1 Corinthians 13
I have new glasses. One doesn’t know how blind one is until one gets new glasses. Things are sharper, clearer, fuller in colour and shape. I notice things I had previously missed. It is easy to go through life with limited sight and think that is all there is.
Paul is often described as a lawyer, a writer who focuses on the actions involved in being a disciple of Christ, a moral theologian more interested in the law than in the spiritual essence of our faith. Nothing is further from the truth.
Paul is a mystical theologian charged with connecting the mystical with the practical, but never by diminishing the mystery or power of love. His encounter with Christ was a mystical disruption so powerful it rendered him blind, a metaphor for his realisation that the truth he had followed and enforced was a truth without sight, without the mystical power of love, of God who is nothing but love. The generosity of God can only be described as unconditional love, and by definition the one who is generous is love.
1Cor 13 is used to reinforce the qualities of creaturely love. We read it at weddings, at funerals, baptisms and almost any event when Psalm 23 is also read. We have reduced this passage to the banal, the pedestrian hope for something more than lust, greed, manipulation and violence. Somehow we have taken the truth out of this passage and dumbed it down to mean little more than a recipe for relationships.
It is not.
In this passage Paul is speaking of God. Love is God, God is love. God generously gives us life, maintains it, remains engaged and never leaves us. Why? because we enter this world having exited the Godhead where silence is love, to live in the noise of the ordinary as words of love. We are birthed in the waters of love as Gods word spoken into the world and an oasis of love remains at our centre, no matter how hard we attempt to obliterate it through our ego driven existence. We return to the Godhead, not simply when we die, but in each step i we take to let go of all we gather to ourselves as our identity.
It is right to think of this passage at all the key life moments for we are to become God, to become love incarnate in the physical world in which we live. It is not right to reduce this passage to the lowest common understanding. God was incarnate in Jesus and Jesus was love in relationship to his world, his place, his culture and the people he encountered. God is no less incarnate in us and we are to strive for being as selfless love in our world, our place, our culture, and amongst the people we encounter.
Meister Eckhart calls us to an “action without doing”, a being that is empty of the need to do, allowing God who is closer to us than we are ourselves, to flow through us into the world. Like Paul, he pleads for us to get ourselves out of the way of the hesed, or unfailing love who is God, and allow love to flow in and out of us freely and without restrictions. Eckhart reminds us that God becoming incarnate does not diminish the Godhead. Jesus is all of God in the world yet the Godhead remains as it was, is and always will be, one and complete.
This passage calls for us to lower the barriers of self and to let go of those possessions (psychological, spiritual and physical) that we hold onto as evidence of our existence, giving us the illusion of autonomy. It asks us to detach from everything and attach to no thing, the only thing that matters, to God who is love.
A man, maybe a woman, was walking along the edge of a very high cliff admiring the view. Suddenly the edge gave way and they plunged earthward at a great pace. Somewhere in the midst of this they cry out, ‘God, save me!’ And they were a brought to an abrupt stop by a branch from a withered old tree sticking out from the cliff that catches in their belt. They are left gently bouncing up and down. When they get their breath back, they realise they are only half way down, or is it half way up? Not knowing what to do, they ask God for help again. Back comes a deep heavenly voice, ‘let go of the branch!’ They look up, they look down and then cry out, ‘Is there any body else up there?’
Paul asks us to do the same in this passage, to let go, just as he had to of, all that makes sense of our life and to trust in the dark void, the mystery of love. We are to let go of the stuff the world convinces us we need, approval of others, possessions to define us, degrees to make us more worthwhile, emotions and actions we are addicted to. If we are to deconstruct the system which allows 60plus people to have the wealth of 3.7billion we are to let go of our addiction to what they are selling, the illusion of happiness through wealth, power and violence.
If we are to deconstruct the system that diagnoses and labels people with illnesses only curable by big pharma drugs we have to let go of our need to find a reason for our sadness, disappointment and disillusionment with our lives. There is a great video doing the rounds on the web in which people are urged to ask their doctor about the curative qualities of nature as a possible cure for their illnesses. In a similar way Paul is prescribing detachment as the means to discover abundance.
He says when we let go and attach ourselves to nothing it won’t look the way it is, you won’t be able to discern the length, the breadth, the depth, the beauty and the subtleties of God who is love, you will only have a sketchy understanding, a hazy picture with lots of snow and distortion, you will only have a dim understanding but it is enough. It will be a scary place, just as it was for the person caught half way down the cliff, asked to let go of the only thing apparently giving them hope.
Paul’s promise, God’s promise is that as we do, we come home, we return to where we were before we were born. We re-enter the unity of the Godhead and ‘then We will know fully, even as We have been fully known.’ This is not just a promise for after we leave this mortal coil, but for our life upon it. It is for Eckhart the experience of the virgin where virgin means someone who is detached from images, ideas, worldly illusions.
It is the essence of the incarnation where with Paul we can say ‘it is no longer I that lives, but Christ, God’s spoken word, who lives in me.’
You may say this is beyond us and it is, but what is beyond us is in us, for we only have our being in the generous love who is God and therefore there is no beyond. For we can finish with the great affirmation Paul leaves us with, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” Amen