Embodying Love: A Lenten Reflection
I have an icon that hangs in my office. It depicts the three persons of the Trinity sitting around a table—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of them seems to be regarding the others, and one seat of the table remains open, presumably for the one observing the icon to enter in to their communion. During Lent, when I tend to turn my ever-critical eyes to harsh practices of confession and lament, the message in this image invites me to consider Lent anew.
The icon first prompts me to reconsider is what it means to be made “in the image of God.” Growing up, I learned that we were like God in our capacity to create, in our ability to think rationally and to make choices. These ways of defining what constitutes being “in the image” of God are incomplete at best, if not outright dangerous, as they have the potential to either exclude or over-value portions of humanity. What the icon invites me to consider is that God is, in most simple terms, love. (Which should come as no surprise since John wrote as much in his epistle.) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit regard one another, and exist in eternal unity, while remaining distinct. To be made in the image of God is to be made a loving participant in a broader community—with God and with others.
What does it look like to be a “loving participant” in creation though? The open seat at the table in the icon invites us to come sit, and find out. Rather than plow through chapters of the Bible, refrain from coffee (since I don’t eat meat anyway), or tick off endless lists of prayer requests, what if being “in Christ” and “in the image” is as simple as being with Christ? If God exists in an eternal, loving, communion, then what better way to discover what it looks like to be in this love, and to image this love to others than to experience it for ourselves!
This experience of the love of God may take place in quiet moments of reflection in solitude, or around an actual table sharing a meal with loved ones. It may be experienced in contemplative prayer, allowing the words of Scripture to wash over us, or it may be experienced in the hug of a friend, a neighbor shoveling the snow from our sidewalk. It is to our benefit to approach Lent not as a program to progress through, but a posture in which we are expectantly looking for the presence of God all around us.
Rather than defining our status before God as a function of our performance—creativity, rationality, decision making, etc. –defining our status as a function of our belovedness has the potential to reform our entire paradigm for approaching life. If my first task as a human is to live as though I am loved deeply, fully and profoundly, then I can begin to consider that every other person is also, equally loved and respond accordingly in my day to day life. Rather than a never-ending list of tasks to guilt me into being “Christlike,” I am invited to sit at the table and feast with the One who has loved us all first, and loved each of us to life.