Sunday, February 10, 2019

2019.02.10 Three LIttle Words—Silently or Aloud

According to song and poetry, love is a many-splendored thing. Love is all you need. Love makes the world go round. Love, according to the Bible, is a divine commandment: Love God and then love your neighbor as yourself. (I would say love your neighbor AND yourself.) Love is stronger than death sings the biblical poet in the Song of Songs. It is love between us that heals and saves.

When I was a kid the first love-talk I got was from God. I was a toddler curious and curiouser. I set out on my own. My mother’s brand of hovering loving threatened to drown me, and my father’s loving silence to erase me. My mother had told me I was a gift from God who loved me. What kind of love was God’s? In a sanctuary of my own making under a large dining room table I chattered silently and aloud until I knew I mattered. This experience I named God: silent, invisible, wordless, powerful—the hum underlying my very existence. God listened without critique or demand. 

I love you is God.

On the day of my ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in 1988, my husband of two years, also a priest, preached the sermon. I was afraid at first to ask him, because this day was so subjective. Did he have the objectivity to do a sermon? Did I have enough emotional control to listen without a faint or a gush of tears? 

The theme of the day wasn’t me or my ordination. It was the angelic Annunciation to Mary that she’d get pregnant with a kid who’d take the world by storm, a son! I was not going to take anything by storm, nor was I going to have more children at my age. But, like Mary, I was terrified that someone or something might mess up this day. I wanted to flee.

I tried to persuade Dick to tell me what he was going to say, but no go. When he got up to preach I hoped he wouldn’t look at me, so I put my head down. Dick does not usually look directly at people when he preaches but away so he can manage his thoughts without a manuscript. I thought I’d be safe from emotions. But when I heard his voice I had to look up. He looked right into me and almost through me as he spoke. I do not remember a thing he said, which sounds insulting, but it is not too dramatic to say this felt like an annunciation moment.  I was locked into his gaze and he into mine, as if we were alone and ready to make love—or already making love.

I love you is a sermon.

Writer V. S. Naipaul writes: “No one cares for your tragedy until you can sing about it." All singing is operatic when you give it your full and best voice while you are caught up in the most dramatic of plots. Writing a memoir is the same. Such powerful singing and writing allows the singer/writer and the listener/reader to fall in love with the tragedy and sing or write it into life everlasting.

I love you is an opera and a memoir.

People gather in church communities to pray. We praise God, listen to biblical wisdom in readings, hymns, prayers, and homilies, leading to a sacramental communion meal called Eucharist. The priest who presides issues an invitation on behalf of Christ:“Lift up your hearts!” We respond: “We lift them to the Lord.” These words connect us with God and each other. They set the tone and put structure around the uncontainable Love that is God.

I love you is community prayer.

As a writer I seek the right words for what I mean. Often they elude me, or too many come at once and I get a pile-up. True confession: I adore adverbs, often condemned, because verbs do the job on their own. Love is a verb—and more.

I love you is adverbial— truly, madly, deeply.

The first time I said I love you I felt instantly terrified and elatedly free. I’d said it before as a teen, but with the manipulative idea that I might get the high school boy I had a crush on to say it back. He didn’t. And with my first love, my first husband, I said it for real, and he said it, and then suddenly it meant sex. I say the three love words often to my children and grandchildren. The short-form “Love you” has its place, but it doesn’t replace all three words together, a carefully complete sentence with profound meaning.  When I say I love you now to my present husband, it usually rises from a sudden internal power surge, like the electrical impulse along a wire. It doesn’t matter whether I hear them back, I still feel elevated. And as I get older and closer to death these lovely three words arrive more frequently, gain depth, and communicate spiritual truth.

I love you is heaven-on-earth, assumed, consuming, forever immersive. 

Susan, a woman colleague and friend about whom I recently wrote, died tragically from multiple internal injuries caused by a tree branch propelled by heavy winds shooting through the windshield and into her body. During her hospital stay she longed to speak but couldn’t. After 4 torturous weeks of trying to speak her needs and her love, she mouthed silently to her beloved spouse of 45 years: I love you. Then she died.

I love you is the last word.