“I have loved you, but yet you keep asking how I have loved you!” Said God.
Thus opens the second line of Chapter 1 of Malachai, this week’s Haftorah portion. Upon first reading, the Haftorah is standard prophet-fare. The Jewish people – and the Jewish priests in the temple – are behaving badly, disconnected from God and from their better selves. God, through Malachai, is trying to bring them around.
While a lot of the text could be read as finger-wagging moralism, I was struck by how the first line God speaks through Malachai is a much more complicated, much more compassionate take on why the people are misbehaving.
“You are a loved creature, a creature composed of love” God is saying, “and yet you can’t see it!” Malachai and/or God is flabbergasted at this state of affairs – this fundamental blindness that seems to be at the root of all of Israel’s misdeeds.
Once on a meditation retreat, I started to realize how at my deepest core, I wasn’t sure I felt love. Instead I felt emptiness, or alienation. I wasn’t sure I loved myself at all, and I certainly wasn’t sure God (whatever that meant) loved me. I remember wishing I was Christian and had a Jesus – someone who explicitly said “I love you. God loves you. You are nothing but love.” I thought that if I had that more explicitly in my tradition, there is a chance I would believe it to be true.
But then I read this passage from the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a mystical Christian text written by a monk in the 14th Century:
“For although [Mary Magdalene] could never rid herself of the deep sorrow of her heart for her sins…yet it still can be said…that she had greater sorrow of heart for her lack of love than for any awareness of her sins. She had a more sorrowing desire, a deeper sighing; she languished almost to the point of death for her lack of love, though she had a very great love. And we are not to wonder at this, for it is the nature of a true lover that the more he loves, the more he longs to love.” (Chapter 16)
Even Mary Magdalene, front and center for Jesus’ love, kept asking, like the people Israel in the book of Malachai, “Why aren’t I loved?” It seems no matter how much Jesus or God or our parents or friends tell us they love us, there is a gap in the moment of truly getting it. Of believing it for ourselves.
I think the Christian monk’s assessment of Mary is really true- it is the nature of true lovers that they will always feel not adequately loved, even when they are. This theme is also echoed in this week’s Torah portion, when Jacob awakes in awe from a dream to say “the divine was in THIS place, and I didn’t know it!”
What if God’s love is in THIS place, our core, and we just didn’t know it? What if that which we perceive to be emptiness at our core is an emptiness filled with love? And while I’m asking questions, what actually is love? For me, it’s a sense of being seen, being understood, being held, and feeling the fibers of my self enclosed in warmth and meaning. There is a totality about love – a full, unconditional acceptance. What would it mean to feel that TOTAL love from the very air you breath, the steps you take, the sights that meet you eye? What would it mean to be feel it accompany each thought, each passing emotion?
What would it mean to look in the mirror and say with conviction, “I am loved by God. And it’s so obvious”?