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The Deepest Refrain

Lord God, you love us, source of compassion

These words provided the restorative refrain near the end of a Taizé service I attended with our local L’Arche community on Tuesday evening. Over and over again, we sang. Lord God, you love us, source of compassion. Until it was drilled down into our bones. Until the words wore down our defenses and settled into our souls. Until we could just about believe this most incredible of things.

We are loved. I am loved. By God.

We were a mixed collection of humanity, as L’Arche services always are. Some could hold a tune, some couldn’t. Some struggled with the Latin and French words interspersed throughout the service, some didn’t. Some looked bored, some had their eyes closed in reverent worship. Some were exhausted after a long day; some were alert and attentive. Some wondered how many times we were going to repeat the same line. There were members of the L’Arche community punctuating proceedings with spasms of laughter or discomfort or pain or exultation. One member walked around clapping his hands, another rocked back and forth, another belted out the songs at the top of their lungs. It was a glorious and cracked little community that summoned the collective will to rehearse these life-giving words.

Lord God, you love us, source of compassion.

I’m not able to attend L’Arche prayer night as often as I’d like. You know, meetings and all. Decisions must be made, people must be met with, initiatives must be initiated. But every time I do make it out to prayer night, I am, in a way, brought back to the basics of my humanity. Of our humanity. There is no pretense at L’Arche prayer night. Nobody’s trying to impress one other or slavishly attempting to engineer praise. We’re not all silently evaluating the quality of the production, the quality of the music, the theological profundity of the devotional. There are no expectations that disruptions will be avoided, that decorum will be observed. It’s all a bit chaotic and loud and off-key. But it’s also the perfect space to re-anchor oneself in the most foundational truth of what it means to be a human being.

Lord God, you love us, source of compassion.

Each one of us has a hunger to be loved. To be noticed. To be accepted. To not be turned away because of whatever way we don’t measure up. To not be sneered at, ignored, relegated to the sidelines. To be welcomed in. To hear, “You matter, your story is a vessel of meaning, no matter what you hear from a judgment-hungry and fear-ridden world.” To experience the love and compassion of God. To be gifted with the charge to extend the love, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness of God out into the world.

Lord God, you love us, source of compassion.

This is the deepest longing we have as human beings. It never leaves us. We experience it as small children, as angst-y teenagers, as young adults struggling to find our place in the world. It remains our companion as young parents who wonder if we’re getting it right and as middle-aged folks who are well aware that we haven’t gotten it right. It haunts us as professionals who seem to be confidently making our way in the world and as people the world has kicked around a bit, whe have the bitter taste of failure in our mouths. It remains with us as older people who are sifting through a lifetime of experiences and wondering what it’s all been for and where it’s all going.

We experience it at all of these stages and all of the ones in between. All of our lives, to varying degrees at various times, ask the same question. Am I loved? Despite my screw-ups and disappointments? Despite the things that I have failed to understand? Despite what I have done and left undone? Is it actually true? Is this something we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better or is the love of God the truest and deepest refrain our lives will ever sing?

I believe it is. I believe that the love of God is strong enough to patch together all our cracks and scars, all the selfish dead-ends we chase down in our desire for the acceptance, belonging, and security we so desperately crave, all the ways in which we fail one another, all of our faithless preoccupations with that which is passing away, all of our defeats and blunders along the way. Underneath all of these things is a God who makes the insistent, persistent claim that we are loved. Fully, truly, finally. We don’t earn it. We can’t stop it or reroute it. We don’t even really deserve it. But there it is, whether we want or not.

Actually, scratch that. We do want it, whether we realize it or not. It is what all of our wanting eventually reduces to, in some for another. It is the substrate of every desire that ultimately matters.

Lord God, you love us, source of compassion. You really do. And for this we offer our thanks and praise.

The image above is taken from the 2009-10 Christian Seasons Calendar. It is called “You Knit Me Together” and was created by Caroline Coolidge Brown. 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thats Beautiful, man.

    November 15, 2019
  2. Paul Johnston #

    Thank you.

    November 16, 2019
    • Paul Johnston #

      The best of words can be read again and again, a deeper reflection, each and every time.

      Some just for their utilitarian/social value. Some speak even deeper, to psychoanalytical and moral value. The very best of words, words like these, speak to the depth of human reality. A place, ironically, where words are transcended. Ideas have little or no form. A place of being. Just being what you are. What you are mean’t to be. A beingness that remains mystery to you, forever beyond your description but as right and true to you as is the knowing of your own name. As is the knowing of His name…

      These are the words you were born to write, Ryan. I feel it in my bones.

      November 25, 2019
      • Thank you very kindly, Paul.

        November 26, 2019
  3. Kevin K #

    Well done, and as the father of a child with an intellectual disability, thanks for taking the time to visit L’arche and be a part of what they’re doing 🙂

    November 18, 2019
  4. Thanks, all, for these kind words.

    November 18, 2019

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