Reflections on Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

One Friday night, not long ago, I did something I have never done before.  After enjoying a delicious dinner with a group of wise women friends, our host moved us to comfy couches and chairs in the living room; one of the women passed out copies of a poem, and another read it out loud.  Then we shared our ideas, our thoughts, how the poem spoke to us. 
The thing is, I have never been much into poetry.  Except for Shel Silverstein, and maybe Dr. Seuss, I have not often been moved by it.  So at first I just listened.  I listened to my friends as they shared which words and lines spoke to them.  Some of them asked questions, and others answered – from their story, their perspective.  I read and reread the lines.  I reflected.  And then, like a probe reaching deep into my heart - examining, inquiring, exploring, I was stirred up and moved.  By poetry, of all things.

Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~Derek Walcott

Our discussion led us to our younger selves, to the time in our lives when we felt the most free to be ourselves.  For me, this was around first and second grade.  I remember feeling carefree, thinking myself smart and funny, and never doubting whether I was enough.  Good enough.  Lovable enough.  Smart enough or pretty enough.
As young girls, my friends were imaginative and silly, cruising their neighborhoods on roller skates, making horses and corrals out of twigs, and producing musicals for their parents.  We were artists, teachers, leaders, nurses, communicators, and business women in the making.
Then come the fears that bind us, the shame that makes us hide, and the insecurities that make us feel less than.  A couple of women in the group shared how they see traces of themselves in their daughters, and while they love these streaks in their daughters, they no longer love themselves.  Somewhere along life’s journey, many of us stopped believing the truth about ourselves – that we are loved, accepted, and cherished.  We are made in the image of the God who created us, and are of immeasurable worth to Him.
 But our journey is not yet over, and for me, this poem is about the journey home.  Home to where I am loved and I belong.  Grief is mingled in with my interpretation, because in some ways it is hard to see myself since I no longer have my mom as a mirror.  Her love and encouragement always was abounding in my life, and if I ever doubted my value or whether or not I was loved, all I had to do was look into her eyes.  Listen to the way she said my name.  Her love is still in my heart, but perhaps part of letting go is learning to see my true self in God’s eyes, in His words.  Listening to the tender way He speaks my name.
                 I've taken down the photographs, the love letters from the shelf.  Polaroids of my mom cradling me in her hospital bed on my birth-day, soft sheets and blankets, her blond hair long and thick, like a movie star.  I've looked into the eyes of my four-year-old, six-year-old, ten-year-old self.  Even though my hair is cut like a boy, that’s me.  After all these years, that’s still me.  Love After Love reminds me to be gentle with myself.  To care for my heart, spirit, and body.  To believe the truth, and to come home.

    “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20



Not long ago, I heard a song on Christian radio, and the chorus says this about faith:

It’s gotta be

More like falling in love

Than something to believe in

More like losing my heart

Than giving my allegiance

        My kids were in the room when the song came on, and my knee-jerk reaction was to tell them that this is not true.  Faith in God - living the Christian life - is not a feeling.  It is most definitely not like falling in love. I thought about Paul being knocked off his horse and blinded for three days when he encountered Christ.  I thought about the disciples – most of them were martyred for their devotion to Jesus.  And I’m thinking about the situation in North Korea where Kim Jong-un has ordered the execution of thirty-three Christians.  Faith is most definitely something - Someone - to believe in, and it is absolutely about giving your allegiance.

        I think it is misguided and even dangerous to compare or equate our faith to falling in love, and it tells me that our Hollywood culture (which is obsessed with falling in love) has shaped our faith life in profound ways.  I am not saying that we cannot or should not feel intense love for Christ, or that we will not have amazing experiences where we feel God’s presence and feel intimately connected with Him.  But real faith is not based on those feelings or experiences.
Here is what the bible says about faith:

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, 
the evidence of things not seen.
 (King James Version)

        My husband, Bernie, and I attended a funeral on December 30th that truly broke our hearts.  A couple that we have known for several years lost their adult son – he took his life on Christmas morning.

        This couple is now attending the same grief support workshop that I am, and Bernie and I walked into church with them not long ago.  I asked them if the workshop was helping them at all, and the man, who was walking in front of me, threw his arms up in the air and just kept walking.  His wife, who was walking beside me, said, “You know, maybe it helps some to talk to other parents whose children have taken their lives - we are just here because it is the next step we know how to take.”

        We walked together into the worship service; they went to sit with their group, and Bernie and I grabbed a couple of seats near an aisle.  From where we were, I had a straight line of vision to where they were seated in the auditorium.  The music started, and as we sang about our God being a God who saves, I couldn't take my eyes off of them.  They were on their feet, singing in full voice, and I could see the intensity of both their pain and their conviction in their bodies as they worshiped their God.  In their unspeakable grief they were singing to the God who saves.  The God who saves them, the God who saves their son.  And I thought, this is what faith looks like.

Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. 
(American Standard Version)

        I am studying the book of Job in my community bible study, and my small group was discussing the theme of Job.  He was an upright man, and yet God allowed Satan to take everything from him: his children; his wealth; even his health.  Some say this story is about suffering – particularly unjust suffering.  Others say that it is about God’s sovereignty – He created the universe and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  He doesn't owe us an explanation – He is God.

        And yet when I read about Job scratching his sores with broken pottery, listening to his friends go on and on about how there must be some unconfessed sin in his life, listening to his wife tell him to curse God and die already, I am moved beyond words to hear Job say, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In his humanity, Job questioned and struggled.  And I can’t help but think, this is what faith looks like.

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for 
and gives us proof of what we cannot see. 
(Contemporary English Version)

        When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she was believing God for a miracle.  But she told us early on, “Either way, though, I’m in a win-win situation.  If I live through this I win more time with my family.  If I die, I know I am going to be with the Lord.”  She put her faith and trust in God, not in an outcome.  This is what deep, abiding faith looks like.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, 
is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. 
It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what 
distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. 
(The Message)

All of these people are examples to me of what it looks like to walk by faith, not by sight: 

  • Taking one step forward even when you can’t see where you are going
  • Believing in God’s unfailing love and goodness even through life’s darkest trials 
  • Worshiping God in the midst of crushing grief and loss
  • Holding on to the promise that He will see us through, and that heaven waits for us

  Ahora bien, la fe es la certeza de lo que se espera, 

la convicción de lo que no se ve. 

(La Biblia de las Américas)

Let us walk by faith, not by sight, and may our children see in us examples of real, abiding faith.