"And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love."
Songs of Innocence and Experience
I have always loved these words, ever since I first met them in my class on the Romantic poets in my second year of studying English Literature at university. They were like pools of water in the dry land of cynicism and godlessness among many writers through the centuries. Those words, along with other noble sentiments from some of the few Christian or Christianized poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists that one can find among the pages of history, helped me to hear God's voice when I wasn't regularly feeding on His Word.
But I believe the words themselves are timeless, even for devout Christians. We can struggle, even in our devotion, to discern what life is all about. The cacophony of demands upon our time, the confusion and terror in the global village, the ever increasing war upon our inner peace and joy - all of these add up to one question: What is worth doing?
And in the end I believe we come back to that same place that most people do, whether or not they are Christian. They come back to this timeless truth, that life is all about learning to love and be loved. As Christians we may explore those truths in deep and wider ways as we experience the glory and wonder of God's unconditional love for us, but I imagine, and know for myself, that the challenge is huge in a human sense of just learning to love and continue to love those human beings with whom we have regular contact.
I am often heard to quote this Irish saying:
"To live above with the Saints we love,
Ah that is the purest glory;
To live below with the Saints we know,
Ah, that is another story."
And I must freely admit that the context for my sharing it has been my own cynicism about other Christians and their attitudes, particularly when I have been hurt and misunderstood by them. So the lesson, the learning for me, of course is most of all about the poverty of my own spirit, my own love, as one of the Saints about whom others might share that saying.
I have been struck by the particularity of love, and the way that God helps us to show it, when we partner with Him in bearing beams of love. We have seen that in the beautiful details of Susan and Brenda's story about their father and their family, in Belinda and Brenda and Robert's caring for their mother, in the details about rubbing backs and sharing breakfast, in waiting for doctors and praying with folded hands. We have heard it before in the struggles for Frank and Ang and Nicky, and all those we pray for, through this blog and in all our private realms.
I recall the amazing way God worked out the details on the last morning of my mother's life. For months I had wondered if she might die when I was at class at seminary in Toronto, when I would be out of town for 24 hours. I didn't consciously pray that I would be present when Mum died, but that was indeed my desire. Mum began to go down quickly a few days before I would go to class, and I had told my professor that I wasn't sure if I would have to miss class one week. But it was hard to make plans each week for transportation and all the rest, as I was using buses in the middle of the night, or rides with a friend. Somehow I made the decision, on March 30th of last year, that I would not take the offered ride and that I would miss my class. My spirit was telling me, as I was learning to bear the beams of love for my mother, which was not easy, that this was such a time. Yet I didn't know how fast it would be.
The very next morning I went in to see Mum when I would have been walking in to my class in Toronto. She was already unconscious, and she died in my arms a few hours later. I had time to call my sister and nephew to be with us, and together we watched her cross the threshold into the presence of God and the time at last to live above with the Saints we love. Until the end of my days I will be touched by that beam of love that I was able to bear.
It is always a thrill when we see others learning to bear these beams. We bless Belinda and Susan as they speak for all of us yearning to be there for others, leaning on God's grace. I think we will always feel like beginners in this school, and I guess that is okay, for then it is really not about us, and yet we have the privilege of making beautiful stories out of all kinds of brokenness, in His love.