One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life happened a few years ago during a counseling training. The leader of the training invited the participants to join her in a contemplative reading of 1 Corinthians 13. During this reading, however, she logically and biblically (IMHO) substituted a phrase in place of the word love. Instead of reading “love” she read, “Christ shining through my body.” I encourage you to take a few moments now to try it – “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t have Christ shining through my body, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…”
This exercise still has a profound impact on me. I think it’s because it reminds me of two very important truths about love:
- Loving another is always preceded by being loved by another.
- Giving and receiving love is a somatic experience.
I easily forget that my ability to love others is in direct correlation to my capacity to experience God’s love for me. I cannot vulnerably give love if I am not vulnerably receiving love (1 Jn 4). It seems that my lack of receptivity to God’s love is at the core of my depravity. My sin is born out of my mistrust. “He doesn’t love you” the evil one says. “You can’t trust that his love alone will be enough.” So, I do a lot of really amazing and impressive deeds (most of which look like “love”) in my efforts to prove my love-worthiness. And when I get tired of managing my love-worthiness, well, I can do some pretty corrupt and shameful deeds too. This, then, just reinforces my unloveliness and sends me right back into my managing again. What a vicious and exhausting cycle! And it makes me question so much of what I have done in the “name of love.” We can do a lot of really impressive work motivated by fear, shame, and guilt, can’t we? Thanks be to God for his Spirit in me who often whispers the words of John, “This is real love—not that you loved God, but that he loved you…” The Spirit and Presence of Christ in me helps me quiet down and sit down and receive His love. Loving another is always preceded by being loved by another.
Granted, this process is a lot easier to teach than it is to practice. One of the reasons for this is that truly receiving love is not merely an exercise in cognition, it’s also exercise in emotion. It requires the involvement of our bodies not just our brains. And who has time for their body to catch up to their brain? If most of us are honest, we are probably thinking “ain’t nobody got time for ‘dat.” But that is exactly what the reading from 1 Cor 13 that I mentioned above did for me. It allowed my body to catch up with my brain. It’s easy to forget that emotions are more than ideas in our minds (anxious, afraid, angry, calm), they are sensations in and states of our body (pressure, tense, tingling, relaxed). The implications of this truth are severe: we are experiencing disembodied love. That begs the question then: are we receiving love at all? I won’t try to answer that but it’s worth our reflection. At the very least, our dis-integrated brains and bodies leave our souls longing for a deeper, richer, and truer experience of being loved. Giving and receiving love, in the truest sense, is a somatic (bodily) experience.
Love truly is Christ in me, the Light of the World, shining through my body.
P.S. It’s worth noting that we not only have difficulty receiving love from God, but we also struggle to vulnerably receive love from others. Take note over the next 24 hours and try making a list of all of the ways you notice (even small ways like someone holding the door for you) love coming toward you. Paying closer attention always has significant impact on our souls.