Friday, February 15, 2013

love is a sturdy kindness

Lent: hands-down, all-time, no-contest, dead-ringer favorite liturgical season.

(To be fair, the competition for the liturgical season preference really isn't all that stiff. Advent? Pshaw. Epiphany? Nice name, boring month of post-Christmas letdown. And, come on, medieval churchmen. You named a sacred season "Ordinary Time." The limits of our imagination astound me.)

I love Lent. I love Lent!




An entire six weeks devoted to contemplation, confession, and discipline?! Divine Wallowing: It's what I like.

In the past, I've tried Lenten disciplines ranging from spending significant blocks of time in shared silence, praying the hours, fasting from home, giving up television, and fostering a hermeneutic of appreciation. This year, I wrote a lenten devotional about paying attention. In an attempt at integrity, I'm fasting from Facebook in order to be better about paying attention myself. But I've also gotten intrigued by the idea of love as a sturdy kindness.

The idea came from a constellation of a poem, a tweet, an article, and a sermon:


Krista Tippet has the enviable job of radio host for a show called "On Being." This tweet was a reflection on an interview with Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet of 2008. In that inaugural poem, Alexander asked:
… What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.




After a conversation about words and their power, Tippet reflected on reviving love as a "daring, smart, practical thing."





At the same time, I was reading Christine Pohl's Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. She's exploring the shared practices that shape communal life: gratitude, hospitality, fidelity and honesty, digging deeply into these formative habits to figure out how they act as binding agents for congregations, neighborhoods and communities. In a related article in the Christian Century, she takes on the practice of kindness, calling for it to be stronger and thicker than its mousy cousin "niceness," outlining it as a "sturdy" kind of virtue.

Jeff was reading the article in preparation for a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, and handed it off to me when I led Bible Study that week. "Love is patient, love is kind," Paul rhapsodizes, and he's not talking about empty compliments or boxes of stale chocolates. He definitely isn't talking about mylar balloons or dip-dyed flowers. Paul was talking, Jeff said, about LOVE - the mightiest of words, a sturdy virtue meant for binding us together in ways beyond romance, beyond marriage, beyond families and nations. I took sermon notes that Sunday:




Love is a sturdy kindness. I think that's right. And I think because we're so caught up in love as romance, love as narcissism, love as show-stopper, we miss the myriad sturdy kindnesses piling up all around us all the time. Even the most thoughtful of us are prone to the blindness. Miroslav Volf, a serious theologian, tweeted at the beginning of Lent to bemoan the lack of humility in the world today. Almost immediately, John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture corrected him:





Which gave me an idea for this year's Lenten discipline: to notice and to name instances of Love. To pay attention to God at work, and to shout it out. To reclaim "love" as a smart, daring, practical thing, the mightiest of words, a constant, sturdy kindness. I'm tweeting these things daily (at least, I intend to) under the hashtag #LoveIsASturdyKindness. I'll try to write here, too. Love really is all around.





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