Thursday, March 17, 2016

Agape at the Heart of Things

“I may speak in tongues of men or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.  I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better”  (I Cor. 1-3, NEB).

Two centuries ago, the Quaker, John Woolman of Mount Holly, New Jersey, heard news that the Indians along the Susquehanna River (not far from where I live) were considering going on the war-path because of broken promises and treaties and threatening the lives of the settlers in the region.  Woodman felt God’s call to go out on horseback and have a meeting with the Indians.  Here are the words written in his Journal expressing his mission:  “Love was the first motion, and thence a concern arose to spend some time with these Indians, that I might feel and understand their life, and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they might be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth among them.”

When Woolman met with the Indians, “divine love attending,” his mind was “covered with the spirit of prayer,” and he was “moved” to pray in English, which the Indians did not understand.  Yet, when he had finished praying he overheard the Indian chief say to another, “I always love to feel where words come from.”

"Thou (Love) art ever on their lips,
yet far from their hearts."
Beneath the words, the deeds, and the gifts we offer others there is something even more important.  It is not the words, the deeds, or the gifts themselves.  It is the spirit in which the words are spoken, the reason for the deeds done and the gifts given, that counts more than these outward things.  This more excellent something, this spirit, from whence these things come says St. Paul, is Agape (Love).

So many of the words we speak are empty words.  Many of the deeds and gifts we give are from a sense of guilt or out of a superficial compassion.  Those who hear our words, who accept our kindnesses and our gifts—do they “feel”where the words, deeds, and gifts we offer “come from?” 

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