Being Loved Comes Before Loving

To use one of Jesus’ favorite preaching techniques, i.e. hyperbole, the art of overstatement, I feel that if all we had was John 15 then we would have enough to form the basis of Christian Community. THis is community based on the powerful images of the vine and its branches and the commandment to love one another.

Our society is blighted by the demise of community centered upon the doctrine and experience of the common good. The image of the vine and its branches offered by Jesus is a powerful reminder that communities do not fare well when they lose contact with  complexity theory notions of interdependence and interconnection. The recent success of  book and now the film The Hunger Games bears directly on this point. The horror of the society of Panem is speaking to us about our own society.

In the central section of John 15, Jesus offers us a succession of images beginning with: as the father as loved me so I love you, abide in my love. The image here is that of the mirror. The love expressed by God for Jesus is mirrored in the expression of Jesus’  love for us.  The Divine interplay of loving and being loved is likewise mirrored among us through God’s invitation announced by Jesus.

The most profound human experience of mirroring is that which takes place between mother and infant. Maybe it is for this reason that the central verses of John 15 are appointed for Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May.

My first training in psychotherapy was in the school of Object Relations Theory. This most British branch of Psychoanalysis replaces the classical Freudian concept that human beings are driven by their instinct for gratification with a belief that human beings are fundamentally object seeking. Object seeking is a particular psychological way of saying we are driven by a need to express and receive love.

The first object for the infant is the mother. This is an experience for the infant of resting-in, or of being loved. The infant rests-in the experience of the softness of mother’s touch, the sound of her voice, the way she smells. However, principally the infant rests-in the gaze of the mother’s eyes. In mother’s eyes the infant experiences itself in the state of abiding or resting-in in  love.

Abiding in love is a passive experience of just being loved. It is not an active experience of seeking love or loving. Abiding – resting-in being loved must come before the act of loving. Loving only becomes possible when we have first experienced abiding, or resting-in, love. Only then are we formed enough by being loved to express love in loving others. As Jesus is loved so he loves and this then extends into the human community.

The celebration of Mother’s Day needs to be more than a Hallmark sentimentality or a patriotic reference to motherhood and apple pie. Gendered mother’s are the conventional symbol of mothering.  But mothering is not confined to gendered mothers. Mothering is essentially an offering of love through the way we behold one another in love. This applies as much to lovers of any kind as it does to mother and child.

Our lives have been enriched by many experiences of resting-in being loved. I am suggesting that mothering transcends gendered mothers. Mothering is inherent to all human beings and is present in many different kinds of human relationships. What links the different contexts within which mothering occurs is that all mothering is an expression of God’s way of loving.

God is best imaged as the Trinitarian Community of lovers loving and being loved. Jesus’ words haunt us: as the father as loved me so I love you, abide in my love. Mothering is an expression of Divine love. So let’s abide, i.e. rest-in the experience of being loved. This is the gift we not only celebrate on Mother’s Day but which is given and received everyday.

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About relationalrealities

Episcopal Priest currently Interim Dean at Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona.
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