My Daily Work
By Sonja Livingston
Today I’m wearing what I call my “love” necklace. It’s actually a prayer rope made of glass and silver and Sacred Heart medals from Italy. The “Love is patient, love is kind…” message from Corinthians is woven into the strands using Morse Code—the silver crystals are dots, the white crystals are dashes.
Why am I talking about a necklace when I was invited to speak about faith? Like many people, I respond to the word “faith” by considering religion, the various rites and rituals and sacramentals that support and remind us of our relationship with God. Starting my day in the richness of centering prayer, for instance, or ending it by lighting a candle and listening to beautiful music with my husband in what we call our evening compline service are examples of this. Reading poetry, the mystics, and the reflections on this website—which I so appreciate for the diversity of voices—each of these, like the beads of my necklace, are encoded markers of faith. Like the necklace, they support and remind, but they alone can’t do the heavy lifting of faith—which requires both other-centered action and dynamic movement at the heart-level.
Franciscan priest and writer, Richard Rohr says you know a spiritually-evolved person not by what they say but because they’re always smiling. This jibes with my own experience. The God of my understanding loves without limit—wildly, generously, unfailingly—so much so that we almost cannot bear it. Though I often fail, my goal is to connect with the source of that tremendous love, hold it, and share with others.
Samuel Beckett wrote: “Fail better” and that’s probably the message that should be coded into my prayer rope. On good days, I pray, I write, and feel so connected to all that is good, I could practically float. Then something happens. I hear hammering. The neighbor is putting in a lawn sign that differs wildly from my own politics. Or my husband wants to discuss something controversial. Or my cat Lucy, normally a very spiritual feline, drops a centipede in her water bowl. Suddenly, my sensibilities are offended. I am defensive. I begin to judge. And the blessed spaciousness disappears. But that isn’t the end of the story.
It’s actually the beginning of the story of my faith. The real story is in trying again. In failing better.
Thomas Merton wrote: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, and, in fact, it’s nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
Dorothy Day said: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
The English poet, William Blake, wrote: “For everything that lives is holy.”
My faith is rooted in related concepts of holiness and love—not as lofty abstractions—but in everyday life, the here and now, the down and dirty, the sacred and present moment. Which means slowing down enough to recognize the holiness in my neighbor as he hammers and expresses political opinions which dare to differ from my own, in my husband’s desire to talk at a time that doesn’t work well for me, even in the poor centipede and Lucy’s offering it as a gift.
The love I’m after isn’t easy. It doesn’t bury its head in the sand or fail to acknowledge the pain of our individual and collective lives. I’m working toward a love that continues in the face of rejection, disappointment, brokenness, pandemic, chaos, racial and economic injustice, and so on. I want to love in a way that allows for all of it. Isn’t this what the Gospel is all about?
The poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
My faith increasingly requires me to hold not only the pleasurable, the comfortable, or like-minded, but the difficult, the ugly, or antagonistic. Almost miraculously, my heart expands to the degree to which I’m able to embrace these things.
Real love is difficult. But it’s the work we are made for and our truest calling. I may fail to love a hundred times a day, but as long as I get up, keep going and try again a hundred and one times, I’ve done the work of my faith.