The mystery of being loved

A friend, saying she’d been a fearless young woman, added that she’s become increasingly anxious as she’s grown older. “When I feel that anxiety starting to build, I tell myself, ‘I am loved.’ It calms and centers me.”

The next day, another friend shared a link to a Krista Tippett podcast in which the interview subject, Catholic actor Martin Sheen, said, “Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved.” Look around, he added. It’s pretty evident who knows they’re loved and who doesn’t.

That afternoon, over lunch, a colleague talked about a theology class she’s taking.

“Are most of the books academic?” I asked. “Or are they for real people? Would you recommend any?”

The next day a slim paperback, Doing the Truth in Love, appeared on my chair. I took it home and started reading it that night. In the first chapter, Michael J. Himes, a priest and theologian, explores the mystery of God, the concept of agape or what he calls “pure self-gift,” and the idea that pure agapic love is not noun but relationship. He writes that salvation is knowing we are loved, and damnation is absolute rejection of love. But even the damned are loved. We all are, always. Using the parable of the prodigal son, Himes illustrates that God is about love, not justice.

Over the coming days, as I became annoyed with random people—the driver that sped up to prevent me from merging onto the expressway; a former classmate, whom I’d always found to be a windbag, stirring the pot on social media—I took a breath and said out loud to myself, “God even loves him.” I exhaled and got on with it.

“What supports our existence and holds us in being is God’s love,” Himes writes.

In the din and demands of daily life, to center and hold myself in being, I often come back to family, writing, work and service, which in many ways are interrelated, intrinsic to me, and which I mostly think of as being of my own making.

But, no. Himes says they’re not of my making at all. The love of God is what holds and defines me, and to accept that I am loved means accepting a relationship with God. And not only with God but also with other people. This time interpreting the story of the Good Samaritan, Himes writes there is no love of God if we don’t first love each other.

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