but totally trust the witness of the person pointing it out
to me. It certainly made me think. I also recall that I was under a fair level of personal
stress around the time being referred to. Remembering that, though, only leant weight to
the validity of the story! You see, we can all do this stuff. We can all hit back, be stuck up,
want to bring others down, or simply miss the beauty because we can’t see beyond what’s
difficult. We all need reminding, from time to time, because we can all slip away from
loving from the centre of who we are. This is a craft and it takes practice to become good
You might have heard me mention my friend Richard Rohr. I thought it was
about time you ‘met’ him, given how often he helps me in my reflecting. He says this, ‘how
you love one thing, is how you love everything.’ I have been pondering on this a lot lately. I
watch our son Josh with his 18mth old corgi pup, Audrey. He dotes on that wee dog. When
she first moved in with us six months ago, she was flighty, nervous, and always on high
alert. She hadn’t had careful owners, nor could she be trusted, because she hadn’t been
able to trust her environment before. Over the six months of being doted on, she has
relaxed into a really pleasant, still lively, but much gentler and trusting dog. And Josh, too,
has revelled in, and grown from the welcome he gets when she first sees him at the end of
his work day. I see how he loves this one thing and I know he is learning how to love
everything. That’s what love that comes from the centre of who we are does for us. It fills
us from within, and spills over into everything we do. It’s a thing of beauty to be discovered
in everyone. The simple fact is that loving can be the simplest thing, and it can be the most
Going the extra mile, has to me, always been one way to see love being acted out. Going
beyond what is asked. In our time of reflection now we are going to listen to a song from
the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies. The song is about going beyond what is expected, it’s
called Cold Tea Blues. The words are on the screen.