I’m about halfway through the audio version of Roxanne Gay’s memoir Hunger, in which the activist writes about her relationship with her body, her experience of weighing more than 500 pounds, and the sexual assault that led to her lifetime of overeating. It is a wrenching story that I am experiencing even more intensely because the author reads it herself. I ache for her as she describes her loneliness and shame. I hear her wanting so badly to fit in, trying so hard to be good so she can belong and not disappoint the people who love her.
I just finished her description of going to the gym, in which she alludes to the idea that the gym is for people who are already thin. She knows the idea is absurd, but the feeling is real. I recognize that feeling of not-belonging in a place where everyone else seems to have it together. And I recognize this theme from Father Clay: God’s love is for everyone, and that we can all belong with God, just as we are. That in real love, acceptance of a person comes before and without condition of any kind of change.
This post is inspired by Roxanne Gay, as well as by a blog reader who sent me this line from the gospel of John, noting that Father Clay would have appreciated it:
John 4:7-8 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
I so appreciate Father Clay’s commitment to an unjudging, always-accepting love. This love doesn’t look away from or enable the bad parts of us, but it also doesn’t require us to fix ourselves before it welcomes us in or to change as a condition of staying. I think that’s healing, and the more we shine that healing love on others, the more we can accept it for ourselves, too.
What is the mission that Jesus gave to his followers? To spread the gospel to all nations. That gospel is the Good News that LOVE is really a savior who embraces all who are wounded. The wounds may be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. The two deep wounds are sin and death. The Good News is that LOVE is the healer of these wounds. LOVE is for us.
We are called as the people of LOVE to allow LOVE to work through us to heal those wounds. LOVE works and keeps working primarily through Jesus, but we are called to be coworkers in that mission.
I would like to focus on our being healers of the spiritual wound we call sin. Jesus drew the tax collectors and sinners to him, so an essential part of our mission to become a healer of sin is to acknowledge that we sin, to be grateful for what merciful healing we have received, and to realize that the merciful healing was a free and undeserved gift. Further, we need to recognize that we are continually in need of that merciful healing forgiveness.
Next, we don’t demand that people repent before we minister to them. Change of mind and heart is crucial, of course, but we love and accept them wherever they are in their journey. We are called to love them into that change. LOVE works through our love.
What do I mean by love and acceptance? I mean loving people with empathy – feeling the distress that they are feeling, not blaming or chastising or seeing them as less than ourselves. Also, we help them to see the goodness that underlies their sins and to know that they are being held, loved, and cherished by LOVE who understands them.
I think that sometimes we make the mistake of demanding that people change before they are accepted. I believe that people need to be as they are and to realize that they are seen as they are and loved as they are. We all need to be loved into changing.
Pope Francis reminds us that church is a hospital for sinners. Our hospitals don’t demand that we get well first and then be admitted. That would be very strange. Thinking of church as a hospital for sinners may call us to a new way of thinking and feeling.
I do believe that it is incumbent upon us to ponder this thought and allow LOVE to work in us. In the hospital for sinners both the doctors and the patients are ill. I think that if church were a home for the righteous, no one of us would qualify to belong.
God Loves You
PS LOVE gives birth to the world. LOVE loves the world. LOVE is in the world. LOVE is in humanity. LOVE lives in each one of us. LOVE within us is the power to transform the world. LOVE draws everything finally into LOVE.
From the letter, “LOVE: Faith, Hope, Love” in Mysterious Love by Father John Clay © 2015