Print Version January 10th, 2005
These are very earthy readings, very ‘bodied’ readings: Jesus, flesh of our flesh, touching, holding, healing; his flesh lifting up our own. And, the way Hebrews puts it, sharing our same flesh and blood so that his death could take away our death.
This is a God who completely identifies with us, is us, right down to the blood and bones, right down to the DNA and deeper.
James Alison has a powerful essay called ‘Confessions of a Marginaholic’ where he looks at this streak in himself that likes being out on the margin, likes being excluded, likes being thought ill of and is never quite comfortable being comfortable, being admired or liked. He says he could back it all up with scripture—carrying the cross, being little with the little ones, being despised with the despised—but that eventually he discovered something pernicious in it. Let me put it in the form of a question, two questions: do you believe that God loves you … loves you however you are, whatever you have done, whatever your faults? The lucky ones among us will say yes to that immediately and without reservation. The rest of us are still working on it, waiting for that grace, wanting it down deep as our DNA, beyond the ache of our history of sin. But there’s a second question, a question that makes all the difference: you believe God loves you, now do you believe God likes you? …
There’s something about ‘like’ that seems almost prosaic next to ‘love’, almost second-rate. But there’s something about ‘love’ in the Christian context that can be very … distant. As though it were possible to love someone and not like them. And it is. We have been taught the obligation to love our enemies, love the ones we dislike, do them good, wish them no ill, but thank God we don’t have to actually like them. How can we like the people who wrong us? Even if with grace and will we might be able to love them.
James Alison’s hangup, as he describes it, is to project that line of thought into God’s head. ‘Well James’—no lets make it personal—‘Well Rob … hmm … I know your faults, your many faults, but I don’t wish you ill, in fact I love you—just don’t ask me to like you.’
Can God possibly like me, knowing all God knows? Can God like me, enjoy me, delight in me—really be my friend?
Which brings me, at last, to Aelred of Rievaulx. He dared to talk about the way God does like us and we can like God. God not only loves us, God befriends us. God is friendship—and the ground of all our human friendships. ‘Here we are you and I’, he said to a fellow monk, ‘and I hope a third, Christ, is here among us’.
The disinterested, distant kind of love won’t do when we talk of God—God’s love for us must be full of all the affection and delight that the best friendship reveals to us.
Our readings remind me of that. Of a God who throws his lot in with us right down to the roots, plunges right into the heart of the humanity we share. No stiff upper lip. No sense of difficult duty. Just a relish, a wholehearted energy and a delight to be alive, to be human, to love and to like and to lift up the lowly.