"Love is patient, love is kind ... loves bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13)
How many times have we heard these words? They are read from pulpits, shared at weddings, written on Hallmark cards and inscribed on every tiny angel pin at every checkout line at every Walmart in America. Yes, yes, we know - love is patient, love is kind. Got it. Next?
What a shame that these words have reached such a saturation point that they no longer carry the power and import they deserve. Perhaps we need a new lens ...
Several years ago, I spent a week camping in a redwood forest in Northern California. For anyone who has stood in the presence of redwoods, you understand the majesty of these great trees; truly, a spiritual, holy spot. As I sat that week under their great canopy, I began to wonder: what if these massive trees could talk? What wisdom would they share with our twenty-first century society? What redwood wishes might be offered for our broken world? While I'm not sure of the answer, if I had to guess, I'd say they would share three wishes. And those three wishes would come straight out of Corinthians 13: 7: "Love bears all things, love believes and hopes all things, love endures all things."
Redwood Wish #1: Bear Each Other up
One of the tallest living things on earth, redwoods can grow up to four hundred feet in height (comparable to a thirty-five-story building). But they don't reach these towering heights by sinking their roots down into the ground. They grow to these heights by sending their roots out-horizontally-and connecting with the other trees in the forest. They're tall, because they bear each other up.
1 Corinthians 13 says "love bears all things." These trees are the ultimate manifestation of this power of love. And like those trees, we too grow taller and stronger -- we are better people when we connect as community.
My parents, Ann and Herb, believed the same thing. Their philosophy of life was quite simple: leave things better than you found them. When I was young that meant my room. But as I got older, I realized that philosophy had a much broader application to things like our co-workers, our friends and family, our communities, the earth. Do we leave things better than we found them? Are others better off after being in our presence? To love, truly love, we have to reach beyond ourselves and bear each other up.
Redwood Wish #2: Believe and Hope All Things Good
As I sat in that forest, I was struck by the cycle of life all around me. There were the great mature trees forming a huge canopy shading the entire forest. Then there were the tiny seedlings; scrappy, feisty little green shoots straining, reaching up and out to find sunlight to help them grow.
Perhaps that's what meant in 1 Corinthians when it says "love believes all things and hopes all things." Love looks for the good. Like those little seedlings, it strains to find the best, the sunlight in others.
But of course there's a trick. In order to see the best in others, we have to be able to see it in ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us tend to go to the negative first, the faults first, the flaws first. We forget that we are made in the image of the divine; that each of us at our core is holy and loveable and full of sunlight. There is a reason that the bible says, "love your neighbor AS yourself." Like the sunlight for those little seedlings, love is about finding the good in ourselves and our neighbor; it is about finding our source of life and being.
Redwood Wish #3: Endure with an Eye Towards the Longview
Not only are redwoods some of the tallest living creatures, they are some of the oldest, many dating back two thousand years. This means that some of these trees have lived through everything from the Roman Empire to Lady Gaga.
It makes you wonder: how would our lives be different if we had such a long view of the world. How would our choices - our life - be different with such a perspective?
It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day stress, the "crisis" staring at us from our "in box," the ringing phone, the emails, the tweets. While these may seem important now, if we look at them with an eye to the long view, they begin to fade to obscurity. In the long view things like family, community, health, joy and compassion become the clear priorities.
Granted, 1 Corinthians 13 may be the most over-used bible verse ever. Yet when considered through the lens of an ancient redwood, we may begin to recognize the power in this scripture once again. Let us take a second look not only at 1 Corinthians 13, but at our lives. Do we bear each other up? Do we believe and hope all good things? Do we take the long view? Our lives might take a different turn if we would only begin to orient our path toward love, compassion and Three Redwood Wishes.
Taken from a sermon to be preached at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York City on Sunday, November 14, 2010. http://www.mabcnyc.org/mabc-audio.htm