Friday, May 7, 2010

What is love, anyway?

Sometimes I wonder if love between two people really exists, or if it's only an illusion. I can remember my step brother, Nathan, my mom's second husbands son. When they divorced, I knew I would probably never see Nathan again, and I grieved. That was 25 years ago. What if I found out tomorrow that Nathan had been killed, or had died of cancer? Would I feel any sorrow? I don't think it's likely that it would have much of an effect on me, besides maybe a brief pang of remorse; forgotten completely within a couple of hours. What happened to the love I had for my step brother? How could it have just faded away to nothing? Was it even real at all? What is love, anyway?

I think it's likely that nobody will ever know the answer to that until after they have given up the ghost, because humans are imperfect, and for the most part, self serving. Most of us haven't ever really experienced real love, God's love. Because of the inherently flawed state which people occupy, is it the case that human love must also be flawed? My step brother, Nathan, was one example of how brotherly love can seem to just disappear, as though it never were. But what about other kinds of love?

Being in love can be one of the most wonderful feelings that a human can experience... but it can also be perceived as a source of pain, despair, even cruelty. How can love, the essence of life energy, be both wonderful and awful? How can love grow and then wither? How can love be forgotten so easily? How can love go seemingly hand in hand with our passions and our pride? I think the answer to these questions is that imperfect, human love is inevitably corrupted by the ego, and since the ego serves the self, love becomes used as a means to serve ones self. To be in love and to have that love returned to you is one of the most joyful things a person can experience. However, if you take that same love and offer it to someone who doesn't reciprocate in kind, it becomes one of the most painful things a person can experience. Why does love do this? The essence of love should imply truth and purity, therefore shouldn't it be able to stand on its own? Shouldn't a person be able to feel love for another, give love to another, and that be enough?

At the same time, how can a person receive the love of another and reject it? How can it seem to be without inherent value? How can one refuse such a precious gift? It's love, after all, a wonderful thing! Receiving love from someone should be a joyous experience, shouldn't it? Why, then, is it sometimes not? Why is it instead repelling and unpleasant in some cases, often leading to feelings of contempt and even hatred? What the heck is wrong with love?

Here's my attempt at an answer to that question. It is my idea that human beings don't know what to do with love, this greatest of gifts. The only true, pure love is God's love, and the flawed nature of humanity prevents most humans from being able to receive this gift, to appreciate it for what it truly is, and then offer it to others in that same capacity. If that were the case, then every human being on Earth would be the foci of a vast network of love, and everyone would be connected with the energy of love, and nobody would ever have to feel pain, or need, or selfish desire. Real love would destroy the ego completely; a necessity if people are to be able to experience love as God intended. However, I don't think that most people would benefit from this destruction of self. It would most likely be a traumatic thing, experienced as despair, pain, and fear... much like receiving, yet rejecting God's love. Possibly it is the same thing, since the self is the result of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and when the fruit was taken and eaten, God's love was rejected. Mankind wasn't ready for this realization of self, and because of this, our spiritual development has been stunted and cauterized. We are not what God intended us to be, and therefore, we don't know how to love.

The enemy has enclosed our hearts and sealed us inside, making each of us a terrible fortress against God's love. These fortresses seem impenetrable. They rob us of hope, or even worse, they deny us even the possibility of the existence of hope. However, it is possible to begin chiseling against the stone and mortar of those fortresses, but it isn't easy. Simply knowing which brick to start banging against is in itself a daunting task, which can have the effect of discouraging immediately any such attempt. And although it may take a lifetime to completely destroy this fortress against the Holy Spirit, it is possible to punch tiny pinholes through it... and through these pinholes, God's love can shine through with a brilliance outshining a million galaxies. This is possible for everyone, this beginning, and once real love has been allowed to touch your heart, it's like raising the shades for the first time and realizing that there is a such a thing as daylight, when the very concept of daylight had never existed before. It is knowledge that can never be unlearned; it is the greatest gift yet received... a glimpse of God's love, and the knowledge that it exists. The realization that your heart wasn't meant to be surrounded by brick and mortar and imprisoned in a dark fortress, but as an open vessel to receive the love of God, a bright temple for the Holy Spirit.

Christ Pantocrator Icon - finished

I finished the Christ Pantocrator icon.  Here it is:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Learning karate

After I finished painting the closet in the rent house today, I moved on to the fence in the back yard. I had already gotten a good start on it, but I only get a little bit done each time I work on it. It's not that the fence is so tall, and so long, and that it takes forever to cover the boards with paint, twice, on each side; it's that there are so many nooks, crannies and crevices that I have to fill in with a tiny brush. When I first started on it last Saturday, Fr. Justin came back there to see how I was doing, and the following conversation ensued:

"So, do you feel like Tom Sawyer?"
"Yeah... I tried to explain to Alex how fun it was, but he didn't fall for it." (Saturday was a church cleaning day, and Alex had wandered over, bored out of his skull, to see what us men-folk were doing)
"Ah. Yeah, we should get him to do all the nooks and crannies..."
"...but I think they're all going bowling after the church is cleaned..."

Actually, what was going through my mind as I painted was this:

"Paint-a fence. Up, down. Up, down. Paint-a fence. Up, down. AH-T-T-T-T-T! Like this. Up. Down. Up. Down!"
(after several hours of Paint-a fence)
"Mr. Miagi, I'm finished!"
"Both side?"
"... Not yet."
Up, down... up, down... up, down...

Except I was using a paint roller. I don't think my karate skills improved very much.

Zoe's company

Today at Fr. Justin's rent house, while I was painting the inside of a closet, Zoe decided to be my full time company keeper. I received three grocery lists, to big ones and one little one, and the promise of another one from her 'new book' that smells like bubble gum. Here's an excerpt from today's running commentary:

"Which do you want, Miss Davis? The big one or the little one?" (referring to the grocery lists)
"Just call me if you need any more paint!"
"Have you painted this part yet? Have you painted this part yet? Have you painted this part yet? Have you painted this part yet?"
"Are you gonna paint this?"
"I have four crowns!" (opens her mouth wide to show off four silver caps on her teeth)
"My toothbrush is pink and purple. My old one was just pink. But this one is pink and purple."
"Green is my favorite color too."
"Papa has green tools. See? See? Oh, it's just this that's green." (referring to a green screwdriver)
"When I get older I'm gonna have tools too."
"Do you like bubbles? Huh? Do you like bubbles? Do you like bubbles? Do you like bubbles?"
"Do you have paper at home?"
"Where is your mama?"
"Does your mama have a house?"
"Can you and your mama come to our house and watch 'The Land Before Time?' "
"How is your mama feeling?"
"Do you like Harry Potter? We watched Chamber of Secrets."
"You saw Chamber of Secrets too? You should come to my house and watch it."
"When I get dirty I just jump in the bathtub. This dust is making me dirty."
"Ow! That hurts my ears!" (referring to Fr. Justin sawing outside)
"I like peanut butter and jelly. Do you want one? Mama, he says he don't want one!"
"How did you cross the street Thea? Papa, how did Thea cross the street?"

By the way, Zoe calls everybody Miss, regardless of whether or not they are male or female.

"Mama, Miss Rogers is here! Miss Rogers is here! Hey papa, Miss Rogers is here!"
"I'm not ever gonna go to Miss Anderson's house again. I've never been there, but I'm not going again."
"I'm kidding, I have been there. But I'm not going to Miss Anderson's house again."

And when she's not calling me Miss Davis, she's fudging it up and saying Miss Beavis or Miss Davey of Miss Ash. She would rather just call me Ash, and she does half the time; but if Matushka hears that:

"Zoe, come here."
"Come here, Zoe."
"Zoe, come here."
"Come here right now, Zoe."
"What do you want?"
"I want you to come here right now."
"I gotta get up first."
"Now, Zoe."
"Zoe, come over here right now!"

And at this point, Zoe reluctantly abandons her post as my closet companion sidles away towards Matushka Michelle.

"Zoe, Mr. Davis is your elder. You will call him Mr. Davis when you speak to him."
"No he's not, he's Ash!"
"Zoe! You will respect your elders! You will call him Mr. Davis when you speak to him."
"... !"
"Zoe, what do you say?"
..."Ok. Hey Miss Davis, come watch me blow bubbles!"

And on and on and on and on. Matushka Michelle noticed this and said that in the evening after a hard day, when everybody is tired and all three girls are yammering away non-stop, Fr. Justin mutters to himself "Too many voices... too many voices!" I witness all of this from day to day as I'm out there helping with the work; these people who form this family unit, bickering and chatting and giggling and palavering, bonded together with the love of God. They truly do seem happy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Tonight I was having some trouble. I almost succumbed to it, I was very close to letting it consume me, feelings of self pity and doubt and vitriol. Then I got a grip on it. No, that's not right... a grip was gotten on me. I stopped, sat down, and prayed. And prayed and prayed, forgive me Lord for this, forgive me, have mercy on me, forgive me.

Then I went outside into the beautiful, still night with my cigarette, leaned up against my car, and saw a young mother and her toddler. She was slim, petite, a tiny little blond thing, with an even tinier charge depending on her for everything. As they explored the neighborhood, hand in hand, I thought, this is the love that Jesus, the lord God, has for me. I am the toddler, depending on Him for everything, He is my sole source of comfort and protection. I watched this pair, the child exuberant in his innocent abandon, not yet exposed to the darker things that exist, and the mother, never letting go of his hand as he explored his new and mysterious world, full of possibilities, the lawns of my neighbors. It was dark out, the sun had just set, just a little light. But enough light to see by, to see this demonstration of love displayed before me, so that I might know it. Just enough light to see it. Only such a little bit of light... but enough.

It doesn't take much light, just a tiny bit, for us to see and appreciate God's love for us. We can be so blind to it, that light can be so easily ignored, but it persists if we only choose to let it. Oh Lord God, my Lord Jesus, I am not worthy of such recognition, that you should let your Light be visible to me, such an unworthy thing, who deign to call myself Your servant. Continue to have mercy on me I pray, do not forsake me. Save me from evil thoughts and emotions, let me be a worthy vessel for Thy Spirit. I say this out loud, so that others might see it too.