If you love me? This is the direct as well as the implied question that Jesus asks his followers all the way through John’s gospel. The thing not to miss here is that Jesus asks if you love me? But what we often hear is – if you loved me?

From love to loved – there’s a world of difference. A difference we hear and feel implicitly. If you love me is a question that implies promise. Whereas if you loved me implies a regret – even a threat. Love me as I demand, or I won’t love you back.

If you loved me, is the battle cry for conditional love. Conditional love is love with strings. And conditional love is the most common form of love we experience. If you loved me, you would show you loved me by meeting my needs.

Sometimes the needs to be met are material, but most often, they are psychological and emotional. The threat implied in if you loved me is the threat of abandonment, rejection, and the fear of being alone.

Jesus said, if you love meI will not leave you orphaned – that is – I will never abandon you. But Jesus also said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. So, is Jesus’ love conditional after all? Perhaps? But the condition here is not a commandment to – love me back – but the greatest commandment of all – love one another. The string attached to Jesus’ love is not – meet my needs – but meet one another’s needs. Through loving us, Jesus models how we should love one another. He is – in short- the archetype – the universal pattern for the good mother.

Ideally, we learn to love because we were first, loved. In the process of learning to love through first being loved – we encounter many vicissitudes along the way. Many of us enjoy the gift of love and loving because of the indelible memory of first having been loved at our mother’s breast. Others of us were not so fortunate. There are many reasons why the mother-infant exclusive bonding fails leaving many of us afraid of surrendering to loving and being loved.

In a period when as a culture we are struggling to delineate the biological hardwiring of gender from the softwiring of gender identity – confusions also proliferate around the differences between birthing and mothering.

In the most usual course of events, being pregnant triggers the hormonal instincts for mothering. Giving birth ushers a woman and infant into the complex and sacred relationship of mothering – a state of mutual enthrallment. We are fortunate if we experienced the nurturance of being loved because the woman who birthed us was also the one who mothered us. Yet, this is a complex process. Good mothers can never be perfect mothers. Fortunately, all that is required is that they be good-enough.

The concept of the good-enough mother originated with one of the most influential figures of the Object Relations School of British Psychoanalysis – Donald Winnicott – a man who combined the rare skills of both pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Take a look at this short 6 minute video on the essential elements of Winnicott’s approach here.

By good-enough, Winnicott meant that mothers did not need to be perfect. The mother-infant relationship, though vulnerable to mishap is also robust and able to withstand a variety of imperfect conditions. That mothers needed to be good-enough but not perfect is a reminder for us all that in the arena of love, the quest for the perfect is certainly the enemy of the good.

Winnicott’s focus was on the good-enough experience within the early mother-infant relationship. Good-enough mothering is love that is consistent and unconditional. In the usual course of events, while good-enough mothering is found in our early experience with our birthing mothers – this cannot always be so. For many of us the experience of good-enough mothering came through non biological relationships with both men as well as women for the concept of good-enough mothering is not gender exclusive. Good enough mothering is not only an inherent human quality, but most importantly, a characteristic of God as mother.

Human beings are resilient and highly adaptive. Where mother-infant bonding fails – love ultimately trumps biology.

Human beings are highly resilient and the capacity to love and be loved is highly adaptive to circumstances. An interruption in the early experience of being loved can be later compensated for in the love of father, grandparent, or close relative – stepping into the role of primary carer. Early difficulties can be repaired through the love of a teacher, a mentor, or dare I say even a therapist. The redeeming unconditional love of a spouse, or significant other – offers reparation for earlier losses. A friend of mine refers to his husband as the one who has loved me into being. I know this is not an isolated experience.

As a society, we fail the women and men who are responsible for good-enough mothering through our political failure to promote social and economic policies supportive of maternal health, child development, and family life. In a country that eulogizes mother and apple pie, the US ranks low on the scale of nations where public policy concretely supports healthy maternal care, child development, and the structures of family life. We stand alone among developed nations in the stridency of our defense of the rights of the unborn and our social and economic neglect of the born.

This Mother’s Day is the first following the overturning of 50 years of a woman’s Constitutional right to abortion. The 33rd edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book describes how children in America are in the midst of a mental health crisis, struggling with unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression. This year’s publication continues to present national and state data across four domains — economic well-being, education, health and family, and community. A tragic paradox is revealed in the ranking of states according to measures in overall child well-being. Florida, at no. 32 out of 50, is the highest-ranked southern state in the family and community domain. Utah, New Hampshire, and Vermont topped this same list while New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi feature among the bottom rankings. Again there seems to be a correlation between state preoccupied with a fanatical defense of the rights of the unborn and the chronic political neglect of the born.

When Jesus said, if you love me he made it clear that loving him meant following his commandment that we love one another. Being able to love one another is dependent on having an experience of being loved. Jesus also said, if you love me, I will give you eternal life. The rub is however that whatever the supposed joys in heaven – eternal life begins in the here and now! It’s ensuring the quality of life in the here and now that should matter most to us – and by which, Jesus makes clear, we shall be judged.

Jesus: Less Hero than Human

reflections on Christ - crucifixionMeditation for Good Friday. 

Some say love it is a river that drowns the tender reed, some say love it is a razer that leaves your soul to bleed, some say love it is a hunger an endless aching need … 

We are required to go deeper, beyond being spectators recalling Jesus’ suffering on his way to the Cross. The human heart has an affinity with suffering, nevertheless if we go deeper we begin to realize that Good Friday is not about Jesus the noble victim sacrificing his life for the sins of the world. If we just stop there, no matter how thankful we might feel, we fail to see that the way of the Cross is God’s invitation to become transformed not by suffering, but by the power of love.

I say love, it is a flower, and you its only seed. ….

The Cross requires of us nothing short of a transformation in our moral, emotional, and spiritual way of being. God invites us to enter into the way of love not by standing back and beckoning us from a distance. In Jesus, God takes the initiative and leads us through example. Our acceptance, our entry into the way of love involves risking as Jesus risked. Risk is the raw material for transformation, for it is 

the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live. ….

Entering into the way of love leads us to challenge the status quo and risking the consequences. As a community, it means uncovering and challenging the cosmic forces of dehumanization woven into the very DNA of our culture. It means risking loving without expecting acknowledgment. Yet, above all else it means accepting an invitation to become transformed into a new way of being, one step at a time. In this transformation we are God’s collaborators and not merely, grateful children.

When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose. ….

The meaning of Good Friday lies in accepting entry into the way of the Cross of Christ. This is the way of love, which leads through risking into believing, hoping and loving. This is not a hero’s path, Jesus shows us that it is a very human path. On Good Friday, God shows us the way of love, motivated not by an abhorrence of sin, but by the impossibility for God, of not loving.

The italicized text comes from The Rose by Bette Midler


Everyone had had such high hopes. Ten years ago Cyrus, the King of Persia had set them free to return to their beloved Jerusalem. Jerusalem, that treasured memory, embellished in their hearts during the long 50 years of captivity in Babylon. 50 years of mourning and repentance pouring out in the voice of psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

50 years of waiting during which the Levites, the priestly scholars of the Law, turned their undivided attention to the scrolls of the Torah, which had been carried into exile. The Torah comprised the history of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh-God. With the passion of repentant zeal the Levites  edited the record of the nation’s history, a history that had recorded the ups and downs between Yahweh- God and a stiff-necked people – struggling to remain in relationship together. 50 years, during which the great task of editing the sacred texts was an attempt to find meaning in the face of the disaster of defeat and exile. This process initiated religious reforms as a sign of repentance. Once again the Children of Israel were called to return to the covenant with Yahweh-God. After 50 years, God finally answered them. Cyrus, his instrument – set them free to return to Jerusalem, city of cherished memory.

The returnees had had such high hopes. Yet within a space of years we hear God’s complaint renewed against them in the words of Isaiah, the third of that name. The third Isaiah raises his voice in protest:

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift your voice like a trumpet and announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

The old dynamic had reasserted itself. The people complain against God :

Look we fast and you do not see, we follow the rules, humble ourselves, and you do not notice.

They are attention-seeking, self-preoccupied , their humility a mask for their arrogant complacency.Through the voice of the prophet God blasts them for their complicity in the structural sins of injustice and oppression, which had so quickly corrupted the society of the restored Jerusalem community. Look, Yahweh cries:

you serve your own interests on your fast day, and oppress all your workers …. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. … Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own kin.

The hopes of the returnees, the 50-year task of reform and repentance had given way to the human propensity to retreat from a dream of something new, back into business-as-usual. Human-centered ways of seeing obscure the clarity of a new God-inspired perspective. A perspective grasped only in moments of crisis when the edifice of human self-interest cracks and the resulting fear makes them receptive once more to God’s words. Like Isaiah and the Hebrew prophets before him, Jesus sounded the same call to repentance and change. Christians have come to recognize the echo of Isaiah’s words in Jesus’ proclamation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  

In such tones Paul confronts the Corinthians with the error of their ways.

As it was with the Jews in 583BC, so with the Corinthians in around 60AD. The French have an expression: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose- the more things change the more they stay the same. The Corinthians rested their new-found faith upon the foundations of human wisdom, rather than on the power of God. The problem with human wisdom is that it degrades into business-as-usual. By this I mean that human behaviour both individual, and societal inevitably gravitates to what is known, to what is familiar. What we know is the need to scramble for the exercise of power. Power is necessary to protect self-interest. Self-interest always results in a severing of the connections between people and groups in society. Paul tells the Corinthians:

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who trust in him. 

The problem, Paul explains is that if human society is driven only by what we already know how to do, the familiar ways and means, business-as-usual – he refers to this as knowing only what the human spirit within tells us – we close-off to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So then, how are the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be discerned?

Transpersonal psychology, is the psychology that understands that the ordering of the emotions, i.e. the personal life, is only the first phase of psychological work. The ordering of our relationship to the spiritual, i.e.the transpersonal life, remains the second phase of work. Transpersonal psychology makes a distinction between the lesser and greater self. The lesser self is shaped by the experiences of our personal autobiography, i.e. the events and experiences of our individual lives. Our experience of life is given particular meaning through the way we remember our personal history. Memory is a region of smoke and mirrors, which conditions our perception of experience. The memory of the lesser self is only ever partial. Its conclusions drawn for living life are consequently distorted by the emotion of fear.

The greater self is the lesser self, placed within a larger frame of collective and spiritual reference. This larger frame of reference connects us to our collective memories. Connected to collective consciousness society remembers how in the past our tendency towards business-as-usual has always produced unfortunate results. How quickly the exiles returning to Jerusalem forgot the lessons of their collective past. How short the collective memory span of the American public is. Disconnected from our collective consciousness, we remain destined to endlessly repeat the mistakes of the past.

The greater self opens us also to the promptings of the Spirit. Here we are continually refashioned by an encounter with life that reveals to us how interdependent we are upon one another and how dependant we are upon God. Living from the greater self reveals to us that individual prospering is intertwined with the individual wellbeing of others. My prosperity is dependant because it is interconnected with your wellbeing.

The voice of the Prophet Isaiah sounds to us across 2500 years of life lost in the living. Similarly, the words of the Apostle Paul confront us across 1900 years of wisdom lost in knowledge. T.S.Eliot concludes:

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust[1].

Jesus had a pithy and somewhat enigmatic way of talking at times. He says: You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Note, he does not say you are to be the salt of the earth nor does he say you are to become the light of the world. He says, you are! We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world when we live lives of love that unite us within a connection to both our collective memory and the prompting of the Spirit.

Love is expressed interpersonally through compassion and collectively through justice. At the personal level love includes self-acceptance, mutual-acceptance, toleration, forgiveness, self-giving service, humility. Collectively, the expression of love means agitating for justice, fighting inequity, embracing inclusion, practicing tolerance and extending mercy. Living lives of love is no sentimental project.

God called the Jewish exiles to return to the covenant he made with them as a people.  God continues to call us to also live in a covenant. Ours is not the covenant God made with Moses, but the New Covenant initiated by Jesus on the cross, and confirmed by God in the resurrection. It is a New Covenant in my blood reaffirmed each time we celebrate Eucharist together. This is a covenant into which we have all been baptized. Being salty and illuminated, we continue to be those who live the promises of our baptismal covenant.[2]

[1] Choruses from the Rock T.S Eliot.
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

[2]  Celebrant    Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant    Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People        I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People        I will, with God’s help.
(Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305)

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