Barriers to Love

Note: this sermon was preceded by a story "The Perfect Heart." It is provided below (following the sermon.)

Imagine yourself in a room. It is your shelter from the elements and from other dangers. There are no windows where trouble could intrude. There is one door only and that is festooned with locks of all kinds. 

And you are thirsty. Very thirsty. Your lips are parched and dry. You begin searching this very sparely furnished room for a drop to drink. It’s a frantic search, but… nothing… There is no tap, no bottles. Outside of your prison, you hear something that sounds like a stream – yes – it’s definitely flowing water, and you search ever more desperately within your safe room. 

The shelter that you have created to protect and save yourself is killing you. 

I want to talk about love. Everybody talks about love. We fall in love, we seek love, we make love, we are told to love our neighbor, we love toast with marmite – or not. Love is the only way to vanquish hate – the only way to create peace – the only way to build a heaven on earth. This I believe. 

“God is love” or so it has been said. For many of us – whatever we might mean by the complicated and difficult word ‘God’ - I think, this simple phrase rings very true. A longing for God seems almost indistinguishable from a longing for love. What do we seek? complete acceptance, understanding, a source of hope, faith, and joy. We all know that if we were all to approach the world in a loving way, that it would be a completely different world from the one we see around us today. 

And I think we know all of these things and we go looking for love. We search high and low as desperate to find love as if we were dying of thirst and searching for that cooling flow of water that we can hear but not see. 

And – all too often - love manages to elude us. We get close – we almost reach it, but something goes wrong and it is only the tantalizing sound of love we experience, but not the quenching, life-sustaining, coolness on our lips. 

I want to turn to a source in whom I have found wisdom many times before. Born just over 800 years ago, the Sufi mystic poet Rumi left us words that continue to shed light on the challenges of life even now. 

Rumi says: 

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 

The walls that keep you from the life-sustaining flow of love are walls that you created. You may have had help in the form of oppressions and hurts, but they are yours. No one else has the power to dismantle them for you. The flow will not reach you within unless you can. 

And it is not an easy task or we would be floating in an ecstatic pool of love right now. 

“Seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against” love. 

What are those barriers? 

I think there are three, although each one can grow from many sources and be composed of the many different materials – pains, disappointments, wounds and biases that we have gathered along our own journeys. 

The three barriers are: 

“I’m not loveable” 

“You’re not lovable” 

And “I’m afraid” 

The first barrier, “I’m not loveable” is probably the most important of all. When we feel this way, we create every explanation why we should not reach out in love, but at the heart of all these seemingly sensible reasons for remaining protected is a basic sense that “I am not worth it.” No one could love me if they really knew me. Better not to let that happen. 

At the very core of our Unitarian faith is the declaration that yes, you are worth it. Every person has inherent worth and dignity. I don’t care how horrible you have been at some time in the past. You are not defined by the worst thing you have ever done. 

It doesn’t matter that you have done wrong. It doesn’t matter that you think you’re not smart or beautiful or clever or funny. You are a part of all that is sacred. That alone makes you loveable if – and only if – you can let love in. 

The second barrier: “you’re not loveable” 

We have plenty of reasons to find others unlovable. Let’s face it – not everyone in the world is as perfect as the people in this room right now. 

“No one is perfect except thee and me, and I have my doubts about thee!” 

While some of our judgments are simply defensive, others are not to be ignored. Let’s face it. Some people really are annoying. Some people are bossy. Some have no sense of humor. Some go on and on about their own pet topic. Some people can be cruel. Some can seem to do nothing at all but complain. 

I’m sorry but we wouldn’t be human if that did not also describe us to varying extents. All of the human flaws can be found right here among us to one extent or another. This community is not about finding perfect people and closing the door behind us – it is about being together with all of our flaws and helping the sacredness within to emerge and grow. 

Again, at the core of our faith is that understanding that within each of us is a heart of worth and dignity. There is a center to each one of us that is worth of love. 

Loving does not mean putting up with bad behavior. Sometimes, we have to love from a distance because what has happened to people has made them dangerous or simply obnoxious. Loving does not mean overlooking that. It means believing that there is something more, some worth, some value that we will continue to seek despite the distracting appearance and actions. 

And finally, “I’m afraid” 

And why would I not be. As in our story about the shape of the perfect heart, every time we take the chance to love, we risk a piece of ourselves. We take the chance that love will be rejected and that we will end up with a gaping hole. From experience, we build a set of biases that keep us from connecting with one kind of person or another. Perhaps we divide the world of people by class or by race. Maybe it’s people with short hair, people with tattoos, attractive people, tall people… I can easily recognize some of this in myself – I’m sure that you can too. 

Perhaps more frightening still, even when our love is accepted – even when love is offered in return - loving changes us. We cannot remain the same once we have connected deeply with another heart – heard and seen life from a different perspective – felt the reality of another soul. Our hearts truly become different through this experience. 

A heart that has dared to love is changed forever. No one can promise that loving will be pain-free. We can only promise that the wondrous power of love cannot flow unless we do take that chance. 

Loving is not easy. It is not safe. It doesn’t necessarily feel good. 

But loving is the way must respond to a broken world, to our broken brothers and sisters, and to our own broken hearts. 

The sacred element of life is in your heart and it is in mine. Our task is to break down the walls – to seek – and to find that glowing center within each person. 

And dare to love. 

May it be so.

The Perfect Heart

Author Unknown

One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart. 

Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said "Why your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine." The crowd and the young man looked at the old man's heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing. 

The people stared - how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought? The young man looked at the old man's heart and saw its state and laughed. "You must be joking," he said. "Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears." 

"Yes," said the old man, "Yours is perfect looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart. But, because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared. Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn't returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges - giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people, I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?" 

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man's heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man's heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side. How sad it must be to go through life with a whole heart.