Love isn't something that can be earned or won. It has to be known. I think that love is there all around us, all the time, in between and connecting all creatures great and small. What we perceive as the earning or winning of love is not the acquisition of something new, but the realization or perception that something already been there all along. Like those optical illusion photos that can look like a vase or two faces, what we see can mean more than one thing if we can somehow adjust our perception. It may seem like one image, but suddenly you perceive something else about the picture. Love is there to be seen in the picture of life, but so many times we have blinkers on to keep us from seeing it. Even when we know it's there, when we look away, it's sometimes hard to focus and see it once again.
In many ways, the Advent season asks us to stay awake. I sometimes think it's bidding us to wake up in the first place. To notice. To see. And on Christmas day, we do awaken. We awaken to the realization that in this child, in this baby, is the manifestation of a love that could not be described well enough with intangible words. It's a love that can not be understood or fathomed or to most of us, cannot be believed all the time, especially during times of trial.
But that love becomes apparent, real, tangible flesh and we finally can see that love because it's in a form that we can understand: a baby.
We can believe in a baby. We can see it. Touch it. Kiss it. And if that baby is and can represent love in a way that we otherwise cannot imagine, that means our beliefs can be based in love, of love, around love. Our believing of a baby is believing in love.
I had a miserable Saturday. It was meant to be pleasant and lovely, as I was going to have brunch with a friend on the east bay of San Francisco. I took my backpack filled with clothing and my laptop, as I would proceed from brunch to the airport, and decided to do a walk through parks and along the Embarcadero en route.
I didn't realize that it would soon be raining, and heavily (to this Southern Californian) no less. The paths became muddy and the slopes in the Presidio soon became slippery. I fell twice. I got lost in the twisting paths. My phone couldn't get a signal in that forested park so I could not find my way out easily. I was soaked and in muddy jeans. Unlike the Camino, where people eat in dirty conditions, I wasn't mentally prepared for this and certainly did not feel comfortable sitting in a nice restaurant, so I canceled my breakfast and tried to find a place to wash up. Later on, BART would be malfunctioning so would have to pay 10x more to take a cab and also I'd get salsa and guacamole staining my shirt. My pleasant day turned sour and I seemed to have "one of those days."
What I didn't mention yet was that during the walk in the rain, I strolled past dozens and dozens of homeless sleeping under overhangs, eaves, and bus stops. They were wet, cold, and without safety. I may have felt awful, but I felt drier than they did, felt fortunate. And I also felt connected to them, knowing that my complaints were miniscule in comparison to their difficulties. I loved them for reminding me of this.
Later that night, on the subway from LA Union Station back to Pasadena, I was surrounded by a quirky mob. There were numerous people of all ages dressed in Santa garb. Apparently there was a Santa convention, and I was surrounded by Santas and elves of all ages. The festive mood jarred me into a state of alertness, to note the difference between their merriment and my self-pity.
There were also three young teen boys carrying skateboards, looking like they just spent a day at a skate park. One was Latino, one was African-American, and one was white. Though I assumed they were friends, their conversation indicated that they had just met that day at the park and were taking the Gold Line to their homes in different cities.
There was an innocence in their talk. They were eager to share skating stories, talk about how good their day was, what tricks they should try, and what towns they lived in. They were seemingly unaware that in many parts of this country, it takes much effort to get strangers of different ethnicities to socialize together.
It seemed so natural, casual, and sincere. These boys did not have the hangups that society eventually places on us. As sung in "South Pacific", racism is something that "has to be carefully taught." Why can't we retain this innocence and keep love alive? This was brotherly love in a most untainted form, and I felt blessed to witness it and let it melt my heart that still shivered from the day I had.
For many, we love kids because of their innocence, their honest personalities not yet tainted or marred by the world. It's why the story of Christmas feels so accessible to us. We are naturally drawn to a child because in the baby, we find life and love.
And as I pondered this on the train, it made me appreciate more a practice that I've been following for a few months. Whenever I talk with a stranger or with someone I'm not at ease with, I imagine that person as a child. That the person is someone who is still cloaked in innocence and unconditional love. With that exercise, I've discovered that it's easier to love that person, to see the person that God created, before society changes them into something else.
As my perception adjusts between seeing that person as a child and an adult, like looking at the vase optical illusion, I realize that I'm seeing two images of the same person. And I can love this person more easily than if I didn't try to look past their current situation.
In loving care for my own self, I've been trying to imagine myself as a child as well. I'm trying to see me as someone who hasn't strayed yet from God's plans for me. To find myself as I was once meant to be.
We can awaken to find love all around us, in the person sleeping on streets as we walk by, in the elves laughing merrily in the subway station, in the teens clutching their prized skateboards. We can awaken to see that the love has been there if we want to see it.
May the eyes of our souls perceive, beyond our own confusion, a reflection of the Christ of joy, the Christ of peace, the Christ of hope, the Christ of love.