Bearing Unbearable Love

And we are put on earth a little space
that we might learn to bear the beams of love

—William Blake

I ran across this verse yesterday, and it felt just right for these last days of Advent. The time preceding Christmas provides exactly this: a little space to focus anew on learning to bear the beams of love. There are several ways to bear something, of course.

  • One meaning is to bear a child, or a crop; to bear fruit.
  • Secondly, to bear can mean to tolerate, carry, or accept a burden or condition.
  • And thirdly we can bear witness, or a gift; to share with others.

Mary must have wondered how she was to bear the beam of love that grew within her. She had the need to bear love in several meanings of the word. Her child would enter the world as we all do, she must give birth. But before that, Mary had to bear a difficult and lonely “beam of love” in carrying an illegitimate child. Only Mary really knew that she had been given a sacred mission; Gabriel did not write her a glowing letter of reference to explain it all to Joseph.

Her story told in Luke leaves out her inner conversation about her predicament. She was so young, we are told, unlikely to have had a lot of education. She was a pious young woman. But what would any of us make of a visit from the angel Gabriel announcing that we are ‘favored by God?’ And what kind of ‘favor’ is this when a young girl must bear the long months of a pregnancy by some invisible father?

Mary bore the news of the destiny she was offered by God, but not without distress.

She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean” after Gabriel trumpeted “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor! The Lord is with you” to her, moments before.

Beams of love are sometimes so unusual, surprising, or foreign to us, that they seem unbearable, at first. All we can manage sometimes is to be, like Mary, ‘deeply disturbed.’ We ask ourselves what this new offering means, especially one that feels so strange. Beams of love that arrive out of order from the way we have imagined reality to function are the worst. “But how can this come about,” Mary asks, “since I have no knowledge of man?” she wonders. I do not imagine Gabriel’s answer was immediately satisfying or comforting to Mary. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.” No sane woman of any era expects this far-fetched explanation will satisfy her questioners.

But somehow, Mary is convinced to receive, to tolerate, to accept this strange beam of love that apparently feels genuine to her, even though dangerously defying all reason and social convention. She began to bear the beams of God’s love when she said “Let it happen to me as you have said.

When Mary visited Elizabeth, she shared the revelation she received, and the news of her pregnancy with her cousin. But in Luke’s telling, Mary’s stayed quiet about her news with others, as far as we know. We can imagine how sensitive this pregnancy was for Mary. Joseph must have been terribly unhappy, knowing as he did that he was not the child’s father.

When Mary’s moment came to give birth to a real life, fussy, squirming baby Jesus, Mary bore her “beam of love” into plain sight. Jesus was a child who needed milk and warmth and cleaning just as all of us needed at the start of our earth careers. Mary bore her beam of love into flesh and blood, into smiles and speech, into a person who would reveal love in a fresh and unprecedented way to us all.

Which way am I meant to bear the beams of love more fully today? Is a new thing about to be delivered through me? Am I to labor and cry to bring forth some new creation? Am I able to carry a bit of compassion to another living being, and oh so gently lift someone’s heart? Or am I simply in that place of learning to bear the magnificent beam that is given to me, by letting loose of my own stubborn notion of what love should look and feel like, making room for the real thing? Might I make room at the inn for a love that melts away foolish striving and angling for power, that beam of love that transforms the heart to a radiant source of the very same warming glow?

For when our souls have learned the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear his voice
Saying: `Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice!’

—William Blake

***

Carol Toben

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Mr. Santa Chase

Nevertheless, those who receive instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6: 6-10 (TNIV)

I was seven years old when Santa Claus appeared on my doorstep-long white beard, skinnier than I imagined and dressed in ‘normal clothes’ (perhaps he was going incognito for Christmas morning). But there he was! Carrying a package just for me!

My parents were delighted and looked relieved, and I was overjoyed to receive a handmade SASHA doll that Christmas! What a joyful day!

Charles Chase, aka SantaAs I grew up, I recognized Santa Claus in our small town. He worked in a shop called the Folk Music Center and was known-in his Claremont, California home as Mr. Chase. Mr. Chase (my Santa) made appearances throughout the year at the shop that sold those special dolls, along with guitars, ukuleles, banjos and drums, music from all over the world and the most fascinating coloring books I’d ever seen. The Folk Music Center, I imagined, was the southern California outpost of Santa’s Workshop, specializing in all-things-hippy.

Later in my life I heard the story from my parents’ perspective. As they were doing their Christmas shopping at the Southern California outpost of the Santa’s Workshop. they mistakenly picked up the display model container without the doll inside. They did not realize the container was empty until Christmas Eve when they were wrapping up the gifts for the grand unveiling on Christmas morning. Panicked, they phoned Santa at his home late Christmas Eve and asked him for some help. Instead of a cranky daughter who would open an empty package on Christmas morn, they woke to a delighted and amazed little girl who’d been privileged to a personal visit from Santa himself.

Mr. Chase, in his decision to help out a frazzled and panicked set of young parents, is the embodiment of Paul’s words in Galatians 6: 9-10:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

If we sow the seeds of love, joy, peace and hope in the busy holiday season, we will reap the harvest of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Conversely, if we sow the seeds of anxiety, distraction, stress and dysfunction, we will reap the harvest born of those negative things.

In our franticness and stress have we given up trying to do good? When does our activity become a spiritual detriment? How can we be the embodiment of the good news for others this season?

***

Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens is a native of Southern California, where she began her work experience as an artist. She achieved her Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from Scripps College in 1994. Her call from God occurred rather suddenly in 1998 and God provided a path to attend seminary. Krista is a proud graduate of the Claremont School of Theology achieving her Masters of Divinity in 2001 and her Doctor of Ministry degree in 2007. Her doctoral thesis was centered in Ethics and pertains to the disciplinary rule for single pastors to be celibate and is titled: A Choice for Whole Love: Single and Celibate in the United Methodist Church. Krista’s previous appointments include an Associate Pastor position to the congregation of Kailua United Methodist Church in Kailua, Hawaii and a Senior Pastor position to the congregation of Westchester United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. She was ordained as an Elder in the California-Pacific Annual Conference in 2005 and has been the pastor at Hamburg’s International United Methodist Church since 2007.

The Empty Chair

empty chair with man's old shoes in a stone room.Two chairs once side by side, both having worn away markings in the carpet suggesting years of permanence.

Perfectly sited for viewing pictures that hang neatly on the walls revealing two lives shared together. These chairs have stories, and if they could speak they would tell you 43 years worth of late night conversations, midnight snacks, newspapers, coffee, and hand holding. Yes, lots of hand holding. At one time, these chairs were solace for the two people.

Now, they are painful reminders of what was.

Using her cane to point, she states, “I would like them back together.” You see these chairs have been separated for some time pulled apart and placed in different rooms. In their place a brown metal hospital bed has now worn its markings into the carpet. Today, the bed was disassembled and carried away as it is no longer needed. Now there is nothing but an empty space. “Do you think you could help me,” she asks. “Sure, just tell me where you want them.” As I begin pushing and pulling them one at a time I am instantly aware of their smell and texture and it’s in this moment I realize what is happening in this sacred space. Like a shattered glass can no longer hold its contents neither will these chairs absorb any more stories…some things really can’t be fixed.

Having found their original markings using the carpet to navigate my way she sits down heavy, as if all the weight in the world now rests on her lap. Labored breathing with dramatic pause she asks…

“Chaplain, tell me how do I live the rest of my life with an empty chair?”