Love Your Enemies

There is a certain woman who interacts with me in a way that results in my feeling as if she has shoved me into a corner with her arm pushed up against my neck, threatening bodily harm if I don’t do what she wants. My feeling is irrational, but it makes me think about Jesus’ call to us to love our enemies.

How can I love this woman!? Much less a real enemy–someone who threatens my very existence and what I value most dearly. My first reaction is to find a way to strike back.

Jesus tells us that anyone can love those who love them. He seems to see that kind of love as simply natural (See Matthew 5: 43-48). Yet for Jesus, something different has become possible for those to whom he speaks. Some people read this injunction and give up on being able to follow the teachings of Jesus, or decide that this passage is one to ignore. But I find the charge an invitation to consider what, at least at first, doesn’t seem possible.

When I can know myself inwardly as loved and acceptable (that is, find myself grounded in God), then I can allow the other person to be who she is. I recognize my own fears and shortcomings. I feel compassion. I let her carry herself the way she wants to, and I respond without having my response be determined by how she’s acted toward me. I calmly provide the information she asks for and let the results be what they are.

Queries:

Who do you see as threatening your existence or what you value? What is weakness and what is power in the face of threat from an enemy? (What are you called to in response to the killing in Charleston?)

How does being in Christ change how you can respond to an enemy?

Prayer:

“Pray for those who persecute you.” Holding the person or situation in your heart, with your eyes closed and using your imagination, or by writing in a journal, ask to be given insight about your reaction and what door would open you to love.

For further reflection:

“Love your enemies . . .” (See Luke 6: 27-36).

“Do not fret because of the wicked . . .” (See Psalm 37: 1-8).

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Praying for Someone

My grandson Jack knocked out his one permanent upper-front tooth. His parents took him to the dentist, who attempted to re-set it. The expectation was that it would either reattach or be rejected. My heart was heavy with concern for him. I couldn’t help but hold him in prayer. I also asked friends to pray for him.

What was I doing? I prayed passionately, with lots of caring energy. And I specifically prayed for his tooth to reattach. As far as I know that is the best thing that could happen for him. The accident would be overcome and he would have less trauma to go through. Sometimes when people pray like this they are in effect trying to work magic—to manipulate God by saying the right words, praying hard enough, getting enough people to pray, or whatever it might take to get God to bring the healing they want.

As a chaplain in oncology I once had a patient who had been struggling with breast cancer for many years but whose body had had enough. Her family had prayed for her through the years, with many remissions. They couldn’t bear to have her die. They asked me to pray for her, hoping that my prayers would get God to let her live even if theirs weren’t getting that result. When she did die, they were in such despair that they gave up on God and left their church.

In order to avoid this pain, some people pray only for God’s will in the particular situation, believing that that is the right way to pray—to be suitably humble. Others simply don’t believe in an interventionist God, a God who cares and who impacts specific situations in human life.

I pray what is in my heart. God knows my heart; there is no point in trying to cover it up. I also know that there is a much larger picture that I cannot see or comprehend. I trust that God loves and wants good. And I let go the prayer. Such praying brings community, strengthens my ability for love and compassion, and keeps me honest and humble, attuned to mystery and paradox.

Queries:

What do you think about intercessory prayer? What is your experience?

If there is that of God in every person, how might that of God in you relate to praying for others?

Prayer:

Pray as you can, not as you can’t. Sometimes action is the prayer to choose.

For further reflection:

“I pray that . . . he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit . . .” (See Ephesians 3: 14-19).

“Praise the Lord . . . who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases . . .” (See Psalm 103: 1-6).

“Trust in the Lord”

When I began the practice of Centering Prayer, the teacher explained that the prayer reflects an intention to consent to the presence and action of God in one’s life. To further explain what we were doing he used the words of Mary when she is told that she is to give birth to a child conceived by the Holy Spirit—“Let it be to me according to Your will.” To say those words—what trust!

They immediately kicked up my distrust. What might God ask of me? What might God do to me? How can I give up control of my life, and why would I want to? Who is God? I thought I believed that God is love. After all, I was taking time to learn to pray in this new way, wasn’t I? And yet . . . I wasn’t certain. I wrestled.

What does it mean to trust in God? It certainly isn’t being passive and letting whatever happens happen. What is God like? I already know that sickness, diminishments, and death are coming. Can I trust God with my life? But if I’m not trusting in God, in whom am I trusting? If I’m trusting in me, how good a bet is that? If I’m trusting in someone else, how safe is that? We are always letting one another down, even those we love the most.

Over the years I have been enabled to trust God at deeper and deeper levels. I do know a felt sense of living in that trust and the peace that comes with it. And yet, even so I find myself over and over acting as if the story depends only on me. “Trust in the Lord, rest in the Lord, abide in the Lord” is a beautiful, chant-like song that Conservative Friend Deborah Shaw taught to a group of which I was a part. The song was simple, but what it invites us to do doesn’t come easy.

Queries:

Where do you place your trust? What stories can you tell of your trust being betrayed or upheld?

What are your questions?

Prayer:

God, hear our prayer. Lord, have mercy.

For further reflection:

Read the story of the healing of Namaan the leper in II Kings 5: 1-14.

“My strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away . . . But I trust in you, O Lord.” (See Psalm 31: 9-24.)

Believe?

There is much in Christianity that causes people to think that what they believe is important—the liturgical recitation of a creed, the interpretation of verses such as John 3:16 (whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life), and the current individualistic expression of the faith. Some stumble when it comes to believing in God; others, believing in doctrines such as the virgin birth and the resurrection; and others, believing in the value of the Bible. Many people interested in Quakerism pull away because they can’t fully believe in pacifism.

To focus on whether one believes this or that is to miss what the faith is about. It is about a relationship with God—Mystery, Guide, Inward Teacher, Love, Source of Life. This relationship is bigger than oneself and, by definition, cannot be fully comprehended.   Believing as we understand the word is a misleading approach because it is intellectual, heady, not of the heart.

Bible stories are about people who have encounters with the divine in relationship. They are not about people who believe certain things, which then connect them to God. I love the story in Luke 8 when Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and an intense storm comes up so that the boat is sinking. When Jesus calms the storm, the awed response of his disciples is “who is this who calms the wind and the waves?” Beliefs are not what the disciples are looking for. The truth of this story—and the stories of the virgin birth and the resurrection—comes through being revealed, not through a belief system and the scientific mind’s intellectual assent to the stories.

Faith is about seeing things, experiencing relationship, asking questions. To have faith is to make a choice to jump into a particular stream, to take on a story as one’s own, to ready oneself to learn from the Inward Teacher—and not other options. I have found that even if only 51% of me can make that leap, that will do. Consent to the journey, and then see what you will be taught.

Queries:

How have your beliefs changed over your lifetime?

In whom are you putting your heart and trust? What story can you recall about a time when you were taught by One not controlled by your own ideas?

Prayer:

Listen to music that touches your soul. Or take a walk in nature, gradually quieting inside, being fully present to what is around you.

For further reflection:

“Who is this . . .?” (See Luke 8: 22-25).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (See Proverbs 3: 5-8).