Published: Nov. 24, 2023
by Rochelle Sjolseth, Santa Cruz Friends Meeting (11/20/2023)
In a recent Meeting for Worship, with news of the latest wars on my mind and an article to write for my Meeting’s newsletter, I asked for guidance about what I should say. With no answer forthcoming, I reframed the question, taking myself out of the equation by asking: “What do you want to say?”
The answer came clear and fast. A single word - “LOVE” surfaced, along with a rush of tender warmth like a cosmic hug. Message received. But what exactly does that message mean? Can love really be the answer to everything?
After letting this question season, and doing my best to keep myself out of Spirit’s way, the following thoughts and findings are submitted for your consideration.
1 John 4:16 “…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them.”
Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."
1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Poets, philosophers, musicians, many preachers and even a few politicians, tell us that love is the answer, that “love is all you need.”
“Love is the bridge between you and everything.” Rumi
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.
“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” Burt Bacharach
If the answer is love, and that answer has been written, taught, and known for eons, why are we not at peace? Why then do we still have wars, strife, personal and political conflicts? is our quest for – and interpretation of – truth the problem? We will venture very briefly into an extremely fraught and complex conflict for insights into that question.
The truth is that Israel suffered a horrific terrorist attack in October. It was an atrocity against a civilian target, made up largely of young innocents. The perpetrators of this attack live in and are supported and/or tolerated by many in Gaza.
The truth is that many innocent people in Gaza are being bombed, starved, and punished for an attack they did not participate in or even know about. The truth is that many of these people lost their land and homes to the creation of Israel, and groups such as Hamas hold and fan the flames of generational resentment.
The truth is that this conflict started not a few decades ago, but from “the beginning” as described in Genesis. People of the Hebrew and Christian faith are taught that it was Abraham’s son by Sarah who was the favorite son God asked Abraham to sacrifice. Islam teaches that it was Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son through an Egyptian slave named Hagar.
The truth is, there is inherent conflict even in the Hebrew and Christian texts on this matter, as the text insists that Isaac is not only the intended sacrifice but is Abraham’s only son, despite multiple references to his son, Ishmael, in the preceding verses. (Genesis 22)
The truth is that Abraham loved both his sons. When God told him that Sarah would bear him a son which God would bless, Abraham’s response was; “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” (Genesis 17:18) Abraham also had Ishmael circumcised to be part of the covenant people. (Genesis 17:23)
The truth is, these two sons are brothers from different mothers and it is largely their descendants who occupy Israel and Gaza.
Could it then be true to say that we have (and have always had) the choice of which truth we focus on? The truth which separates us or the truth which unites us? What would the world look like if Isaac and Ishmael and their descendants, recognized God in each other, celebrating familial ties with love and support of each other?
Is it then also true that when we focus on that which divides us it is our fears, our ambitions, our egos, wounds and wants that are dominating our perspective and resulting behaviors? Is it up to each of us to make the challenging yet profoundly simple choice - to focus on that which unites rather than differs? To choose to hear and follow Spirit’s eternal truth and become deaf to our own perceptions of truth? To simply let go of hatred, hurts, fear, and the baggage of resentments which bind us to dark discontentment in order to walk freely on the loving path to God?
1 John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Are we not all children of the Creator, Spiritual siblings, Friends? We must each examine our lives, attitudes and perceptions. Are we walking our talk on a daily basis? Do we harbor resentments, seek to heal our wounds by wounding or controlling those we feel wronged by? Are we the embodiment of the world we wish to see?
1 John 4:7-8 “Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
It can be very hard to love others. Especially those who hate us, wrong us, seek to hurt or kill us, or harm those we love. Our history, private and public, local and universal, is filled with the very human responses to hate and harm. But that history has never brought peace, justice or equality for all.
We cannot make those who hate us love us, or tolerate us, or stop being mean. We can only refuse to hate or be intolerant, and to be kind and loving ourselves.
It is not easy. But it is ‘the Way’ - as Jesus called his teachings.
It is letting love be the answer. Is it the way to peace and making earth as it is in heaven. And it is up to each of us to make that choice; waiting faithfully, embodying God’s truth over our own, acting as a steadfast welcoming committee to all to make this choice; until we have gathered the entire flock of humanity. And earth will become as it is in heaven.
“There is no way to peace. Peace is the Way.” Pacifist & activist A.J. Muste
“Unlike a lot of people, I don't feel powerless. I know I can do something. But anyone can do something, it's not about being special. It's about deciding to do it - to dive into work for peace and justice and care for everybody on the planet.” Patch Adams