Love Stories

Once upon a time in Ethiopia there lived a poor man—we’ll call him Ajani. One day, Ajani made a bet with a rich man. Ajani bet that he could survive a December night on a mountaintop, naked, with no source of heat. The rich man took the bet, of course. It would be an easy win.


The next morning, though, Ajani showed up at the rich man’s door to claim his winnings. “I’ll pay you,” The rich man said. “But just tell me how you did it,” “Well,” said Ajani. “My good friend Selam built a fire on a mountaintop five miles away, across the valley, and he kept it burning all night long. And every time I looked at that tiny light in the distance, and imagined its warmth, and knew that Selam was there to support and help me, I felt warm. And that’s how I got through the night.


Once upon a time, all the choruses in the world stopped making music, because it was too dangerous to sing. There were no more rehearsals. There were no more concerts. In some places, musical neighbors sang to each other from the safety of their balconies or porches, and some groups made individual recordings to combine into “virtual choirs” like Prospect’s. But few singers were brave enough to get together just for the joy of singing. And as that first year of silence and isolation dragged on, it felt sometimes as if we’d never sing together again. But one autumn night, a friend called me, and said “Turn on your radio!  KING-FM is playing the Brahms Requiem!”


And she and I in our own homes, miles apart, hung up our phones, got out our music, and sang along with the radio. Together. Every once in a while, one or the other of us would text:

Are you still there?


Are you still singing?



And even though we could not hear or see each other, just knowing we were singing the same music at the same time, somehow felt as if we were singing together. The isolation became a little more bearable that night.


Our existence, our universe is made of Love. It is filled, permeated by Love. And so we are also made of it, and it fills us and all the space between us. We are solid forms of love, swimming in an ocean of love.


Sometimes we call it gravity, or the attraction of sub-atomic particles for one another, or chemistry, or group dancing. We call it mother love, instinct, desire, affection, justice, empathy, compassion, friendship, loyalty, connection, community, and grace. We call it a miracle. We call it a day ending in the letter -y. We call it omnipresent God.


Love is always moving in and through us and the rest of the material world. It connects us all. It is the love of the earth for a seed that will make a forest. The love between the earth and the sun, the love of bones for tendons for muscles for skin that holds our bodies together until we no longer need them. Love gives us a garden to tend and make beautiful for our neighbors, or an animal to cherish. Love inspires us to do our work of welcoming and teaching and inspiring and sharing and tending and consoling and entertaining, and just being present to others.


“Holy Spirit” is another name for it. This is the never-ending connection to God that inspires us to act in its ways—to support and cherish and give and empathize and do for each other the small and big things that we all need every day. Paul told the Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—and that is because the Holy Spirit is the part of God that permeates all of us. It is the message of love, being shouted out of our phones from all of creation. And it is also our inner receiver that enables us to hear that message.


Sometimes that love message is clearest when we are at our worst, our most desperate. I wonder if my friend and I would have cherished that musical connection across distance and silence so much if we hadn’t already lived through months of isolation and fear? But that night, I felt loved and loving—connected to my friend, to the Holy Spirit who had inspired us to do this, even to Brahms, who had surrendered himself to the love that presents itself as creative inspiration, so that he could write that music.


It's in those hardest of times that we may experience Grace--the gift of being able to see and hear and feel the presence of love. That’s why Jesus says “Go—your faith has healed you” to people who ask him for a miracle. He says it to the ten lepers, to the woman who touched his clothes, to the foreign man pleading for the life of a beloved servant. He says it to the blind man who regains his vision, and to people who believe they are harboring demons. He is reminding them that Love is here. Love heals. Love is wholeness and healing. There is nothing you need to do to earn it. You just need to experience it and acknowledge it.


When we’re in the depth of pain and loss and suffering, it can be hard to remember that we are never apart from God’s love. Yes, Healing is all around us. But at the worst of times, we may not feel ready or able to hear “Go, your faith has healed you.”

When your loss is huge and all-consuming it’s all too easy to lose your faith, too, for a time. You may have no strength left to believe in God, no energy to devote to gratitude. And so, love reveals healing to you in tiny, easily swallowed doses of grace. A bud opens on your favorite rosebush. A hummingbird hovers for a moment outside your window. A song reminds you of better times. A friend gives you a long hug or just sits with you while you weep.


Once upon a time, I underwent chemotherapy and radiation to stop the lymphoma growing in my body. Some of you know what those treatments can do to you…there was constant nausea, and the burns of radiation, and the total loss of my voice. There were mornings when taking a shower and getting dressed took all my strength, days of despair that my hair or my voice would never come back. There was a period of time when I realized that I knew God exists—I guess—but I really didn’t much care. I felt indifferent to God’s presence, and just a little sad that it didn’t much matter to me one way or the other. So what?


But Love persists. Love brought friends to my phone and my mailbox and my door. Love disguised itself as a radiation nurse from Hawaii who talked one morning about a singer called Israel Kamaka-vivoʻole. I whispered to the nurse that I loved Israel’s voice. And so the next day, as I lay under my last dose of radiation, Brother Iz’s beautiful “Over the Rainbow,” came pouring out of the intercom. Love’s morning booster.


Once upon a time, Love took on a human form, and walked among us, and healed and taught and loved and sacrificed. And this best love story we know tells us that when Jesus left his disciples for the last time, he said, I will ask God, and God will give you another Comforter—the Holy Spirit, and that spirit will never leave you.



The Comforter feeds us love in small sips and tiny bites. It surprises us in the worst moments with small reminders of joy, of peace, of connection and community. It builds up our strength as we are able to accept healing, and it holds and supports us as we take those first steps back toward wholeness.


May you find gifts of Grace and Love in the small things you encounter today.



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