Some time ago, I stood with a congregation of Christians not of my denomination. To name it would distract from the point. I stood and noticed their differences, and how their differences could lead either closer to God, or if handled poorly by the human heart, could lead into distraction.
But, I thought, is not every denomination full of such perils? Where one breaks away to avoid a pitfall, it only runs until it stumbles into another. Everywhere, there are those who seek and find God through the particulars of their tradition, and there are those who do not, though they have the same tradition. In every life, there are times we seek and find God through one thing or another, and then there are times we get distracted by the things we find him in–prayers once alive becoming dry words, motions and images and music that once drove our minds and hearts to humility and glory now only playing on our emotions, or not even that.
And I thought, how? How is it that we can love the Lord our God so much, and yet do such a poor job of it? As a Church, as fractured denominations, each seeking to be more deeply and truly Christ’s, as struggling local congregations, as stumbling families, as broken individuals… how is it that we who love God so much should love him so, well, badly?
And as I wondered, I watched a child, perhaps two years of age, running around on lovely marble floors, past holy symbols, babbling to himself about whatever he found. And then as prayers and incense rose before us, as we stood hushed with heads all bowed, this child turned and saw his mother, doing the same.
The toddler’s face lit with a happy light, and with a scream of gladness that pierced through the worship, he ran to her and flung himself against her legs, wrapping his arms around her and looking up with adoration.
And I thought, ahhh. That’s how. How sweetly, how truly and strongly, and yet how full of tantrums and forgetting and impropriety and lack of understanding, do we love the Lord our God. How at the wrong moments do we scream it, and cause others to cringe. How at the wrong moments do we clumsily toddle into the wrong places and do what he might not have us to do. How at his correction do we fuss and misunderstand.
How poorly do we love the Lord, and yet how much and truly.
And God, like the ever-patient parent, however poorly we show our love, (and even at those moments we forget him, or are upset and decide for a time that we hate him), so much and perfectly loves us, loves we who have not learned to love so well.
As my priest preached this morning, reminding me of these old musings: If we try to listen to God and follow him, we’re going to fail and get some things wrong. But as the good father whose small child has industriously taken part off of the car, and given it to his father as a Christmas gift, he does not rail and spurn our attempts, but is delighted at the dearness of our attempt, however poor, to show our love.
The good father says, “Thank you so much! That’s so sweet of you, and you must have worked so hard… But sweetie, even when we want to give Daddy a gift, we don’t take the steering wheel off of Daddy’s car.” And then he fixes up the mess, or helps the child to do so, and explains how better to give, next time.
We much and poorly love you, Lord,
We much and poorly love;
We scant and poorly give to you
That giv’n us from above.
We much and poorly love your face,
We much and poorly seek;
Your Kingdom come, your will be done,
Through hands so poor and weak.
We much and poorly love your sheep,
We much and poorly try
To call them to your feeding grounds,
As yet we’re drawing nigh.
We much and poorly love your will,
We much and poorly strive
To see your blessed building built,
Let your Life in us thrive.
You much and richly pour your Self,
Your Spirit and your Son,
Upon and through our weakling loves,
Until your Kingdom come.
(For more such poetry, here’s my website.)