Read this today: “…all men who live according to their five senses and seek nothing beyond the gratification of their natural appetites for pleasure and reputation and power, cut themselves off from that charity which is the principle of all spiritual vitality and happiness because it alone saves us from the barren wilderness of our own abominable selfishness.”
[Thomas Merton: The Seven Storey Mountain]
Like many of you perhaps, I grew up attending church and was well educated in the ways of Christendom. It was around my junior high school years I began to develop this insatiable appetite for pleasure, reputation, and power. I was a child of the sixties, and it was the seventies when I found myself born again into this world of “I can’t get no…satisfaction…but I tried…and I tried.” (I know, that’s a sixties song) Yep, I indulged just about everything. I never really gave up believing in God or Jesus. I gave up religion and chucked it away. Church wasn’t cool. God didn't matter.
My junior year in college my “pray without ceasing” mother encouraged me to take a summer job as a youth intern at the church we both grew up attending and where she still did. It was laughable to me that my mother, knowing I was “not walking with the Lord,” would even consider I might want this job or be accepted to take this job. She was relentless about it though. When I found out it paid a hundred bucks a week for twelve weeks for what I figured was simply playing games with kids I wondered to myself if I could pull off working at a church. Then again, if I applied there could be no way I would be offered the job given the good number of people who knew of my status as a pagan pursuer of the worldly offerings.
I applied for the big bucks job certain, really hoping, I would not get “the job.” But alas, not my status but my mother’s status as a matriarch in the church must have won the day and I was offered the job. I didn’t have the courage to refuse the job despite my absolute reluctance to take it. I was given a date to show up at the church after school let out for the summer and thus, I did show up in my 67 Mustang with a good stash of homegrown Mary Jane in the trunk, me with my long hair and beard hung over from the previous night, ready to work at “the church.”
I recall the night before sitting around with my buds while passing a doob between us answering the question of where we were working this summer. One guy, “I’m working for a roofer.” Another, “Lifeguard.” Still another, “Work’n for a landscaper.” Me, “Uhhh, well boys, I’m working at a church.” Then a roar of laughter, “Brahhhhaaahhhaa!” My first prayer in many years on that first day at work was, “Lord, please help me not to drop the F-bomb while at the church!” I dare say it had to be a miraculous working of God that I was able to keep my mouth clean while at work.
The reason I’m sharing this story related to that quote I posted up top is because it reminded me of how significant the love of God was in starting that chapter of my God journey. It made me recall how in short order over that summer I was introduced to the “charity” of God, better known as the love of God. It started with my boss, youth pastor Ken, who was absolutely very aware of my spiritual condition and extracurricular activities but who had no desire to “set me straight” allowing time and space for me to set myself straight by experiencing the love of God, which began with him.
It is hard to explain but perhaps many of you can relate to how it is the pure love of God experienced through the love of others which more than anything else draws you to the Source of love. I do not recall ever thinking to myself that I needed “to be saved” or that I was such “a sinner” in need of “repentance.” Sure, my life was going in a bad direction, and I was making poor choices, but it was a hunger and thirst for meaning and purpose for which the love of God was the starting point—the main point! It is sad to see a brand of Christianity which believes repentance and salvation is the starting point as if a supernatural experience of God’s love, even if through the love of others, wouldn’t be the starting point—the main point!
Forty-six years ago, it was the love of God which drew me to God. Still, it is only the love of God that draws me to God. It is only the love of God which allows me to understand Jesus. It is only the love of God by which the Spirit imparts peace. It is only the love of God which causes me to course correct my life as needed (daily) and keeps me pointed in the right direction—even when walking backwards. It is only the love of God the world needs and what the world wants. Because love truly “is the principle of all spiritual vitality and happiness because it alone saves us from the barren wilderness of our own abominable selfishness.”