‘It is Love that moves the Sun and Stars,’ wrote Dante – perhaps Europe’s most famous poet – at the end of his long journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Looking back at my life’s journey I too would say that ‘Love’ is the meaning of life and as I have travelled I have discovered new and ever-deepening dimensions of that Love.
I first experienced love long before I heard the word – I hope at my conception: certainly in the care and love my parents showed me and in the widening circle of the family and first friends. Going to Church, I learned about God’s love in Jesus – but also from the beauty and wonder of the countryside I sensed what Wordsworth called ‘a presence that disturbs with joy of elevated thoughts.’ It was in my early teens that I first sensed God’s love in a personal way. I had gone by myself to a swimming pool and over-confidently ventured into the deep end, where I started to drown and only just clambered out in time. Cycling home, words from a prayer kept coming into my mind – ‘may we show forth our thanks not all with our lips but by giving up ourselves to your service’ – words which I head as a call to be a vicar.
I soon discovered that knowing I was loved by God did not make life any easier at school and certainly not as a conscript in the army – but again I was given words from St Paul to keep my head above water, ‘In whatsoever state I am, therewith I am content.’
But I still thought God – rather like a parent – expected me always to be on my best behaviour. I probably went to church too much, but at one service I was overwhelmed by the sense that God loves me just as I am. I realised that God’s love is a gift that set me free: but it was the generous love of my dear Mary and the of the family that has made that love a reality.
Love is a gift, but like a plant I had to allow it to grow.
In the heat of South India, where I spent a year after university, it grew quite rapidly. Meeting people of other faiths, visiting temples and mosques, reading some of the Upanishads and the poems of the Tamil saints, I came to see that God’s love is for all people and that I could learn from the experience of holy people who had followed a different path. At the time, this was frowned on by Church Leaders.
It was in India too when I was helping at a Leprosy Clinic with some other students one a Muslim, one a Hindu – that I had the dream that people of all faiths were called to serve the poor and to work for peace. Much of my interfaith work has been an attempt to help make that dream a reality.
The greatest challenge to this hope was when I worked for the Council of Christians and Jews and had daily reminders of the horror of the Holocaust both from my reading and from meeting people whose families had been murdered. How can one speak of God’s love in the presence of burning children? My picture of God changed. One Rabbi who became a close friend had spent his teenage years in Auschwitz – but it was there that he had had an experience of God. ‘The question’, he said, ‘was not where was God but where was humanity?’
I came to see that God does not exercise his power by over-ruling human behaviour, because Love is never coercive. Rather God speaks to us in the cry of the hungry and of the tortured is the cry of God. God puts the future into our human hands.
Looking into the evil also forced me to look within. How would I have behaved in other circumstances? The terrorists also are human beings. I deplore their actions. Yet to respond to hatred with hatred, only adds fuel to the fire. Costly as it is, healing comes from the courage and love to forgive or to weep at what we have done.
Increasingly too, I realise that if we are co-Creators with God, our concern must be for all living beings with whom we share this planet and for the natural world.
‘Love is God’s meaning,’ said Mother Julian of Norwich many centuries ago. Little by little we learn more of its meaning and I hope, as she did, that we shall discover that in this love ‘our life is everlasting.’
~Revd. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, an Anglican parish priest and interfaith activist, is Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths and Co-Founder of the Faith & Belief Forum. He and his wife Mary, a social worker and magistrate, have participated in many international movements that seek to bring people of all faiths together to work for peace and to help those in need.
Marcus’ books –also e-books – include ones on the Bible; introductions for Christians to world religions, books on interfaith and spirituality, including Beacons of Light – 100 People who have shaped the Spiritual History of Human Kind;Peace in Our Hearts, Peace in Our World;and edited 1,000 World Prayers and Bridge of Stars.
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