So Much Love To Give
Presented on Zoom April 25th, 2021 by Rev. Ben Robins
I have an image in my mind of a grandfatherly man delighted by a baby. His face is glowing, a big smile, as he makes eye contact with the baby. His hands do something like this [gesture]. The baby loves it, and does something like this [gesture]. The man is completely energized. His chi is focussed and vibrant. His heart is open.
This man whom I’m speaking of, this man delighted by the baby, is someone I know, but I don’t know him well. I don’t know what is in his heart. I do know that, most of the time that I see him, there is no baby. The contrast is astonishing. With the baby, he is vibrant. Without the baby, his demeanour is rather neutral. He is mostly just going through the motions of life. He looks lonely.
If you never saw him with a baby, you might think that he was a curmudgeon, incapable of love. For days, weeks, months at a time, he barely forms a smile.
But we have seen his love flare up. We know that he has an enormous capacity for love. His love is like the engine of a Ferrari that is stuck in the wrong gear. The baby gets him in gear and he’s off.
This man enthralls me because I can relate to him. The love inside me doesn’t always have a way out. Often when I join a new community I can be a wallflower for a while. I’ve got so much love to give, but people I’ve just met aren’t ready for it. Normally, it’s not appropriate to tell a group of people you’ve just met, I love you, and so I hold in the love. I need to be a wallflower for awhile before it’s safe for my heart to come out.
Even without a pandemic, there can be too many reasons that our love doesn’t shine.
I’ve said one reason: Your love isn’t welcome.
Reason #2 why you might not give love: You’ve been burned by love. Your love was accepted, but only for a time. This can be a heavy one, and my heart goes out to you. Being heartbroken one too many times, and not wanting to go through that again. Perhaps that’s how you found your way here, a place where it feels safe to love.
Reason #3 why you might not give love: You’ve turned into a curmudgeon. This is especially possible during a pandemic. I went for a bike ride the other day, and a car passed too close to me, and I felt myself frown. A few minutes later, I saw a pack of youngsters not social distancing, and I realized that I wanted to shake my fist in their general direction. I was turning into a curmudgeon on my bike ride. We can be quick to forget what the bike ride of life is all about.
Reason #4 why you might not give the love: You believe this isn’t the place for it. This is the Groundhog Day scenario. Do you know that movie? Bill Murray is stuck in a town he doesn’t want to be in, day after day, month after month. Any love he has inside himself doesn’t matter, because this town isn’t getting it. Maybe your current context doesn’t seem capable of receiving your love, or you don’t know how to love your current context, so you put it on hold.
I want to honour everyone’s history of love. Some of us grew up without love. Some of us grew up with a love that hurt.
That actually feels like enough reasons not to give your love, but I do want to honour other reasons. Maybe you’ve been distracted by career, or hobbies, or addiction.
Maybe you don’t have structures in your life that facilitate love. I know that a lot of men my age have structured their lives such that they are never in touch with their friends. There are no tailgate parties to go to together. We sit at home because that’s the default thing to do.
Sometimes I’ll people-watch. I’ll see people walking down the street alone, looking lonely, and I think, there is so much love inside of them. I wish they had a way to get it out. If only there was a baby nearby, so that they could go [gesture], and then the baby would go [gesture].
Even in normal times, one of the biggest struggles in human life is the struggle of disconnection. And then you add in a pandemic. Social isolation, financial distress, health anxiety. We can feel both stuck and overwhelmed. Our ability to love gets crowded out.
So let’s find some space for love. We’re going to listen to a song called I Am Sending You Light. It’s by the musician and song leader Melanie DeMore, who sometimes travels in UU circles. I service lead for her at the Hamilton congregation, and her love can fill the room. So let’s take in her love.
Video: I Am Sending You Light
I grew up in Kingston. I played soccer in the soccer league for little kids, and the way I remember it, there was a boy in the league and one year he wasn’t there anymore. He got leukemia and he died, at age 8. His mother mourned; you can imagine how much she mourned. And then she found a new direction for her love. She started a fund to raise money to fight leukemia, and she named the fund after her son. It brought the community together. She found new life by helping others not have to go through what she and her family went through.
The human spirit is unbelievably resilient. We go through the valley of the shadow of death, and somehow we come out the other side. Or sometimes we join each other in the valley, and that makes all the difference.
The 16th century priest Martin Luther had an image of someone curled up in the corner, in the dark, in pain, unable to see the light. They are oblivious to any good in the world, entrapped by their own spiritual emptiness. They’re not feeling the love. Our grandfatherly man might be right there, going like this [gesture], but they don’t notice, because they’re curled up in their own sad predicament. They don’t do this [gesture]. How do we get from this [closed gesture] to this [agape gesture]? How do we transform from a hardened heart to a heart overflowing with love?
Religious people have often talked about this, talked about their own experiences of discovering or rediscovering love. If you want to read about it in fancy language, you can google “means of grace”. I prefer down-to-earth language, because this is an essential human experience.
bell hooks defines love as the will to extend one’s self to nurture one’s own or another’s growth. Love is a broadening of the self. Love says, I’m not just going to sit on this park bench alone; I’m going to feed those birds. I’m not just going to smile at babies; I’m going to volunteer at Planned Parenthood. Love is a broadening of the self.
So how do we broaden the self?
There is the unexpected and immediate realization, the flash of realization, that love is good and all beings deserve it. Some people describe this flash of realization as being reborn. You can’t plan to have this experience, it just happens to you.
There is the conscious decision to believe that love is a powerful force in the universe. Some people decry this strategy, because it sounds like you are strategically choosing what to believe instead of believing what is true. A robust thinker might ask, -is- love a powerful force in the universe? But a strategic thinker says, if enough of us believe that love is a powerful force, it -will- be a powerful force. Believing in love is a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why believing in love is the most important thing. Once you believe in centring your life on love, you find countless moments throughout the day where you can choose love.
The pandemic might have made you skeptical that love can flow through you so abundantly, so I’m going to offer you a buffet of love, what in Buddhism are called the Bradmaviharas, the four abodes of love.
#1 Metta. Loving-kindness. Recall that a couple of weeks ago we sang, may I be filled with loving kindness, may you be filled with loving kindness, may we be filled with loving kindness. A lovingkindness practice is always available. When doing the dishes, loving kindness. When cleaning the litter box, loving kindness.
The second thing in our buffet of love is Karuna, or compassion. We tend to each other’s sorrows every week. We scroll the internet, just a little bit, and feel empathy for all of the hurts of the world. Yes, when there is too much hurt in our lives, we can expand our sense of self by caring for each other’s hurt. It’s that sense of care that creates space in us.
The third of the four abodes is Mudita, or celebrating other’s joy. We do this too every week in Joys and Sorrows. Mudita is when our grandfatherly man enjoys the baby’s joy. If there’s not enough good news in your life, be intentional about finding and celebrating good news in your neighbourhood and in the larger world.
The fourth of these Buddhist tips is samatva, or a serene warmth. Sometimes all you can do is pause, listen to your breath, and find a moment of peace.
A pandemic is a great time to become a connoisseur of love. Let love flow through you in a hundred different ways. Love love itself. Love your neighbours even if you don’t say hi. Love the play of sunlight on the trees. Love how your kitchen experiment turns out, regardless of how it turns out. Love yourself. Love all the babies, even if we can’t do this [gesture] for a little bit longer. Take a breath, remember how much love is in you, and let yourself be surprised by how your love can flow.
I’ve gotten to know you a little bit over the last three months. I’ve gotten to know you in a simple way, but it’s a simple way that goes deep. I know that you have so much love to give. May your heart remember what it already knows.