May 18, 2006

Love in the Open Hand (John 15:9-11)

The Gospel reading for today (May 18, 2006) is taken from The Gospel According to John (15:9-11).  It is very short and  familiar:

“(9)As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10) If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments  and abide in His love. (11) These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.”  (ESV)

Yet, despite its familiarity, abiding in God’s love is something that I’ve not been able to truly grasp and personalize many times.  Perhaps it’s the lawyer in me—whenever I see a “condition” (clue:  it usually starts with “if”) like “(i)f you keep my commandments. . .”, I start to analyze what is being asked of me.  Frequently, this passage makes me reflect not so much on the extent and nature of God’s love but on what it demands of me—the “if” that is written so prominently in Jesus’s exhortation at verse 10.

Jesus says I will abide in His love “if” I keep His commandments.  Again, being a lawyer, I have to be obsessed with rules—nothing gets me going more than a good debate on the law and its many “ifs” and “buts.”  Yet, all that Jesus commands me is this:  

“(34)A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  [John 13:34-35, ESV]

Simple. Straightforward.  A commandment after my own heart—uncomplicated yet complex;  terse but true.  All that Jesus commands is that we love as He has loved us.  And that is what terrifies a lot of people; okay, it is what terrifies me.  To love as Jesus has loved me.

Today, as I reflect on that love, I remember a poem that a friend gave me some time back;  it came with a homily which was the same title as the poem, and which I have appropriated as well for this post’s title—“love in the open hand.”

The poem is a sonnet attributed to Edna St. Vincent Millay and is written from the point of view of a young girl speaking to the man she loves;  while it may speak of love that is eros, it also speaks truly of what love is—or should be—and how Jesus has loved me—us—and continues to love me—us.  It speaks to me of love that is agape--love in the open hand, indeed.

In the last part of the sonnet, the young girl tells the young man she loves that she gives him a very simple thing:  “love in the open hand, nothing but that. Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt.THAT is how Jesus loves—and that is how, in the Gospel today, He asks us to love as well.  Love that is open, unhidden, unadorned—generously offered in its entirety. Love in the open hand.

During lent, Fr. Mon Bautista, S.J.  spoke about loving like Jesus.  He said that  to love like Jesus is to become vulnerable like Him;  the measure of Jesus’s love for us is that He gave it all to the point of becoming vulnerable.  THAT is how love in the open hand is—to offer it all to all.  Free to be accepted by all;  free to be rejected by all, as well.  We cannot choose to whom our love is to be offered, we cannot choose, as well, who will accept our love. If our joy is to be full, we simply must just love.

Oftentimes—okay, many times—we fail to just love.  We keep our love locked away; we keep our love in a clenched fist because we choose to whom we want to give this love, we choose to what extent we wish to love, we choose under what conditions we wish to love, we choose when we wish to love.  

I’ve raised my share of clenched fists as an activist and I’ve discovered that it is difficult—if not impossible-- to love with a clenched fist.  

A clenched fist cannot caress. A clenched fist cannot wipe away tears. A clenched fist cannot hold another’s hand.  A clenched fist cannot pat another on the back. A clenched fist cannot pick another up.  A clenched fist cannot share love.  

Only an open hand can.

Similar to the young girl who speaks to the man she loves in the last line of the sonnet—“look what I have!—and these are all for you.”--let us love in the same way.   That we may open our hands as generous bearers of God’s love to all, reflecting our own experience with God’s love, and that we may say to all that we meet, in the same way that Jesus says to us today and everyday: look at what I have and these are all for you.

I pray for the grace to allow my clenched fists to be opened into open palms bearing love;  I pray for the additional grace that my open palms may be clasped with other open palms so that love may be shared; I pray also that, having so shared love, my clenched fists may become open hands clasped in prayer or open palms outstretched in supplication, in praise, in offering.

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