This month, we are engaging with the theme of embracing life.
It has been said that life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. The truth is that none of the centres of those chocolates is ever going to be as wonderful or as horrible as life can be.
If we want to stick with food metaphors, I suggest that life is less like chocolates and more like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans from the Harry Potter series. You might get delicious chocolate or peppermint bean, but you might also get some of the less delightful flavours, such as grass, horse radish, liver, or dirty socks.
But those of us who live in the real world know that life is not much like either of these treats. Often, the outside looks terrible and the inside is delightful – not at all like Professor Dumbledore’s experience of choosing a golden brown bean only to find he had selected the flavour of ear wax.
Life – in fact – is actually like London weather. When you get up in the morning, the way it looks outside has almost nothing to do with what kind of day it’s going to be. If you see sunshine, bring your umbrella anyway. Change is a constant in weather and in life.
And you can be sure that it’s going to be really miserable some days – and you are going to be cold and wet. But if you don’t go out, you will never have the experience of those days that are sunny and warm and make your heart sing.
And the truth of the matter is that – while we might thoughtlessly wish it– a world without rain and wind and darkness would be a world without life too. If we manage not to get fried by an errant bolt of lightning or swept up by the swirling winds of a tornado, the so-called “bad weather” is what helps the flowers to grow. The tough times in our lives can be the ones that form us most strongly into the people we hope to be.
In London weather – and life itself – we have to embrace it whole if we are truly to live.
Last week, we talked about embracing work – about the ways in which our work can both nurture and destroy us. Ultimately, we need to be “in” the work to find what it best in it.
Today, we turn to a loftier subject than work – today, we turn to love.
Ah, love, the subject about which most songs and poems are written – the subject of our books, our paintings, and so many of our dreams.
We may sometimes see our whole lives as a search for ideal love.
If only we could find that love – that true pure love – then we would live happily ever after. If only someone would love us the right way, then the whole world would fall into place. If only we had that love, then we would finally be able to love ourselves.
A wonderful story from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism tells of a poor Rabbi named Eisik who lived in Cracow. One night, he dreamed that he should look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge which leads to the king's palace. He put this out of his mind, but the dream came again a second night. When the dream recurred a third time, Eisik prepared for the journey and set out for Prague. When he arrived, he found that the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare to start digging. Nevertheless he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening.
Finally the captain of the guards, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. The poor man told him of the dream that had brought him. The captain laughed: "You poor fellow wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I should have had to get going when a dream once told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a poor man by the name of Eisik!" And he laughed again. Eisik bowed, travelled home, dug under his own stove, and there he found a great treasurer."
Love is not something we seek and find. It is not something we “fall into,” as film and story would have it. Love is something we create, something we build piece by piece, with every caring thought, with every compassionate deed, with every moment we listen harder than we think we can, with every time we let deep understanding come to us.
Rumi – the 13th century Sufi mystic who Unitarians seem to stop quoting wrote endlessly about love. He called the divine “the beloved.” His words were full of passionate love for God and for man. The great wisdom of this loving sage comes to us in these words:
“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.”
Barriers? Against love? No! We protest, if only I could have love...
Margaret Atwood includes in the poem we heard this morning “It's not love we don't wish to fall into, but that fear.”
That fear... Love, like life itself, is a challenge to embrace.
True love does not wash over us like a warm bath or comfort us like a favourite blanket. True love calls upon us to open of our hearts.
Like our storage cupboards, few, if any of us, are entirely comfortable with exposing the contents of our hearts. Yes, there may be a few treasures we are happy to take out, polish up, and show off, but what about the things stuck back in a corner where no one will look.
Back in the dark recesses of our hearts are hidden the bits of shame that we could never quite be rid of. There are the disappointments – the successes we hoped for but never quite reached.
Opening our hearts creates a deep, terrifying, vulnerability.
“Who am I” we ask “to be worthy of this person’s love?”
No, we too often think of love in the story-book way and expect perfection of ourselves and the ones we love. The moment of the first disagreement becomes a reason to slam the closet closed and we start to put up the facade of perfection – a facade that enforces a distance between us and the object of our love.
But love is not something we can truly know half-heartedly. To try is to dance with only one hand free, hiding beneath the other the flaws we feel make us too imperfect to ever be loved.
Have faith, my friends. The contents of your cupboard are no worse than any others. I know that many of you are thinking “oh, if he only knew – if they only knew how awful and guilty I am, no one would love me. They would throw me right out of here.”
Pauline Esther Friedman – the woman who, as “Dear Abby” offered homespun wisdom to generations of Americans said this: “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
Every single one of us feels we have something we must hide in order to be loveable. Every one of us feels not quite good enough. Love challenges us because we cannot truly accept love while we hide part of ourselves away.
Full living, wholeness, calls upon us to be ourselves, truly and completely. Love is not love unless it loves us as we truly are – otherwise it is admiration of a false face.
Yes, sometimes you will venture forth from your safe shelter and the skies will open up and you will be drenched with pain and disappointment. But there is no hope of feeling the warmth of love upon your skin if you do not take that chance.
You – even you – are loveable. You are worthy of love and you are the treasure of the earth. Let others in and risk everything for love. This is the true path.
May it be so.