Answers to My St. Gertrude’s Question #3
What is that? How do I git me more of it?
I’ve been ensconced in an Artists Residency Program at St. Gertrude’s Monastery near Cottonwood, Idaho since June 1st. I’ve been writing (a lot) about different things, but one of the reasons I was excited to come here was to get away from my usual surroundings to pose a few questions to God (who hangs out here a lot, I think). Thursday, I shared about strange phenomena that have happened to me over the last few decades (see St. Gertrude’s Question #3). My question was: What is this and how do I git me more of it?
There’s a beautiful glass piece of art downstairs in the cafeteria here at St. Gertrude’s. Backlit, its jewel tones attract my gaze every time I walk in the room. That’s probably the intent of the piece. It says to me that God, all that He is and everything he’s ever done, is present here. It reminds me to be kind and to value the people at each table where I sit to eat.
After reflection since Thursday, what I’ve felt is God’s lovingkindness expressed on His behalf through me toward others – not always in words, but also in actions. I only wish now that at the time I was expressing it, I’d understood that I was receiving it too.
What do I mean? These experiences have been not unlike standing in a warm, happy, euphoric shower of liquid sunshine. I know, I told you they were strange phenomena. I really have no words to describe what it feels like so “a warm, happy, euphoric shower of liquid sunshine” will have to do.
The fact that I have no adequate words fits what the Bible says about the lovingkindness of God. The Hebrew word for lovingkindness is checed, which literally means “covenant loyalty.” There are no words for it in English. The closest we come are the words “faithfulness, unfailing love, mercy, and good favor”. They fall short, but they’re a start. Lovingkindness is God’s nature, His character. Who He is. So, let me be a little presumptuous and propose that what I’ve felt is what Moses had to be shielded from in the cleft of the rock. His glory.
But to get to my second question, “how do I get me more of it?”, there’s a simple answer that I’m going to make you wait a few paragraphs to answer. At first, I didn’t think it was possible to get more. God’s lovingkindness is everywhere around us all day, every day. It’s just that most times, like coming into the cafeteria at St. Gertrude’s, we don’t notice it until we see it lit up in light and jewel tones.
True, but remember, in Exodus 33, God told Moses: “...I will cause all my goodness (tob in Hebrew) to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live....”
It's that last sentence that leads me to believe that what I experienced was not the full dose of His lovingkindness. I pinch myself and yes, I’m still here. I’m not dead so, there’s more to be had. It’s likely that what I experienced is a dialed-back strength of His lovingkindness because not only could the people I met not handle it, but neither could I.
All of this led me to another question. If I feel His lovingkindness sometimes, why not all the time? James 4:2 would suggest that if I ask for it, I receive it. When I thought back to the times I’ve experienced His lovingkindness, the common denominator of each experience is that He’s shown up whenever I’ve agreed to go, willing to be used by God.
When I prayed for anyone in church long ago, I asked Him to give me words to pray and to feel His heart for the people. In my book All Is Not As It Seems about my trip to Brazil in 1998, I long ago wrote: “’...Thank You, God,’ I prayed, ‘for placing the desires of my heart within me – desires to know You and be known by You, to be used, to care for hurting people...”’ In Uganda? Same. It was never my idea to go there in the first place. Even after I told Roots-Africa I wouldn’t go, it kept coming back up. I finally realized that the trip to Uganda was God’s idea and went, praying that He’d use me there too.
Can I git me some more? It appears that I can. So, what if I got up every morning or heck, even once a month to start with, and ask Him to use me this way? What if?
There’s a song I heard in 1985, long about the time that contemporary Christian music first hit the airwaves. Written by the genre’s answer to Cyndi Lauper, Leslie Phillips, it goes like this:
“It’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance, Oh, Lord. Knowing that You love us no matter what we do, makes us want to love You too.”
I think the kindness she sang about is the lovingkindness we experience every day in varying measures, and that I felt in a higher dose on the prayer line, in Brazil, and in Uganda. It’s the heart of what He wants to remind us of because when we do, we can’t help ourselves: we love Him more. I’m reminded of it every time I go for a meal in the cafeteria at St. Gertrude’s.
Finally, I remember that the meaning of checed goes to lovingkindness expressed in covenant relationships. I don’t have any idea where any of those people are spiritually, but that’s not my issue (unless He says it is). Like He told Moses, He has mercy and compassion for whomever He chooses. They know where they are. He does too. That, besides my willingness to be used, is the only thing that matters.