In high school, the Jesus bug bit one of my best friends. I had already passed this phase in junior high. During confirmation class, the pastor told us the “rules,” one of which was “women could not be pastors.”
My hand shot up. “Can you please repeat that?” I asked.
The pastor clarified: “Women can’t be pastors, but they can hold other church positions, like church secretary.”
I closed my bible and stood up. “Thank you so much. I won’t be going through confirmation.” And away I walked from Christianity.
My friend had yet to catch up, but her bible-thumping phase marked the beginning of her quest for truth.
“What is the meaning of life?” she asked me.
“That’s easy. The meaning of life is to live,” I said.
“But there has to be more to it than that!”
“Why complicate things? So anyway, how’s it going with prom prospects?” I couldn’t be bothered with philosophical life questions when I had boys on the brain.
Fast-forward to womanhood and you realize that in order to understand boys, you must tackle the bigger life questions. And so, I refined my answer.
The meaning of life is to love. Still, I was misdirected because I associated love with one love: The meaning of life was to find your one true love with whom to conquer the world. And while that’s a worthy goal and a worthy love, that’s not the all encompassing love that is the real answer to the question. To love means to love everyone: your family, your friends, your neighbors, your enemies, your self.
While I know this love in theory, it has become painfully evident that I do not know this love in practice. And if we can’t hold a space of love in our daily interactions with others, then how open are we, really, to our one true love?
I attend Agape, a new age spiritual community that is founded on the principles of love and oneness. Reverend Michael Beckwith—who has been quoted as an expert on the law of attraction and featured in documentaries such as The Secret—is quite the force. He stands on that stage every Sunday morning and speaks from the heart, speaks from divine consciousness, and radiates pure love…to his congregation and to the world. People come to Agape, quite literally, for a love fix.
My first time at Agape, I couldn’t handle it. Newcomers stand and the congregation raises up hands and celebrates these new friends with love. My heart constricted rather than expanded, and I had trouble dealing with the overwhelm. It was just too much. Too much…love.
I knew deep down this wasn’t the weirdness of new age spiritual groupies, but my own absurd inability to accept such a generous outpouring of love from strangers. So I whittled away at it, a little at a time, and geared up every few months to deal with the Agape circus of love.
Now I go almost every week. I sing the songs, I dance, I smile, I love…and I feel more expansive. But after a recent Sunday service my weirdness found a way to kick in once again.
As I was skimming the bookstore, Reverend Michael stood on a little stool, rallying the troupes. I had never seen him off the stage before, and here he was like Jesus among the common folk. He asked us to join hands and say a prayer together. I took the hand of the reticent elderly woman next to me and felt a swell of pride to have broken through her shyness and made a new friend. This sounds small, but I’m an introvert and resist new people entering my space. Holding hands is never easy.
I continued to browse through the books, and when I looked up, whom did I see coming towards me but the Rev. And what did I do? I looked away. I made eye contact, and looked away, as though he were a leper that would give me cooties. As he walked by he touched my shoulder, and I felt physically sick. I didn’t acknowledge his touch.
My friend came over. “Reverend Michael just walked by and touched your shoulder.”
“I know,” I snapped.
“Okkaaaayyy,” she said. “I just didn’t think you knew because you totally ignored him.”
“Yea, I know,” I snapped again. My body was red hot with angst.
Ten-minutes went by before I was able to talk about it and, of course, apologize to my forever-tolerant friend. So what in the hell was all that weirdness?
I’ve always suffered from chronic introversion. Quite simply, I looked away because I was shy. But why such a physical aversion? I couldn’t handle the love.
Celebrating love from a distance is one thing. But interacting one-on-one with a man who has devoted himself to the practice of love was too much for me. I couldn’t handle love in such a close proximity. It’s all good when it’s confined to a stage, but god forbid I actually have to interact with it. Live up to it. Practice it beyond the average and ordinary.
And if I can’t handle a swift exchange of love between two strangers, then how in the world can I claim to be ready for love with a partner? So here I am, with a heart that has only stretched so far, with a heart that beats with desire but hasn’t quite learned to flex beyond its self-imposed boundaries. So if you meet me, and we exchange a quick glance, and I look away (don’t be surprised if it’s with a touch of disgust) just know that I love you, that I want to gaze into your eyes, and that I want to hold your hand…I’m simply not ready yet…but if you touch my shoulder, you may just be able to break through.