Many saints and theologians talk about knowing God. Some say it is the goal of the Christian life, and surely everything along the spiritual journey leads to knowledge of God. The same could be said of loving God. But I’m stuck in a spiritual childhood when it comes to these things—unable to soar to the heights of loving and knowing God. The best I can do, most days, is believe that God loves and knows me. And being loved and being known are enough, for now.
Two things recently reminded me of this. The first was this past Sunday when I visited Apostles by-the-Sea Anglican Church in Rosemary Beach, Florida. The first words out of the pastor’s mouth were “Jesus loves you.” The authentic smile on his face and the joy in the faces of the people in that small chapel reflected that love to me. His second words were also printed in the Sunday bulletin:
The first thing we’d like you to know is that we love Jesus and we want everyone to know the love and joy of living life in fellowship with him…. People are never quite the same after they encounter Jesus. Some are fed. Some are healed. Some are forgiven. Some get mad! Some are known more deeply than ever before.
I embraced the reality of being known more deeply. And as a first time visitor, at that moment I believed that God loves me, and as we sang hymns and recited Scripture and prayers, I heard my own grownup voice telling God that I loved Him, too.
The second experience was my visit with my mother in the nursing home in Jackson, Mississippi, yesterday. It was so hard to leave Seagrove Beach after four glorious days in my favorite place on earth, and stopping in Jackson to see Mom wasn’t necessarily making the trip home easier. It was just the right thing to do, or as Father Philip Rogers said in his homily at St. John Orthodox Church this past Sunday (I wasn’t there but a friend told me about it), “It’s what we do.” (Something he learned from his mother. I can’t wait to listen to the rest of his homily once it’s posted online.)
Anyway, when I got to the nursing home, Mom was dressed (wearing someone else’s glasses) and in the dining room with the other residents listening to some really good country music. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, so they were serving lots of green refreshments and everyone had on green beads. Mom was smiling and fingering her shiny beads when I pulled up a chair beside her. (The aids can’t find Mom’s glasses and thought these belonged to her. Hopefully their owner isn’t too blind and they’ll sort it out soon.)
“Hi, Mom! It’s Susan. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.” And I gave her a kiss. She always puckers up when she sees my lips approaching hers—and I love that her kissing reflex hasn’t been destroyed by the Alzheimer’s. But so much else is gone. She no longer knows me, and that makes me sad. But then I thought about how important it is that she is known. By me. By God. By the sweet people who work at the nursing home and always smile and say, “Hi, Miss Effie! Oh, look—your daughter is here today!”
We clapped (and I sang along) while the musician played and sang “Margaritaville” and I laughed at the irony. I had just driven six hours from the beach to the nursing home to find Jimmy Buffet bringing joy to a roomful of people who would probably never see the beach again in their lifetimes. And yet his music was there. And that music—and the green beads, cookies and punch—were tangible ways in which these people were being known. Being loved.
As I enter in—a few days late—to the Orthodox season of Lent, which began on Monday, I plan to look for ways to see that God loves me and knows me. Participating in last night’s Compline service at St. John helped, as the many readings of Holy Scripture and the beautiful Lenten hymns washed over my soul. And hopefully, as Lent continues until we celebrate Pascha on May 1, I’ll step a little bit closer to the experience of knowing and loving God right back.