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Welcoming Love

When the Holy Child is born into our hearts
    There is a rain of stars
        A rushing of angels
            A blaze of candles
    This God burst into our lives.
Love is running through the streets.

                     ~ "Godburst" by Ann Weems

Traditionally, the last week in Advent is about Love. As I pondered this theme with the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, it occurred to me that Elizabethand baby John in her belly leaping for joy, were “welcoming love.” Elizabeth wholeheartedly welcomed young Mary, pregnant out of wedlock, but carrying a child who would exemplify an unconditional, all-encompassing, unbounded, wasteful love.

Ann Weems’ poem says that with the birth of Jesus, “Love is running through the streets.” It is a spiritual event for those who choose to partake. Love, this unrestrainable, bold, risk-taking energy is running through the streets.  The question is, will we embrace it, learn from it and open ourselves to accept and live it, or will we watch it through shuttered windows, watching and waiting to see what happens?

It's not unusual to be hesitant to join in. I get that. Because, with great love we risk great pain. Heck, even with a little love we risk pain. We risk the pain of loss, the pain of betrayal, the pain of brokenness.  We’ve all experienced these, and it’s natural to want to pull into ourselves and keep the world out so as to keep from getting hurt again.

The question, as Mark Nepo puts it is: “Which is more debilitating: to be cut off from love or to be scarred by the pain of being hurt?”

Jack Kornfield shares a few stories of what great love looks like when we welcome it into our hearts and lives:

Father Greg Boyle wrote a book called Tattoos on the Heart about his work with gangs in LA’s immigrant community. He was also the priest at Dolores Mission Church. In the 1980s “the church was a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Recently arrived men from Mexico and Central America would sleep each night in the church, and women and children in the convent. One morning, someone had angrily spray-painted across the front steps: WETBACK CHURCH [a nasty racial insult for those who swam across the Rio Grande to illegally enter the US]. Saddened and upset, Father Greg assured those inside, “I’ll get one of the homies to clean it up later.” It was one of the jobs the ex-gang kids he worked with would do. But to his surprise, Petra, a normally quiet member of her church, stood up and addressed the congregation in no uncertain terms, “You will not clean this up! If there are people in our community who are despised and hated and left out because they are wetbacks… then we shall proudly call ourselves a wetback church.” 

Love is running through the streets!

Dr. Jerry Flaxstead describes his initial revulsion to a patient named Frank, an angry and obese homeless man who had diabetes, was unbathed, and had gangrenous legs and open sores. When he did not take his meds for his mental disorder, Frank would flail his arms and spew epithets and curses at those around him. Frank was admitted repeatedly to the hospital. For Dr. Flaxstead, Frank was a patient who was hard to love.

One day, Frank was brought to the hospital with congestive heart failure. The diagnosis was serious, and Dr. Flaxstead tended him as best as he could. Then twenty members of the down-home neighborhood church in whose shelter Frank sometimes slept arrived. They brought flowers and homemade food, chanted and sang hymns to Frank, creating a chorus of care and communion. When Dr. Flaxstead returned to Frank’s room after tending to another patient on the ward, he saw that Frank was smiling, bathed in their love. The doctor realized that he had never really seen Frank at all. 

The message of Christmas is that we must risk. We must leap in welcome and risk grabbing the hand of love and running through the streets, daring to go where it will take us. We must continue to give our own love with all of our hearts and souls if we want to live life wholeheartedly, abundantly, passionately. We must love by welcoming the outcast, and loving the seemingly unlovable. We must follow the example of a small child who brought great love and refused to stop, even when he didn’t receive love in return, even when he was hurt over and over again by rejection, betrayal and hatred.

Divine love demands that we risk, put our light out there for the world to see, invest time, energy and love in each other, and work things out when we hurt each other (as we inevitably will).

I know we can do it. We can risk loving the world deeply, even as screwed up as it is right now.  And we must, because it is love that holds back the darkness.

Merry Christmas!

Kaye