- Published: 12 May 2020
Even if we are not together, together let us cry...
Remember there is so much love. Because we love, we cry.
These words for a refrain in a stirring poem written by Nova Scotia poet, Sheree Fitch, for the on-line vigil in the wake of the Nova Scotia mass shooting last weekend, a vigil held on CBC television earlier this week. This is a poem that immediately resonates. How many tears have we shed because we have loved and love?
Fitch’s poem speaks about the abundance and enduring power of love, not dissimilar to the poem of love we have in our Christian tradition, that poem in I Corinthians where the poet notes that we might have the language of angels and the heavens and even have the ability to understand all mysteries, but without love, then we are only a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. Love matters most. Later, in the poem, characteristics of love are named noting that love is not happy with evil but rejoices with truth. Subsequently, the poet expressing the deep knowledge that love can result in tears and heartache because we can only see through a mirror dimly.
Love is straightforward to understand, even to respond to. All of us know love and experience many beautiful expressions of love as we walk through life. We also recognize that we live in a complicated world therefore love must negotiate these complications, complications like the unthinkable actions that happened in Nova Scotia this past week.
These tough experiences, experiences of loss, bring into focus primacy of love, and the truth that because we love we cry. In addition, in experiences where there is no rhyme or reason, processing our love and our loss has complications.
Life has complications, and those complications combined with our own complications, draws attention to the challenges of living love. I am complicated, I only see through a mirror dimly, and I live among complicated people and therefore relationships are complicated.
Jesus understood these complications and grappled with this complexity of living love in our world by telling a story, the story of a prodigal parent and a prodigal child. The word “prodigal” is attached to the story. The word actually doesn’t appear in the story, but the meaning of prodigal is significant. Prodigal means to be extravagant, extravagant in a wasteful kind of way. Words like lavish and generous are associated with being prodigal. This world is awash with a prodigal love.
In the parable Jesus told, the parent is extravagant and wasteful in actions directed towards a child, and the child is extravagant and wasteful with the benefits and riches of the parent.
Let me quickly remind you of the story. A father has two sons and the younger son asks the father for his inheritance which the father, in a rather surprising and lavish moment actually gives the full inheritance to the son and the son immediately leaves home for a far away land where he squanders the inheritance. The inheritance is spent. After squandering the inheritance, the son finding himself destitute, secures employment feeding pigs only to realize he is eating worse than the pigs. In that moment the son comes to his senses and decides to return home hoping if his father might treat him like a servant; however the father surprises again, runs and greets the returning son, puts a cloak around him, and kills the fattened calf for a party.
Meanwhile the older son who has never left is not even told about the party, discovers the merriment only as he comes back from toiling in the fields and even has to ask a servant what is going on in order to learn his younger brother has returned. The elder son is displeased, and so the father comes to calm the son assuring him that his inheritance remains secure, but also invites the older son to rejoice because a lost son has come home, the son is invited to be prodigal with grace.
What the older son decides is left untold.
This story that Jesus told is multi-layered. There is a hint of reference to the unconditional universal love of the sacred that is abundant and extravagant, that is prodigal, a remembering of so much love. This is one reason for telling this story.
There is another reasons. The story also hints at the ways that Jesus, as storyteller, understood complexities of life, and so wove a tale that identified that complexity. Sometimes the loving pathway draws one into a near embrace and sometimes the loving pathway has to let go and let be, allow for distance. Sometimes love has to accept the distancing another chooses even when personally painful. We have the pain of loss woven into our living of love. In addition, love demands honest and heart wrenching conversation in order for the healing of reconciliation.
The ending of the story recognizes that while love is powerful and good, love is not always received or chosen. Love can be rebuffed leading to other messes. We know all about this and the tragedies that can occur when love is not lived.
This is the reason why the story ends before the older brother makes a decision, ends because Jesus as storyteller is inviting the listener to enter the story. The story invites conversation, inviting application to the particular complexities of life for the listener, invites a choice for love.
This story is an invitational imagination project of writing ourselves into the text.
In a moment I will read a poem that Jane Sly introduced me to by Allison Funk titled “The Prodigal’s Mother Speaks to God”. In this poem, the poet explores corners of the story not told, yet easy to imagine. The poet offers another voice, the voice of a mother. This mother is truthful and wise, dedicated and weary, a mother recognizing the complexities of love, a mother seeking to see clearly, even though she too understands that she looks through a mirror darkly, a mother struggling in figuring out the way to live love.
This poem hints at a myriad of lived experiences without explicating any, hints at experiences we know, the complications of loving in times of rivalry and addiction and estrangement, the complications of loving in times of betrayal and bitterness and deteriorating mental health. The poet hints at the pain of death or divorce or disappearance.
Over-riding it all, is a passion, is a love, a love that is not romanticized, but the love that happens in the real and the gritty. Listen
When he returned a second time, the straps of his sandals broken, his robe stained with wine, it was not as easy to forgive.
By then his father was long gone himself, leaving me with my other son, the sullen on whose anger is the instrument he tunes from good morning on.
I know there is no room for a man in the womb.
So when I saw my youngest coming from far off, so small he seemed, a kid unsteady on its legs. She-goat what will you do? I thought, remembering when he learned to walk
Shape shifter! It's like looking through water--the head bends, it blurs everything: brush, precipice.
A shambles between us.
Again, no ending but an invitation, invitation for love to cross shambles.
The poet draws us all into a common experience of choosing love, a choice that reminds us that we are not alone, but rather belong in the company of a great throng of people who are all trying to put words around the complexities of love, and put words around the complexities of faith and of hope. For these three endure faith, hope and love and because we love, we cry. This is something we share.
Today our Biblical parable linked with two poems invites us to remember there is so much love even as we recognize the challenges and tragedies, the joys and possibilities that come with living love. This parable and these two poems are honest, speaking to God about the realities of our living, invites us to share our common experiences so that we can come together with empathy and compassion, and so that together we can be hospitable to love, hospitable to when love hurts, hospitable to when love triumphs, and hospitable to that call of love that brings us home whatever home is for each of us.
This love speaks truthfully, stand for justice, works against abuse and domestic violence, and embraces the complexity of living. May we welcome and remember the power alive in the constancy of love and respond to the invitations to live as a people of humility and grace before life's complexity, responding to the invitation from the Holy, the invitation from God, to live love in the complexities and beauty of our world.