During my summer of crazy tri-training I had a little phone trouble. There were a few days when I wasn’t getting notifications of messages, so when trying to organize my standing swim-breakfast date with Brendan and Nicole they left message after message and I thought they were blowing me off.
It seemed reasonable that they would want a morning off from me stomping up the vine-covered back stairs at 7:30 to eat their English muffins, so I went straight from the pool to class and didn’t think too much about it. Around noon-time I checked my email and saw about 15 different messages from them. Where are you? Are you ok? What did you do this morning? We went to the pool and looked for you.
For some reason I take great comfort in the image of Brendan, dressed for work, standing at the front desk of the pool in the humidity and heat, asking our favorite lifeguard to check the bottom of the pool.
Those two were married yesterday, in a liturgy that was sacramental in every sense of the word. Over pasta and breadsticks about six weeks ago we put together a ritual that included four languages, three blessings, two pieces by Handel, and a procession to beat the band.
The Gospel reading was the Beatitudes, and as I listened to those words read while my beautiful friends stood side by side, and our other friends and their families surrounded them in joy, my breath was taken away by how perfect everything was. They already live the Beatitudes, they already live the Good News. They are peacemakers who hunger and thirst for justice. They are pure of heart and merciful. The truth that was confirmed in the light of that Gospel passage isn’t displayed in piety or lofty speech, but in the work those two do for other people, the love they show their friends, and that they went out of their way to look for me at the bottom of the pool.
Yes, there is a special grace involved in their sacramental marriage. Still, even before the vows, the air in the church was simply crackling with grace. By doing good work their whole lives they have surrounded themselves with other generous and loving people, and the power of the community’s love was nearly tangible.
Because I’m so practical (and cynical) I know it seems a little incongruous that I am often talking or writing of love. If love were only the romantic, indulgent kind displayed on all of the wedding cards that I browsed the other day, then I doubt I could be bothered for very long. But because of God and the people in my life I know fierce, diligent love. I know productive, gritty love. I know relentless, inescapable, sustaining, thrilling love. I have learned Father Zosima’s lesson that “active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared to love in dreams”, and led by the example of the people in my life I have tried to plunge into that love.
Nicole and Brendan let me tag along on their adventures in goodness, and I am so grateful. This morning I congratulated them once more and sat on the Common with a few of our other friends from our volunteer year. The sun was shining and the breeze was cool: a perfect September morning. We talked about work and family and told dumb jokes, and then I went off to noon mass. Sitting in the pew (a rare occurrence) I had trouble focusing, thinking about the previous day. In my distractedness clarity hit me like a ton of bricks: my whole life is a sacrament. The outward signs of grace are not objects – not my apartment or car or job. Relationships manifest grace, and I have better ones than I deserve.
Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Song of Songs 8: 6-7a
“But because of God and the people in my life I know fierce, diligent love. I know productive, gritty love. I know relentless, inescapable, sustaining, thrilling love. I have learned Father Zosima’s lesson that “active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared to love in dreams”, and led by the example of the people in my life I have tried to plunge into that love.”
Exactly how I feel. Nothing wrong with romantic, warm fuzzy love, indeed it’s a much needed commodity in this world, but the love expected of us by God is much more than just that kind of love.