What I came to appreciate most this year is mutual love. You can have it with friends or your children or a dog or a congregation or even, if a bird or other creature is very fortunate, with one special person (just so you'll know I haven't give up on that idea completely).
When love flows freely back and forth, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
I express gratitude for mutual love by affirming it in words (both aloud and in writing) and by thanking God for it and by doing my part to keep it flowing. I believe that last [art requires equal parts of activity and attention and awareness and awe.
In the end, though this was a hard, hard year, I've never been so aware of being loved in my whole life. And I truly appreciate it.
"But the word of God is not chained." (2 Timothy 2:9b)
Not too long ago I had my hands on the Devil card from a Tarot deck based on the Greek Myths. Pan gambols, if statically, holding the chains of an unhappy-looking, naked couple. The key to the image is that the man and the woman are actually quite free to walk away. Interpretively it's a card about addictions or habits or ways of being we feel have us trapped, imprisoned, held in chains, and although it's sort of a shocking card to turn over and hold in your hand, it holds the promise of freedom.
I looked it up, because before I was a pastor, and even before I was a seminarian, I was a library reference assistant, and I always look things up.
Sometimes the chains we let bind us are on the inside, and sometimes they are held by other people, but as the card suggests, usually — usually — we're letting them.
But, not always.
Either way, it's hard to get out of the chained-up position. It's the hardest kind of work to admit your situation and to look at what needs to happen to extricate yourself and to take the first step in that direction, and then another, and then another.
Sometimes all you can do is breathe, and then breathe again, looking vaguely in the direction of your goal.
Even though the epistle tells us the word of God is not chained, I'm afraid there are people who use that same word to chain others, or try to, to create a prison of words of shame and derision and hate, all in the name of God. People, in the name of Jesus, hurt others who are different just because they can. And that's the Devil card, a part of our human nature to take power over others just to make ourselves feel more secure. It's a despicable part of our human nature, especially when it leads to the kind of bullying that drove Tyler Clementi to kill himself.
The Devil card reminds me of the line in the Apostle's Creed that I like the least, the one that tells us Jesus descended into Hell.
I live in a house where 15-year-olds ask questions such as, "Is it okay for me to be confirmed when I have such a low Christology?" Our view of Jesus, his humanity and his divinity, is a not infrequent topic of conversation. That descent into Hell supports LP's low Christology, doesn't it? It's a human thing to do, to go down into the darkest places, to the cave where the chains bind us, the chains of disappointment and low expectations and past suffering and even other people's authentic cruelty. Even Jesus, according to our faith ancestors, had to go there, for a full human experience.
But the Word of God is not chained. It is not. And I believe that Word is Love. So even though I'm having a hard day — a very hard day — and even though I hurt — I really do — I do not despair. The chains are temporal and temporary, mine. And out in the world, the chains that can hurt people are removable, if people who understand God's Word to be Love will say it out loud.