My lifelong friend, Fr. Gerald Waris, about whom I’ve written before in these blogs, used to tell people considering a trip to El Salvador, where he has supported various projects for over 20 years, “It will ruin your life.”
He wasn’t talking about acquiring some dreadful disease, being a victim of a horrible crime or getting involved in an accident. He meant that you would be so moved by the experience of seeing so many people live hope-filled lives in the midst of apparent hopelessness you wouldn’t be able to continue your life quite like before.
And I’ve found that to be true in my trips there. The resilience of most Salvadorans in the face of poverty and deprivation is inspiring. You can’t just return to a life of relative prosperity and plenty. You look at the world differently, and it’s hard to avoid a commitment to help.
The “ah-ha” Moments
The search for God is like that, I believe. The “ah-ha moments” in the process can ruin your life. Cumulatively, they change everything. Pedro Arrupe, former head of the Jesuits who died in 1991, said it best.
Nothing is more practical than finding God; That is, falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination,Will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you up in the morning, What you will do with your evenings, How you will spend your weekends, What you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, And what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
People who have fallen in love with God don’t compartmentalize their faith. They don’t think, “Yes, I’m a believer, but my faith doesn’t apply here. This is about politics.” Or, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but there’s a lot of money involved so my faith doesn’t apply.”
The Big Problem
The big problem for many of us, I believe, is the part about “falling in love with God.” How do you fall in love with somebody, or something, that you can’t see, hear or touch? I believe it’s a process – usually long and obstacle-strewn – that often involves two steps forward and at least one step back. It involves doubt – moments of atheism, perhaps – and a lot of persistence.
The first way of loving God is also the most obvious, but is lost much of the time on most of us: loving other people. The First Letter of John in the Christian Bible is clear.
“If anyone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Your “brother,” of course, includes everybody.
OK, but atheists love others. What about loving God “directly?” In my opinion, that involves what is often referred to as a “spiritual life.” For me, it’s a matter of arriving at a point of such gratitude for what is, and what you’ve been given, you can’t help but know there is a God and that you love him/her.
Cultivated for Thousands of Years
Love of God has been cultivated for thousands of years, beginning with the authors of the Hebrew Bible. The famous passage in the Christian Bible in which believers are urged to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” is from the Hebrew Bible, written hundreds of years before the Christian evangelist Luke mentions it.
But both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are shot through with Love of God. The author of Psalm 18 can’t contain himself: “I love you, Lord, my strength; O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my savior….” The author of the First Letter of John in the Christian Bible writes that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
It all seems to come from a conviction – one that may take time to develop in people searching for God – that we’re the beneficiaries of God’s love and that God has shown that love by all that we are and all we’ve been given.
When we wake up to that, our lives are ruined.