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Francis X. Clooney, S.J.October 25, 2008

Rembrandt’s Jesus

Cambridge, MA. I have been feeling at least mildly guilty lately — as an occasional blogger who has written hardly a word about the presidential election, except to point out how unimaginative and inane most of our (inter)religious thinking has been when it comes to politics and what we do or don’t expect of politicians and voters. I have not had much else I wanted to write about. It is not that I am not paying attention. I avidly read the Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, and now even the Wall Street Journal, so as to follow the financial crisis — plus America, Commonweal and The Tablet — but still, I have not felt that I have much to say about current events.
     Instead, oddly, I have recently been thinking about love of God. I am happy to say that my new book, Beyond Compare (Georgetown University Press) refers to loving God in its subtitle: St. Francis de Sales and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God, and the appearance of the book is not only pleasing, but also a reminder of just how basic love of God is to both the Hindu and Christian theological and spiritual traditions.

     The Gospel for tomorrow, Sunday, October 26, is also a factor since, echoing Deuteronomy 6, it begins with a most powerful call to loving God: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22.37) Note: On the very same text and a very similar question, see Jim McDermott, SJ’s Good Word blog, "Loving God - Huh?"
     We can admit that loving God is an all-consuming love — but how do we talk about such a love, without reducing it to something simply political or merely psychological? as more than pious or ideological, and (however closely they are connected) even as different from love of neighbor?
     And still more to the point, I have for several years now been an avid reader of the Modern Love column in the Style Section of the Sunday Times. Perhaps you know the column. Each week we are told someone’s story of love — young love, ageing love, love for better or worse, loves fulfilled and loves broken, relationships that never quite become love — intimate little stories told by ordinary people that testify to the strength and fragility of how we try to make our way, no longer alone, finding meaning in our relationships with family, partners and spouses, strangers. I find the stories often quite moving, sad or happy, and I recommend them very much to you my readers. Take a look.
     So this summer I asked myself: Is it not possible to write of love of God as a modern love, in the same vein — personal, intimate, felt in body and soul, lived? It seems that we should be able to write of loving God as something palpable and real, more than merely proof of God’s existence or the virtues of living the Christian life — as my story, simply told. So in the summer I took up the task, and wrote a piece of 1500 words and sent it to Modern Love — the story, in the briefest form, of the love of God that captured me as a teenager, brought me into the Society of Jesus and kept me here, now some 40 years later. I tried to be as direct and honest as possible, writing just about loving God. Though it was/is a short piece, I then rewrote it over and again in the early fall — reducing my story to the simplest words I could find.
     Alas, to no avail, it shall not appear in your Sunday Times. The editor wrote back to me, “Unfortunately, I don’t feel (your story) takes us to a deeper understanding. The experience remains abstract, or is related in ways we’ve heard before, or at times you admit words can’t capture it. I am interested in the kind of love you’re attempting to capture, but I feel it does need to be captured in words and better grounded in the details of your life and experience. As I think I said before, I realize it’s no easy task.” I am grateful to him for his care and honesty, and perhaps he’s right — I think he is a very good editor — that something more vivid than my words — a more action-filled story — is needed to make it into Modern Love.
     In any case, I plan now — still stubbornly oblivious to the elections and to the financial downturn — to post my piece here, in its entirety. It is not something I would normally have written for a blog, or for America, but I do want to share it with an audience that might care about what I say.
     So I will post it next week, after fussing over it one more time. In the meantime, I invite you my readers to look into Modern Love, and to ask yourselves about how you would write about love of God for such a column. If you have ideas, let me know what you think, before and after I post my piece next week.

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15 years 7 months ago
I am guessing everybody has a different relationship with God. Different things are important and different things are not important to people. I think God wants the differences. The fact that God loves me was not an idea that actually grab me quickly. In fact it may have only happened a few days ago. Anyway the attentiveness I give God and the attentiveness God gives me seems to be more constant these days. Experiencing ordinary things like light and the weather are examples of my attentiveness to God and God's attentiveness to me. Fortunately for me my relationship with God has not been so much about being good as it has been about being attentive and awake. Today is one of those days when I am very thankful to God and I love God. In the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict we find these words, ' But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path...our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.' At age 63 these words sometimes actually mean something to me. I am delighted that God has given me life. I am delighted with the relationship I have with God. I am very surprised about how things have worked out. I once heard a Dominican friar from England mention that God always makes our sins part of the weave of what eventually becomes our completed holiness. I have learned that even my failings were necessary. The Hasidim tell us that God's glory can only come into the world where women and men let it in. What an awesome discovery. I love God.

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