I saw posted on facebook the other day, an excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I’ve heard it before and maybe there are blog posts abounding about it but it’s a sweet story and powerful in its way. A friend had this part read at her wedding—no scripture or anything traditional, but this. And it was perfect.
The week I saw this posted, I also heard a sermon on love. On 1 John 4:7-17. The guy speaking did his own transliteration of the text from the original Greek. And one thing caught my ear especially. What we normally read in the text as “anyone who loves, comes from God,” was worded, “those who love, comes-into-being from God.” It means the same, but the words “come into being” evoke a much broader and more beautiful picture to me. And it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit.
In the book, the boy loves this stuffed rabbit. He takes it everywhere, he sets up games with it in the bushes. He lays with it beside him every night, and the rabbit is hot but gets used to the heat and starts to need it. In the book, the boy will drop everything else to find the rabbit. He cannot be at peace until it is close and safe. The rabbit’s fine sheen is eventually rubbed off and his seams beg open. The rabbit is loved and cherished and in someways that makes him less than his former self—but like the skin horse said, it is in this state—the unglorious wear and tear that comes from of a life lived with another person that makes that little brown bunny real.
Love is something in our culture so abstract and idealized, unformed but worshipped. We sequin it onto pillows and tattoo it on our shoulders. We recognize that there is something in loving a person truly that does go beyond what we merely want to aquire and gather for ourselves. There is something in “love” that we need and we follow after even if we don’t know what that love will do to us if we truly find it.
In both the scripture and the book, it is said that love, when you love and when you are loved, pushes you into this trajectory of “becoming.” Like we aren’t fully here without it. Like we uncover something of who we are when we have to negotiate what it means to love another “becoming” person. We come into being when we get close to love. We gradually become more real—we exist more, we are more concrete and we have to live in reality more. When we love anyone—friend, spouse, mother, father, brother, child—and when we experience love in return—we become more of who we are, under all that we thought we had to be.
Love makes us real. Its not a fix all—finding someone to love will not make you better or perfect by a loooooong shot but will set you on the path to uncover something bedrock about yourself. Not your pretty, sanitized, self-actualized self, mind you. If anything, this real love will show that self for what it is—more of a shell than a heart. The self that loves beyond itself is a self that is as honest as blood and dirt. That self that can’t hide anymore and doesn’t want to. The self that longs to be known and longs to be present and longs to be taken in finds that it is when it chooses to know and take in another.
And do you know how love does all these amazing, high-falutin’ things?
I just wrote that question and laughed to myself—like I have any complete idea what love is capable of. How does it make us? How does it bring us into being? Certainly not with big words and fanciness. Not with ideas and blog posts. But maybe it makes us by setting us up beside another. Where we have to push and tug and learn about how to be with another. Where we have to listen and then we have to speak. Where we have to not charge ahead like a bull all the time and also have to not hang back like a mouse along the edge of the room all the time. Where we have to take another’s view into consideration and then we have to value, and encourage and delight in that view—however different it is from ours. And we have to do it while not letting go of ourselves. And none of this will go according to plan. And we will be hurt. We will get poked by the bushes and our seams will open. We will be bruised, most likely. And, just like that rabbit, we might even love and be loved so thoroughly that we will have to walk with someone through their dark and fever and disease and it might threaten to burn us up in the end. Love can do that.
As I’ve been writing I’ve been thinking about all the different kinds of love. I could write about what loving a spouse does to your heart. The good and the hard and how the heart becomes less a mushy, plump, rainbow dream and more a toned but tender muscle when you live and choose to love with someone. I could talk about what loving your children does—holy flip, that love is fierce and exhausting. I could talk about loving your mom, or your dad and learning what it is to let them be real people too.
But what I was thinking about the most today was…..well, church. Loving church. Loving THE church and all its stinky parts. All those people. What does it mean that we “come into being” when we love all those weird people that show up alongside ourselves, looking for something greater than themselves. And seriously, church people are weird.
I hold on to church lightly. Or at least I’ve learned to. Like most people, I have had a run-in with some churchers that left me hurt and damaged. Confused and angry. Alone and not sure where to go next. And then I have come across some church people who healed me—who spoke wisely and thoughtfully and honestly. They showed me the good parts of this faith that actually do make people more whole. I have come across people who attend churches who make me fearful and those who make be brave. In church, you will find every sort of human imaginable—and every weakness and falliability and pretension. Churches are so susceptible to fads—to ideas that seem so powerful but peter out because….well, there are probably a million reasons why, but they do. They never seem to settle down into the hearts of people. Probably because nothing ever does without love.
And church, THE church, is not like anything else in that it not only is a community of people to work with and learn from, it also exists as a function of an urge in our deepest selves to know God. To connect with that Pulse that we can no more define than control. So the hurt that we receive from those in church will deeply impact how we know and want to know God and how we know and want to know ourselves—it will sit in us in such a way that will grip us to our deepest parts. Because at church we open our deepest selves up to God and sometimes hurt and broken and maybe even awful people walk in and make big mistakes there. And maybe we’ve done the same in others.
The little church we go to is going through some changes. Big changes. Not bad ones, but ones that will definitely change how we ARE together. I think everyone involved in this church will have experienced some discomfort and some apprehension as to what it will mean to have our community stretched in ways we don’t actually know yet. I was thinking about this “come into being” idea when it comes to how we love the people in church. This is one of those times in the life of a community that we might become a little bit more shabby but a whole lot more real because we are living hard questions out WITH eachother and working VERY hard to get things done. I think it might be anyways.
I’m not sure what that means in the particular, everyday sense. It might mean patience when someone else is talking—and remember what I said before—Church people are weird. And I am one of them. It might mean listening with your own thoughts held back. It might mean stepping out and doing something new and scary. It might mean saying, “well…yes” again. It might mean setting boundaries on your time and energy. It might mean setting boundaries on someone’s bad behavior. It might mean challenging someone, asking them questions, not speculating in silence but inquiring of them and speaking out if you have something to say. It might mean sitting with the discomfort of what love actually is, and who these people actually are and not how we idealized it and them to be. It might mean praying a lot. It might mean letting go a lot. It will mean a lot, A LOT of grace.
At the core of love is—well, honestly, I probably don’t know. But what I sense from here is that the hard parts of love come when the illusion is gone and the reality of a completely Other person stands before you. How do we love the whole of the other person and not just what we need from them? This is community done over time. It’s a tall order and I have not always done this well in my life. But I take heart in knowing that as I “come-into-being,” my whole self is being at once undertaken and unearthed into something that is real. And so is everyone else’s who loves. Imperfectly, haltingly, but always “becoming.” And together we are the “becoming” church-born of love and knowing love.
And so I, and we, will enter into this time of change trying to remember:
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become.”
“Everyone who loves, comes into being from God.”