“Do you love me?”

Beside my bed, there is a rendition of the Christ Pantocrator icon — Christ looking ahead at the viewer with an expression of complete knowledge. Each morning, due to its proximity, the Christ Pantocrator is the first clear, complete image that greets me; a fact that is furthered by my terrible eyesight — and the reality that most other objects remain blurry until I put my contacts in for the day.

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His permanent expression, much like His love, is unchanging, available, and patient. Each day, those eyes ask the same question: Do you love me? Of course, my hope is to say “yes” each day — and like most, my response often falls short or comes with a set of caveats. Yes, I do love You! But I’m not ready for the pain that is coming. I love You, but…just give me some more time. I love You, I’m just not ready for the point-of-no-return. If I say I love You, can you promise it won’t hurt? Then the day happens: I’m checking emails, brushing my teeth, hastily pouring coffee in a portable mug, and racing out the door.

In times of confusion, anxiety, or hardship, we’re often pushed spiritually to look Christ in the eye and respond. I venture to say that, many times, we know the answer(s) to our biggest problems, deep down. We know that the right thing is probably the hard thing, the truth that we can’t ignore is a painful one, and the decision-making we’ve been avoiding isn’t going to be fun. At every turn, there He is, asking: But do you love me? On paper, we know: if we could simply offer Him our unrelenting love, no caveats, everything will work out. It is true! Yet, we resist again and again as our human status continues to fail us, falling prey to fear, comfort, habit, whatever makes us feel less alone.

Perhaps we can’t even accept the invitation directly from Christ’s hand and we need an instrument – Christ in another form. I remember a difficult conversation I had with a close friend last year. As I shared my deepest fears, everything that was holding me back from a difficult decision, my friend listened intently on the phone as I started to cry. Like many women, my tears were quickly followed with an apology: “I’m so sorry for crying!” But my friend responded gracefully with a chuckle that was brimming with compassion, saying, “Claire, don’t be sorry. I cried earlier this morning while watching a television show!” Somehow, in that deeply sincere chuckle, I felt the presence of God. There was something unique in it that I can’t put my finger on; something at once knowing, comforting, even paternal. It reminded me of a reflection I have often employed in times of struggle: the image of myself resting in God’s outstretched palm. Entirely cared for and lovingly watched over by a far greater, larger being. A child’s trust is present in that image.

And that’s what it has taken me so long to learn: that without a deep, perhaps childlike trust in our God, we will always reply to His question with a caveat. Our trust allows us to be easier on ourselves, too: there’s no need to fully understand our love for Christ in each response; we only need to continue to reply yes, our childlike trust leading the way, and the rest will follow.

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Beating hearts in the Ruins

The most attractive, magnetic force a human can possess is a heart for Christ. It is this heart (or hunger) that causes others to wonder, “What do they have that I don’t? I want some of that.” Other traits that may induce this sensation in others might be termed “confidence” or “joy”…but the lasting draw of those who desire closeness with Christ is the most compelling illustration of an awakened human being.

I hypothesize that this mysterious, intangible trait cannot be taught. My intuition is that a heart for Christ is a power that is built only between Christ and the individual. But I do think there are ingredients and environments that aid in the cultivation of this heart. Those include religious leaders, mentors, WONDER and TIME.

This is fortunate, as it is the one thing I want for everyone I know, and yet, I have so little control over it seemingly. I observe those close to me who appear to be driven by both head and heart, as humans are, towards earthly goals and comforts and challenges and relationships. This isn’t wrong, of course. We exist now; we must accept our placement in time as a true situation and calling, despite our longing for eternity. Accepting this responsibility is good, but it is unbearably common for us to then remain steeped in the matters of the world: our jobs, our money, our politics, our recreational interests, our bodies, our consumerism… I know too many, myself included, where the idea of one hour per day in silence or prayer or reflection is considered unheard of and entirely unachievable. Given this, why is it a surprise to encounter so many Catholics and Christians whose hearts do not actually beat for Christ? If you watch and listen, anyone will show you who they are, what gets them out of bed in the morning, and what excites them the most. Look at calendars, wallets, and weekends to learn even more. Finally, in looking at our own situation, what will we find? Chasing, temporal comforts and pleasures, and very little in the bank with God. Given the inputs, how could we uncover a confident, impassioned heartbeat under it all?

All of this reflection isn’t to suggest judgment so much as it is to illustrate a loss many of us share. Who would not want a heart for Christ? Why do we tell ourselves that everything — every thing — is more important right now? When will we learn that this isn’t sustainable?

I write from a place of both frustration and sadness. I see that we are living in the Ruins, and I accept my place in time, but I do not like it. This is a lonely, strange place for people whose hearts do beat for Christ. I yearn for a renewed sense of hope despite the Ruins. I cannot turn to the mysterious joy of Christianity to sum this all up neatly and send myself on my way. The Ruins are getting to me for now.

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