We are being asked to trust in love, and I sense we are being asked to go into those places where we learned not to trust in love, for those are the places that hold us back, those places where we didn’t receive love. It’s not about rehashing these stories, for I know all too well that the story stays alive as long as we keep breathing life into it.
It’s about feeling. Feeling those old places in our bodies where we stuffed the pain of not receiving love, and perhaps even developed a strategy that feels vindictive, a strategy that says I won’t love because I wasn’t loved. Being with these painful places, as we would be with a small child that is in pain, a child that wants to be held and loved, so she can know that place within herself.
I have stories, stories that tell me I can't trust love. And I rehash them and keep them alive. Because feeling my way into the pain sometimes costs more than I can bear to pay. Especially by myself. So I build up walls. I react to words and scenes that threaten to touch those places. I get defensive and withdrawn and sarcastic and hurtful. When I am wounded, I inflict pain in order to deflect it. And then I hide in my room and I cry, wanting desperately for someone to wrap their arms around me and hold me and love me through the pain.
I also just finished watching a clip of Jon Stewart's closing speech at the recent Rally for Sanity. In twelve brief minutes, he paints a picture of the rhetoric that inflames the differences instead of highlighting how we can and do work together in all our diversity. I buy into that rhetoric sometimes and let it drive me into rehashing my stories of mistrust. During this last little bit of time leading up to a mid-term election, the rhetoric runs hot. Criticism is constant. Difference is villainized. Polarities are highlighted and emphasized. And we forget that we can and do co-exist in the real world, each and every day - usually through extending just a little love and compassion to a fellow human being.
But right now, in this moment, I feel stuck. Stuck in the old stories. Stuck in the pain. Unable to move forward, deeper, closer. Because when I hear vehemence from someone who stands on the other side whatever the line, I fall into fear. Those critical words peel back the layers of my defended and walled off soul, and threaten to inflict pain and I hide behind my ugly defenses. My story says "don't show them who you really are, don't offer up any tender part". When I do, and criticism or cynicism or simple apathy is offered in return, the old wounds flare. I don't know how, under those circumstances to extend love. All I know how to do is fight or run.
The constant stream of media in our society today exacerbates the problem. My girls watch a repeating feed of pre-teen drama. The airwaves are filled with political messages that seek to divide. Social media provides a forum where courtesy and decorum are easily forgotten and divisiveness gets inflamed. We don't talk. We post or text or tweet or feed ourselves a constant stream of hate and fear from the pundits. And we forget that the person on the other side of the divide is human - and divine. I forget. I forget to extend love. And I recluse into fear and pain.
And in the midst of all of this, our sense of community starts to break down. Where do we have safe spaces to move into the pain of our stories without fear of being ripped apart? Where do we go to be in the presence of others to feel our way into those old stories and start to heal? Our families? Hardly. Our churches? Certainly not. Our circle of friends? Who has the time? Where do we find or how do we create community where love and compassion rule, regardless of differences? Where do we manage to do what Stewart suggests and work together through a series of small compromises to keep moving forward?
I wrote a few weeks ago about my experience of a weekend. As I've faced old pain over this past weekend and retreated into fear, I thought about the weekend of which I wrote. I've never experienced the sense of safety in a group like I did throughout that weekend. For three days, we came together in love. During the entire time, I never heard a cross word. I never heard criticism or negativity or gossip. Some of the group knew one another in real life. Many others were acquainted. Some of us were strangers. Yet we melded together seamlessly. It was a singular experience I cannot remember anywhere else I've ever been. I've been on other retreats and always, groups are formed, gossip and critique are a part of the conversation, time is spent in negative sentiment, whether about the current group or rehashing outside events. But this weekend none of that was present. We laughed. We teased. We talked. We hurt. We cried. We loved. We dreamed. We saw the divine and the abject humanity in one another - and we laughed and loved and hugged our way through.
I know that real life doesn't work that way. But I wonder if it could. At least in pockets. In fits and starts and small gatherings. Do we have to have a perfect combination of ingredients to trust love enough to be there in that life-giving way for one another? Why do we have to give into the cynicism and fear? Do I have the faith to trust love enough to bring a piece of that weekend into my everyday reality? Can I face my pain with enough courage not to hide myself behind a wall? If I can, and if she can, and if he can - would it change the world?