Loving God

First written Spring 2006 while attending Fuller Theological Seminary. My beliefs are open-minded, embracing all faiths.

How can I not love God? My God loves me unconditionally. He has created me. He sent His Son to die for my sins. Yet, I do not want my love for God to depend on His love for me. I believe that I owe Him my love whether or not He loves me. Regardless, as a Christian, I believe in God’s unconditional love. I do not believe that God’s love is covenanted by the Old Testament laws. Believing that God loves me fills my own heart with love, with love for Him, with love for His creation. Perhaps most importantly, given that I have suffered severe depression, knowing God loves me has allowed me to love myself. If I am worthy of His love, then I most definitely am worthy of my own. In return, I am forever grateful, and return His love with my own.

I have not always been so faith full. When I was a teenager and a young adult, I considered myself an agnostic. Back then one of my best friends, a Christian Scientist, used to challenge my agnosticism, debating the existence and then the nature of God. JB defined God as Love, and then asked me if I believed in Love. I countered him pointing out that his proof required assuming that God equals love, and that his logic was circular, requiring that I accept this assumption in order to prove God exists. I questioned that equation back then when I was a teenager and young adult. Now I find it obvious. My experience of God is of Love. I know that God loves me, and that knowledge fills my heart and brings me to tears.

My debates with my friend JB also involved his Christian Scientist beliefs. Reading Mary Baker Eddy, I found myself passionately disagreeing with her. I would contend that not only Spirit is real, that mind and body are just as real. I come from a Roman Catholic background, in which the Trinity, the carnal knowledge of Jesus, is experienced in the Eucharist. For me, the Trinity represents God the Father, Christ the son, and the Holy Spirit – mind, body and soul. I believe that God created a material world, as well as a spiritual one, and that that material world came to life and touched us deeply and meaningfully when He sent Jesus Christ as a man to us and sacrificed Him for us.

Better understanding God’s love for me, now I must nurture my love for Him. I must continue developing disciplines that cultivate my love for God by making space in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul. I have begun to devote more of my time to God by responding to His call to ministry, to attending seminary, to learning more about Christianity, to going deeper in my faith. Responding to His call has profoundly moved me, reminding me of His love for me, that He has a plan for me as a member of a greater community, whether or not I know what that plan is. Taking this step in responding to His call has been an expression of my love for Him and my faith in the Lord.

This path to faith I began earnestly when I was 28 and attending St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Oakland, California. To become a member and receive communion in the Roman Catholic Church, I attended a liturgical year’s worth of classes known as the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). During this time I met with a lay spiritual director. She had trained for two years to become a spiritual director. She provided me with my first model of a deeply meaningful and challenging lay ministry. I was unfamiliar with the ministry of spiritual direction – a ministry that in many ways was similar to psychotherapy, my vocation back then. Both used similar gifts, similar skills. Yet the therapy she provided focused on my spiritual direction, spiritual growth and healing. As a psychotherapist, my job was to provide emotional direction, to heal the mind and the emotions, to improve social and interpersonal functioning.

The other reason I mention her, my first spiritual director, is that during one session I brought up the lyrics to a country song written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore, a Buddhist. He sang that “You’ve Got To Go To Sleep Alone.” She asked whether I believed this, and I said no. I knew that God, that Jesus, walked with me always, whether or not I felt His presence. Over all these years, I recall the impact these lyrics had on me so I quote them here in their entirety.

You’ve Got To Go To Sleep Alone
Words and Music by Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Well you may dance the night away and laugh among the stars,
And you may spill the milk away and cry among the bars.
And you may wake the rafters and break the heart of stone,
But you’ve got to go to sleep alone.
You’ve got to got to go to sleep alone.
You’ve got to got to go to sleep alone.
And even if you’re lying with somebody,
Still you’ve got to go to sleep alone.
Well you may climb the golden stairs somewhere past Jacob’s Ladder.
And you may put on golden airs and help the rich get sadder.
And you may learn the golden rule and sit on a golden throne,
But you’ve got to go to sleep alone.
You’ve got to got to go to sleep alone
You’ve got to got to go to sleep alone.
And even if you’re lying to somebody,
Still you’ve got to go to sleep alone.

Well you may wake up in the night And wonder if you’re dreaming,
And referee the fight between the being and the seeming.
And when the victor holds your hand up to the great unknown,
You’ve got to go back to sleep alone
You’ve got to got to go to sleep alone
You’ve got to got to go to sleep alone.
And even if you’re lying with somebody you really love,
Still you’ve got to go to sleep alone.

Listening to these lyrics, pondering why they did not resonate with me, I realized by some knowledge deep within my soul that God was with me when I lied down to sleep, while I slept through the night, and when I awoke. I disagreed with Jimmy Dale Gilmore, though he’s a great musician and a thoughtful and thought-provoking artist. My disagreement reaffirmed that I was, indeed, a Christian – that I indeed had faith.

My discernment at this time went further. At St. Leo’s I was attending my third and final attempt at completing the Catholic Church’s RCIA. I had begun two other times but stopped sooner that I had at St. Leo’s. I resisted Catholic confirmation because I had too many disagreements with the Church, the greatest of was the fact that the Church did not ordain women. I had this nagging, indescribable and unsettling feeling that God was calling me to the ordained priesthood. This I could not do as a Roman Catholic, leading me to confirm my Christian faith in the Episcopal Church. By a series of seemingly mystical experiences and unexplained coincidences, God called me to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Benicia, California – a spirit-filled and loving congregation.

Now that I am attending Fuller, I am making a commitment to love God, to choose Him, to follow Jesus. I had once claimed agnosticism and briefly as a child even professed atheism. Still God loved me and I did at some level feel His love, even as I questioned it intellectually. Now that I embrace my faith in God and nurture my love for Him, that mutual love has sustained me.