One of the great miracles of love is that it not only persists in the face of sin, but can become deeper and more profound in the wake of it.
In the Taïm on Spring Street, there is not much room for eating, much less conversation. There are no tables with chairs you can sink into for a good long chat. The small restaurant is lined with three slick glazed bars with rigidly chic orange barstools. The implication of this arrangement is that the main event here is the food. You may look out into the dark world of the SoHo night while enjoying your Harissa falafel, or you may look in the darkly glazed mirror at your self, consuming your tabouli, but you are not encouraged to distract yourself from the business at hand.
My friend and I, however, not discouraged by the feng shui's subtle hints to scarf down our hummus sandwiches and bolt, grafted ourselves to the barstools and proceeded to ponder the infinite mystery of God's love for us, and all the terrifying implications that has upon our lives.
The most terrifying being the revolt that was simmering in my breast and was finally spoken out too loudly in the all-too-quiet falafel bar on Spring Street: I don't want to love as God loves.
Oh how I desire to desire it. But there is a small kernel of rock solid pride inside my heart that refuses, absolutely refuses, to budge.
To love as God loves means to give of myself completely, knowing that even my very self: my quick-witted mind, my smile, my writing, my kind heart, and my laugh are all just pure gift, and none my own merit. Even my intelligence is simply a gift received from my parents and their parents before them and their parents before them. An endless lineage of gift.
And I am so covetous of these precious gifts. For they are precious; and they are gift. And as freely as I have been given, so ought I to give away.
And yet I do not.
Because, I say to my friend, terrible and righteous anger searing my heart and tears stinging my eyes, how can I give myself to someone who does not deserve the gift? How can I give myself to someone whose image of me is bent through eyes tired through unchastity? Why would I ever reveal myself to someone who has seen too many revelations of women, and whose encounter me is now tainted by his encounter with them? [A question too many women have had to grapple with. It is the injustice of this nearly universal grappling which causes the anger, and pity for the offender which causes the tears.]
For my reaction, in the face of others' sin and my own, is to run away. I don't want to encounter that part of my life, I don't want to encounter that part of another person. If the other person will not receive me with all the grace and the pure love that I deserve to be received, then he gets no part of me, I think.
I have always been fascinated by women who withdraw. Because women who withdraw retain their power. They do not allow themselves to be wounded by porn-stained men. They do not allow the precious gift of themselves to be trampled all over in the messy fracas of relationships. They withdraw to the convent, into the precious sanctuary of their own minds, into the dark chambers of their own hearts.
As I stare at the congealing yogurt sauce, through my tear-blurred vision, I see the angry, hurt words I have left hanging in the air form an image cruciform.
God did not, as the Kabbalistic creation myth would tell us, withdraw.
God did not withdraw into Himself, leaving us creatures in the void where He is not.
God did not recoil from our sin.
Rather, He emptied Himself. He, whose nature is total gift, emptied His gift to us entirely, the Omnipotent laid down all His power, and was crucified for us. He loved, despite the injustice of the hurts sustained. He loved, totally, completely, holding no part of Himself back. He loved, despite the inability of we, His beloved, to see Him as we ought. Our vision is stained by our sins.
And still He comes to us. He did not crucify Himself once, and say: okay, now that's enough. I've loved you well for just today. As if that in itself wouldn't be enough. That is the hardest part: to let one's love lead you to the cross, and nail you there, to hang and bleed to death.
No, He comes to us in the astonishing, bizarre humility--totally abhorrent to that rock of pride inside my heart--of a piece of bread. A piece of bread that could tell a story of hurts received far, far longer than my sorry litany of grudges and wounds sustained. He comes to us so sweetly, and always the same. Always pouring out His infinite love upon us, unworthy men. And never does He withhold Himself from us, because we are not worthy.
In the face of our sin, He proceeds to shower us with greater love.
I loved God when I was twelve. I really did. And sometimes I yearn to be twelve again, in the safe, untouched recesses of youth, when the worst sin I had committed was lying to my mother about making my bed. How much better, I thought, I loved God then. When there was so little of my self to get confused with God, and fewer sins that fretted at the bond of love between us, and fewer wounds that pock-marked my little heart.
But now I love Him so much more than I ever did. Because His response to my sin has never been to leave me behind and run away, but always an embrace. If only, I pray, I could desire to love others with that same reckless embrace. So thoughtless of the pain that will be received, and so mindful of the great Joy of loving the other.
One of my students recently had her journal open during class, and as I walked by, I saw over her shoulder large, manga-style script decorating the soft pink (of course it was pink) page. The sprawling, spindly black letters read: "Never Knew a Love Like This Was Real."
And of course, my first reaction was an eye roll and a snarky interior chuckle: "teenagers."
But my better self rebuked me. Those words should be my daily prayer of praise. Love that is total, self-giving and so un-self-interested boggles my imagination. But I have felt for myself that it is real. And, even more humbling, I have tasted in other human loves so great a love. Others are capable of loving me with love that far more resembles God's for me than mine for them.
And after beating my breast and moaning about "how difficult it is" "how unjust" that I should have to love a creature that is imperfect, I laugh at my own ridiculous histrionics. For who am I but the paragon of imperfect creatures, who has the superbia to pretend to demand perfection from the rest? Who am I but the same beloved who has wounded my love with my sin. And He has not left me to famish while he retreats into the inner ring of righteous ninety-nine, but He seeks me out to feed me, each and every day, not because I am good, but because He is.
Oh Lord I am not worthy that thou should enter under my roof, I whisper hoarsely at the back of mass, tears stinging my eyes. Only say the word, I cry silently. And just like that, I am lifted out of sin and into love.
Could it really be that easy?