ISSUES OF FAITH: True enjoyment of life: Love is more

AS YOU MIGHT remember, last month I wrote about how “less is less,” about how, as we age, our bodies fail more and more with each passing year. (Lately, actually, it feels more like with each passing month, and sometimes even each passing day.) But this month, I found myself wanting to write about the true enjoyment of life.

To put this differently, last month I wrote about having to give up things. This month I wanted to write, in part, about getting to give up things.

I wanted to start off on the traditional “Oh, Fall, you’re so beautiful — the mist off the mountains, the gray sky, the cool temperatures, the birds flying south” thing. It’s true, I really do love this time of year, in our cool and relatively temperate region.

My entire memory of Versailles in July, that glorious (if now mostly fake) palace of Louis the XIV, renowned for its wonderful gardens, was about two football fields length of tired looking plants, withering away in the unforgiving sun. You can have it, as far as I’m concerned.

And what I remember from that summer heat (note that there is nothing romantic in the least about a hot summer day in France. Sticky. Very sticky), is that I would have to walk all the way to the palace. I swear to the pitiless heavens laughing at me from above, if I hadn’t been the group director of the trip, I so would have just gotten back on the train and gone in search of a cool beverage.

It is very good to sit outside and just watch things not happen in my backyard. There’s no need to stir, and the hubbie and I are on our summer feeding schedule: noon breakfast; 5 p.m. supper; 10 p.m. dinner and then bed. This makes our lives work better. (Note to readers: I am not nor ever will be a morning person.) Tolkien’s hobbits had it right. Sleep in, then a breakfast, then second breakfast and so on, until a fire before bed and a nice warm comforter.

So, following this very different sense of “less is less,” getting to give up, not a having things to do, I started lazily looking around for things to write about this month.

And then I was reminded of this, from the daily lectionary reading for this coming Sunday. This is Paul discussing the truly good life in a letter to the Romans in the congregation he founded: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:8-10).

Wait, you mean we have to, you know, continue to struggle every day in this mortal life of ours?

If we think too much about that (and I am speaking here from my privilege, I know), we can find ourselves fixated, in a very unhealthy way, on the next life.

For the truly poor, that is a very legitimate choice, but for all but a few of us in the First World, that’s a bit spiritually lazy.

I remember, years ago, a colleague railing against C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce,” in which those who had consigned themselves to hell got a second chance for salvation, by taking a bus trip to the very edges of heaven, where they found how little of the Real was theirs. Grass hurt their feet; river foam and spray was deadly, like little transparent gunshot, to these ghosts. But, and this was what made my colleague furious, if you can change your mind and accept God’s mercy even after death, then this life doesn’t mean all that much. Or as Lewis put it much more elegantly in the preface to “The Great Divorce”:

“Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think Earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and Earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”

And that’s what made my colleague so angry. For him, it meant that this life didn’t count for much. In one sense, he was right: in the eternal run of the next life, we live but “a twinkling of an eye” right now. But he was worried about the fact that people might not consider themselves needing to heal the evils of this world.

The short answer to that is: No, we have, as Paul pointed out in the passage cited above, an obligation to love one another.

In the particular context of Romans, he was speaking of the Christian community, but in his other works and also in the Gospels, we know that we have an obligation to, as much as is possible in our own lives, love on the widest scale we can.

Even the hobbits, those four well-fed creatures from the Shire, ended up saving their world, overthrowing the tyrant who would have destroyed all he could and being the heroes we can be, as much as we’re able.

God is Love, as John tells us, and love is needed in this world of ours, difficult as it is in the daily pressures of our lives. Nonetheless, that is our call.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a deacon resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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