Valve Wide Open
Valve Wide Open: October 15, 2016
I have heard that in India seekers go to the temple not so much to try to find God as to let God gaze at them. So I tried it one morning.
I sat with the flickering candle flame in the morning dark, resisting the urge to petition, to parent, to plan. Could I receive God’s gaze on me—just now, in this moment?
It was exquisite—the way pure pain or pleasure is exquisite, singular, focusing. Fleeting. I found myself crying.
I have a pretty healthy self-image. Not too many delusions. Awareness of strengths and weaknesses. Challenges one might say in this SMART goal kinda world.
But to feel so loved, so worthy, so adored, was hardly sustainable. No wonder mystics renounce the world. My God! YOU (my God) are everything, Alpha and Omega. I am in You and You are in me. You are me.
Even in this pre-dawn ecstasy, Jack does, in fact, need to stop playing and go eat breakfast. Emma can’t start her zipper. The dog is licking my ankle…
Have you ever opened the valve on a water line? The Montreat ice-maker line was leaking, so it was turned off when my girlfriends and I arrived. I turned the valve on, feeling the water pressure expand the flexible tubing. The potential was tangible.
My morning meditation is a time of opening the God-valve, the Love-valve, a smidgen.
I know. That valve should be fully open all the time. But honestly, I can’t always allow that much Spirit, that much Love, in the day-to-day tasks of life. I have small children, a husband, occasional hurricane evacuees, a full-time job, parents, neighbors, the damn dog running under my feet. I let the Love drip a steady rhythm into my days, but I don’t really trust the full-on flow. Someone has to be the adult around here.
In my better moments I realize, chagrined, that Jesus is the adult in the room. The Master, the Rabbi, the Teacher—the one in charge. He embodies and empties into the Love of the Triune God, and offers not only a model but a commandment to Love the way he loves—whole-heartedly, without reservation, without recrimination, valve wide open, come what may.
What came for him was crucifixion. He, who knows intimately and constantly the full outpouring of Love, gets death on a cross. And why?
Well, unfortunately, I think too many people would say because he deserves it. Because love like that is unsustainable, unrealistic, naïve, nostalgic, impossible. That thinking leads history inexorably to the cross. The folly of the cross.
The cross was a symbol of imperial power. It showed the full force of the empire—you’re either with us or against us. But the folly and the paradox of the crucifixion is that it simultaneously declared both of these things: God is with us and God is against us. God will not abandon us. AND, God is showing us the true path—above and beyond dominion, or divisiveness, or small-minded self-interest.
The cross is full-on, valve-wide-open, bring-it-on Love that cannot fail. Oh, it might cost you some friends; it might cost you some contracts, it might cost you some prestige. But the Master doesn’t ask anything of us that he hasn’t already endured and, by the way, transformed.
Christians are called to identify with Jesus on the cross—to be ‘Easter people’, surely, but also to be Maundy Thursday people. The cross is the starting place, the startling place, to embrace the freedom to love. This is staggering!
Too many times I’ve seen Christians asked to identify with the guilt-inducing antagonists in the Calvary story. We are instructed to identify with the sinful world that crucified Jesus; to labor under an impossible burden of guilt; to glory in our wretchedness.
The hope-filled message of Jesus cannot begin from a place of needing to earn his sacrifice. I can't earn that kind of love; I can only receive it. Richard Rohr explains it this way: Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.
The cross does not proclaim the reason that I must earn God’s acceptance; it proclaims God’s irrational, all-encompassing love in the face of the world’s attempt to tame it. That is the folly of the cross.
But here’s the thing. In receiving that valve-wide-open Love I am called to the hard task of emulating it. This feels overwhelming until I remember that the valve is always open, I’m always receiving the Love that I then pour out. And then there’s more! There’s always more. I can’t hold it all!
This isn’t a pair of rose colored glasses or sappy, chubby cherubs. In fact, this abundance of love allows me to assess the discrepancies and horrors of the world with renewed determination.
In all honestly, though, it’s the small day-to-day trials that are harder for me to manage. Climate justice, affordable housing, effective gun control: responding to these policy issues is often easier for me than summoning one more ounce of patience when—as happened moments ago—Jack finally stops protesting long enough to accomplish a chore and then cuts his lip in the process of doing it. Or Emma decides to play with and spill baby powder all over the bathroom we just cleaned.
Who even uses baby powder anymore?
Sometimes, in those moments, I try to gaze at my children as God would gaze at them. And to feel God’s gaze on me as I pony-up love, one more time, in the face of frustration and anger.
Try it. Try to gaze at the world as God gazes at it.
The way that God gazes at you.