‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ 1 John 4:8
‘We love because he first loved us’ 1 John 4:19
‘love one another as I have loved you’ John 13:34
Read: Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-24
Some sickness is easy to diagnose, like blotches on skin or a fevered brow. Other sicknesses are more difficult to detect. Silent. Quiet. Like tears shed in the night. Because a beating heart is not always a thriving heart. A brave smile is not always a happy one. A rise and fall of lungs is not always a breath of fresh air enlivening a soul. A quiet inhale can be an empty sigh, a longing unfulfilled, an emptiness that gnaws in the silence of an empty room, an empty heart.
Loneliness has become a human epidemic. The silent deconstruction of souls, the quiet acquiescence to the lived-lie that relationships aren’t essential, that community is expendable, that human connection doesn’t matter.
When economics is our sole bottom line, human wholeness isn’t. Money can’t love, can’t care, can’t feel. The stuff we stuff into the holes in our souls can’t satiate our need for connection. All our technological advance cannot replace our need for human touch, human connection, human laughter, human love. Because we’re human. Human. Though the systems we create often treat us as machines, we’ve never been very good at becoming them.
In the thrumming, humming network of my garden, emerald flashes in light, dancing around red, buzzing around green. I watch the hummingbirds suckle at the bottlebrush tree in their dance of give and take; receiving sustenance, reviving energy, giving pollination, giving the tree the chance to spread and grow. Sunlight feeds them both, feeds them all, water nourishes everything, in nature’s great wild dance of connected interdependence.
These tangible, invisible threads seamlessly knit everything together, hold everything together. Holding life. Together. Threads of this living web, connect life to life to life producing yet more abundant life, threading, weaving, cradling, like a safety net catching life when it falls; feeding it, flourishing it, thriving it back on it’s feet.
There are physical ecosystems. And there emotional ecosystems. Souls need ecosystems just as organisms do, emotional ecosystems catching us when we fall, spiritual ecosystems giving us the courage to fly through the air, social ecosystems giving us confidence that we’ll be caught, confidence that underneath everything there is something other than nothingness, something other than emptiness, something other than loneliness. Something other than the silence of an empty room and an empty heart.
We are individuals and yet we are more. We humans need more than just our selves to fully be ourselves. Our souls require connection to flourish and thrive and grow. Without this safety net of belonging and love we fall. We fade. We fail. We become less than we were created to be. Less human. Less whole.
Breathed into life by Love, we are our Father’s children. God is love (1 John 4:8). It’s the way He is. It’s who He is. We were created in love, by Love for love. It’s the way we are. It’s who we are.
No matter how strong, self sufficient and independent we like to think we are, every human being needs community to thrive as a human being. From the very first human that ever drew breath, to every human being that walks this earth today, this is our blessing and this is our curse: We need love. We need community. We need each other. We need God. Without all these threads woven together into the human ecosystem we fall, with nothing underneath to catch us.
Our story, the human love story, begins at the very beginning.
The ancient story of Genesis, our genesis, the beginning of all our beginnings, is woven in rhythm and repetition, like a repeating drum beating time. Everything is spoken into being through God’s word. When God speaks it into being, it simply is. ‘Let there be…and it was so’, ‘Let there be’… ‘and it was so’, ‘Let there be’… ‘and it was so’, again and again and again. Life rushes to unfurl itself and everything is patterned ‘according to it’s own kind’, ‘according to it’s own kind’, ‘according to it’s own kind’… and God sees it is all ‘good’, ‘good’ and again, ‘good’. And the rhythm repeats like a beating heart, a beating drum, like a memorable children story, easy to hold onto after the telling is done.
But then this thing happens. This breaking out of the pattern, this slowing of the beat. Hush. Still. Wait. Something new arrives in the text. The repetition changes. There is no longer a ‘Let there be’ and an ‘and it was so’, neither is there an ‘according to it’s kind’. And it wasn’t just ‘good’, it was ‘very good’.
All at once the rhythmic drum moulds into melody, repetition becomes refrain and the triune God, YHWH, the creator of all things, sings! Here, at the beginning of us we have the first example of poetry in the Bible known as ‘poetic parallelism’ woven with heightened speech and poetic diction*. When God created human beings a lyrical lilt enters his His words, they become a poem, a song, a melody woven in light.
‘Let Us make humankind in Our image, according to Our likeness;…
… So God created humankind in His own image, in the image of God he created Him; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:26 & 27)
‘Let Us’, the plural word meaning more than two, at least three. And the book of John reveals Jesus ‘was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made’ (John 1:1- 3). At the moment of our birth, the birth of all our breaths, three hearts lean low and together sing us into existence with harmonies in three parts, a soaring crescendo of creation. And this breath breathed deep in song becomes the breath that fills our lungs. Becomes us. And we become. Human.
Even now you’ll find it buried deep within your soul, this song born of His Breath in you, this song that was placed there at the beginning of all your days, with lyrics lingering, longing for you to know, longing for you to awaken to the melody… ‘You are a child of God made in His image, created like Him, according to His likeness’. And when you let your spirit hear, and when your soul remembers, you’ll sense it in your breathing, hear it in your core as your heart drums out the beat, ‘I am loved, I am loved, I am loved, I am loved. I am a child of God’.
And love, ever since unfolds itself in song; the first song recorded in the scriptures was by the Creator about humankind, and the second song soon after by the first human man about the creation of the first human woman (Genesis 2:23). And love is still our most popular song theme.
This story of this beginning, the birth of all our births, the genesis of all our breaths, though it took place before time was written down, it was eventually written down by Moses and sung back to the Hebrew people when they were fresh out of slavery, with nothing left; fresh out of their humanity. Hearing this song for the first time, these ex-slaves, they were hearing their worth for the first time. No other God so loved mankind that He gave… a whole world of goodness… and Himself… His presence with them. God is love. It’s who He is. We are His children. Loved is who we are.
Whenever the song gets out of tune, whenever the words get muffled by life, remember,
Love is the reason you exist. Love is your name, because Love is the name of your Father (1 John 4:8) and you are just like Him. Loved is who you are.
Thomas Merton names it like a dictionary definition of us, “To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”
In the garden at the beginning of all our beginnings, before the breaking of all our being, love was everywhere. All the abundant gifts of God spoke abundantly of Gods abundant love. There was no lack of love because there was no lack of God.
There was just one thing in all of creation (before the breaking of all creation) that was not good.
‘The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’’ Genesis 2:18
The animals were not enough (Genesis 2:19-20) and not even communion with God alone was enough. God wanted human community and connection for His children, He wanted for us what He always had.
Our God is three in one, a triune community existing in loving relationship, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And our breath breathed into us by Love has woven into the sinews of our hearts this need, this drive this yearning for community. We are simply not whole without it. It’s built into our DNA, into the structure of our souls. Our brains as babies need connection and affection to develop physical and emotional wholeness. Community helps us thrive, but social isolation deconstructs us from the inside out causing debilitating physical and emotional illness.
Love is not a human fad, a whimsical past-time, a giggly game teenagers play, it is a human requirement for life, as essential as the air we breath. We are primed for love, because we were created by Love, in love, for love.
It was not good for humankind to be alone in the beginning of all things and it still isn’t today. But love is sometimes easier said than done, and sometimes loving leaves us un-done.
Even as I first begin to write this story down, this story, the story of love, the love that began all loves. It’s on this day that my beautiful daughter stomps downstairs in a rage and my impatience gets the better of me and I yell and she yells back and ‘Love is patient and love is kind’ (1 Corinthians 13) and it looks like love is nowhere in all this flooding frustration. It is not good for humankind to be alone, and yet it doesn’t always feel good to be together either.
On this planet that spins on chords of love, in this world that was forged by Love for us, we bearers of the image of God, children born of love, we forget our breath, forget our song and treat each other like dirt. If ‘love is patient and love is kind’, well there are days on earth it can look like love is nowhere.
We humans, we forget our very name. We forget that love is patient and love is kind, we forget that love is givenness and grace. We inflict our anorexic ‘love’ on one another, a love starved of gentleness and grace, a love starved of our first love. We cannot love in wholeness because our hearts are in pieces, and our only hope for wholeness is the perfect love of God. This is not a theory, a religious ideology or theological concept. It is an invitation.
So the day I’m doing my final edit for this writing, this writing you are reading right now, as I’m weaving words on paper all about love, connection and community and how loved we are by God, I’m sitting in my kitchen, trying to think, trying to gather the worn threads of my mind together as overwhelming mayhem frays the edges of my soul.
My kids are cooking dinner. All around me, there’s this layering clanging chaos, as my son cuts onions too close to his thumb, my daughter grates cheese on both the bench and the floor, our house guest cooks food while dodging in and out of children, as his daughters (aged two and four) dance unsupervised around the kitchen. My husband has had a headache for two days now, my daughter is pouting, reluctant to cook, and then my son forgets to check the macaroni and it burns itself dry, gluing globs of burned gloop to the base of the pan. And no amount of scraping is getting that macaroni off the bottom. And no amount of biting my lip is gonna get me through this moment. And we (like you) are all on lock down together in the middle of a global pandemic. And my mum is a whole spinning planet away and I wish she was here right now.
So, feeling overwhelmed, I slip upstairs to find space to breathe, and sit sullen in the corner of the verandah. And I count all the ways it is all too much, living far from family, far from home, with biting lip fears of all this pandemic means, with struggling friends leaning on us and developing world stresses wearing on us. I feel thin and worn out and empty. “It’s too much”, I whisper to the evening breeze, “I don’t have enough”. Not enough patience, not enough kindness, not enough support, not enough energy. Not enough love. Not enough.
The sun is slipping below the horizon spreading pink across the sky. An American Kestral alights on the telegraph wire and silhouettes against all the rosie pink. The breeze dances gently all round.
“Is my love enough?” I hear God reply, whispering into the stillness of my heart, with the gentle stillness of His still small voice, “Is My love enough?”. And I feel Him smiling strength back into my soul, breathing life back into my bones. And I breathe in, long and deep and slow. And I know it is. Enough. “Let go of all you are trying to do and hold onto Me” He whispers, “then do everything through Me. Your reservoirs are not enough. Mine are endless”.
Endless love. Like an ocean right there, fuelling, filling, reviving, restoring.
Because the truth is, we alone don’t have what it takes to really love each other. But He does. We can’t sustain ourselves in the given-ness and grace that real love requires. But He can.
I return downstairs strangely revived and hug my daughter and look her in the eyes, my husband is helping the kids stir the sauce in the pot and I begin to scrub the macaroni off the pan, before finding the lettuce for my son to chop.
And this room that just a moment ago was all chaos and fragmentation, is now woven in light and laughter and all the glorious messiness of life lived in community. Together. With Him. With Him through whom there is always enough.
And this is the strange reality that feels as magical as a fairy tale but is actually a tried and trustworthy truth; I don’t have the resources to sustain all that real love requires. But He does. And the more I love through Him, the more that love spills out on all around me. And I begin to see. I see My daughter of thirteen lean low and share a joke with our small house guests. I see my son of ten courageously prepare a salad for them and us (without severing his thumb off in the process). I see my tired husband find another gear and make all the children laugh around the table at dinner.
I see all this around me and feel the change within me, and this realisation grows in my mind and my heart; when God became my enough, quietly He spilled over everywhere to become theirs too, His love splashing everywhere all around on everyone. I guess that’s what oceans are; drenching, uncontainable. Endless.
So, this is love: ‘We love because He first loves us’ (1 John 4:19). It’s not a religious concept, a Sunday school memory verse, or a theological theory. Love is a life lived with Him, in Him, in love. In the complex messy reality of human community.
We are only ourselves, whole and alive when we let the unfathomable unending love of God sink in beyond our brains, pumping through our veins, through to our beating heart. This love and only this love releases, restores and renews us, flourishing us and thriving us back on our feet, giving us the strength to keep on loving when all our other resources run out.
Unless the song is strong in our hearts, the first refrain of love in our soul, wholeness in love will always elude us. That is why Jesus says the most important commandment, the rule on which all other rules rely, the law underlying all laws (laws of nature and laws of human nature) is the whole-hearted love of God. Jesus, He named it like pin on a map, like the one thing that matters, the one thing that makes our lives make sense, makes our pieces whole again. The most important law. The one important thing…
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 37-40
If we want to truly love, we need first to truly look, look into the loving face of God, loving Him with all we are. And then we need to truly listen, listen to the love He has for us, we the imperfect ones with a hundred bruises on our hearts and a thousand mistakes in our rear view mirrors. And then, only then, we will be equipped to live our lives through His love, His strength, His endless ocean of patience and kindness towards every person we meet, ourselves included.
In this sacred tapestry of life, when the dark threads are woven alongside light ones, when tears and laughter are entwined together in one long breath of being, He is there with us, singing, threading, weaving, not as the great weaver removed from all we are, but as part of the threads, part of our essential human ecosystem, the Breath of life within us that constantly whispers our names calling us into ourselves, reminding us who we are.
Love is our name, because love is His name. God’s great mission is to re-humanise humankind, to breathe life back into our empty souls and awaken again in us the irrepressible joy of being. To remind us of the song He placed in our hearts right from the very beginning. His love is everywhere. Breathe it in. Live in it. Let it draw you up into who you really are at the very core of your being, beyond all the scars and bruises, beyond all the miseries and mistakes. Home. Home in your own beautiful beating heart.
When the human family breaks down, when our biological family breaks down, when the worn out threads of our own human heart breaks down, God’s love doesn’t break down, doesn’t wear out, doesn’t give up. It’s endless, vaster than the ocean, wider than a universe of light.
And It is only in this love of God that we find the perseverance, patience and kindness to really love each other, because real love is not a feeling, but a gift, the free gift of ourselves given into the emptiness of the world, the emptiness of each other. We receive the love we need by giving love to others. This is the paradox of love, the more you give it away through Him, in Him, with Him, the greater it grows in you, around you, for you.
Whether right now you are alone, in the silence of an empty room, an empty heart, or whether you are right now overwhelmed by the cost that loving others requires of you, remember, ‘We love because He first loves us’, He loved you first. He loves you more. Fill yourself up with His love, from His endless reservoir of love, and from that place, only from that place, walk out to love your world; This world right here, right now, this world that needs real love more than ever before, a world of people on lockdown, needing to know they are not alone. Needing to know they are loved. Endlessly.
And this was the new commandment Jesus gave shortly before His death, ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34) . It is here in His company on His road to the cross that we finally begin to glimpse, begin to comprehend, the depth of love God has for us…
Journalling the Journey
Read again 1 John 4:19 ‘We love because he first loved us’
In what ways would your love for others be strengthened if you fully allowed yourself to believe and live in the reality of God’s love for you?
‘Through Jesus Eyes’ Photographic Challenge
Capture some ‘soul selfies’, selfies that are not all about your face, your appearance, your projections, your image. A Soul selfie is not a picture of your face, but a picture of your soul, a photo revealing what God is speaking into your heart this day. Really a soul selfie is more about God than it is about self. So often it is our idea of who we think we are, our ‘self’ image, our selfishness that gets in the way of us hearing God and becoming our true selves in Him. Listen for his voice, let Him lead you. Let Him direct the pictures you take, the things you focus in on. In finding Him, you will find yourself. Not your ‘selfie’ self, but who you truly are, underneath your skin, underneath the masks and the makeup.
Capture a moment all in light today that speaks to you about love. The real sort. The sort that gives, the sort that costs. The sort that God loves us with. Share with others and encourage them with what God has been revealing to you about His love. #ThroughJesusEyes #Loved #LongWalk
*C. John Collins, ‘Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary And Theological Commentary’.
All photos are taken by Liz Campbell excepting…
Sunset Silhouettes of three girls, taken by Dan Evenhuis
Liz kissing baby Zoë, taken by Caroline Harrison