How many kindnesses did you experience this week? Did someone let you go first in line when your arms were full of groceries? Or give you the right of way in traffic when you didn’t really deserve it? Or maybe a kindly person bought you coffee or lunch or sent you a card or otherwise let you know they were thinking of you. Maybe people prayed for you this week—perhaps many people—and you didn’t even know. The sun came up and set, the moon rose and faded gently with the dawn. The trees blossomed and tulips opened and daffodils swayed in the breeze. So many kindnesses. And if you noticed them—if your heart was paying attention enough to receive them—you know they were meant for you. Love’s everyday miracles. So many blessings, each and every day.
Jeremiah the prophet knew this about God. He knew that God was always pouring out kindnesses and grace—a continual flow of loving blessing for all God’s beloved children. But the problem is the children didn’t notice, and when they thought of God—if they thought of God—it was as some far-off power, not a loving living reality right there, in the sanctuary of their hearts. And that was Jeremiah’s work: He was trying to help them see the closeness, the reality, the loving heart of God.
Jeremiah is highly regarded as a major prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike. God called him to this ministry when he was still young, in fact, Jeremiah’s initial response to God was “But I am only a child and I do not know how to speak.” God assured him that he would be given the words he needed and told where to go, who to speak to. And God proved true to that promise. Much of what Jeremiah told the people wasn’t good news—he was trying to wake them up to the dangerous error of their ways before all was lost. He traveled throughout Judah, preaching against idolatry, false teachings, and the corruption of those in power. Throughout his life, he knew he could count on God: God led him and protected him, gave him the words to speak and the courage to continue. Jeremiah knew without a shadow of a doubt the truth of God’s words in our Old Testament reading:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
I will build you up again,
and you… will be rebuilt.
When we are able to accept and really trust these ideas—that God loves us with an everlasting love, that we have been drawn with kindness, and that all the weary and broken places within us, within our lives and our world, will be rebuilt—it changes how we see life, what we believe we’re vulnerable to, and who we turn to in times of trouble.
The result of this reliance on God is a life of joy, God tells Jeremiah. Reconciliation comes first, the growing trust comes next, and then—day by day, circumstance by circumstance—we see our lives begin to blossom, like the sunlight spreading over the countryside. The words God gave to Jeremiah put it this way:
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.
Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’ ”
We might be tempted to think, well, this is all well and good for Jeremiah’s day, but today we live in a crazy time when people are in constant conflict and trust is at an all-time low. People believe wildly different things and, if we believe what we see on the news and social media, there seems to be no obvious path to creating a climate of civility and respect. But the reality is that each generation has its challenges and struggles, its crazy times and its dance with power. In the heart of humans there has always been—since our days in the Garden of Eden—a tug-of-war between what we want (how about a nice, juicy delicious apple?) and what God wants for us (everlasting companionship and eternal peace and joy).
All that we need in order to rediscover the living reality of God’s blessing has already been given to us. We’ve never lived a day without it, although it’s always our choice whether to notice it or not. Jesus lived it fully. Jeremiah valued it. David and Daniel and Esther and Ruth all trusted it and let it direct them in their lives. It is the soft and vital impulse of God’s love, leading and steering and healing us from the inside out. If we let it, it will spread quietly over all the world, heartbeat by heartbeat, one person, one family, one community at a time.
In her book, If I Live to Be 100, journalist Neenah Ellis shares the stories of people who have lived 100 years and have a perspective on life that is affirming and uplifting and sometimes wise. Although she was a highly trained journalist, Ellis found herself emotionally touched by her interviews. They stirred her up and impacted her differently than other interviews she’d conducted in her career. She noticed that instead of taking charge of the questioning, as she usually did, in these conversations things seemed to take on a life of their own, sometimes leading them into surprising places.
At one point in the book, she goes to talk with Dr. Thomas Lewis, one of the researchers and authors of the book A General Theory of Love. She wanted to learn more about what she was experiencing as she conducted these unique interviews. What made them different? She writes, “I planned to ask him about the loss of control I’d felt in some of the interviews, about the falling sensation I’d had, and also about the deep feelings I’ve carried around afterward.”
Dr. Lewis told her that in addition to our familiar senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, we also have an empathic sensory system that helps us understand the emotional states of others. That ability is called limbic resonance. He said, “Limbic resonance is a two-way path; you can sense the inside of someone else’s brain, they can sense the inside of yours, and each person influences the other. It’s a two-way sensory experience of emotion.”
He goes on to say that whether we are paying attention to it or not, something inside us knows when others are being authentic, when they truly are glad to see us, when they really do wish us well. We feel it in a place beyond words. And what’s more, he said,
“Emotions or feeling states are contagious because people have a natural tendency to detect the emotional state of another person and align with it, or move a little bit closer to it. So if you’re sitting with someone who’s highly anxious, you yourself start to get a little more anxious than you were before. If you’re sitting with someone who’s terribly depressed, you align a little bit and you become a little bit down and morose.”
The flip side is that when we realize that our internal emotional states can be helpful and uplifting for others—by carrying our peace into a stressful situation, staying calm when people are anxious, wishing people goodness and peace in their lives—we truly bring a different vibe into the room. Our inward, emotional state may be the most basic generous gift we share with others, and much of the time, we don’t even realize it.
There is a simple blessing known as the lovingkindness meditation that fits here. It is traditionally a Buddhist practice but it is also a lovely prayer for anyone who cares about lifting others up and spreading goodwill and kindness in the world. Silently or aloud, we quiet our hearts and think of those we hope to bless, saying something like,
May you be happy.
May you be healthy in body and mind.
May you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.
May you be free from fear and enjoy this day in peace.
We can extend this blessing to everyone we meet; we can send it to those who annoy or irritate us; and we can even generalize it and picture it circling and blessing the globe: May all beings be happy; may all be healthy, safe, protected, and free from fear, enjoying peace.
In our New Testament reading from 1 John, John establishes why love is a healing, reconciling force that brings us first into a trusting relationship with God and then inspires us to help others. The life and teachings of Jesus shows us the way: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…” and “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us his Spirit.”
John talks about the role of Jesus in the healing of our world, strengthening first our trust and reliance on God and then showing us how we can do our part in increasing love and grace wherever we go. John suggests, “In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
When we do what the apostle John suggests—choose to live with God’s love alive in us, letting it lead our steps and guide our words—we connect naturally and more securely with the realm of the soul. As we learn to let love be the compass of our actions, we notice we aren’t thrown about as much by the waves on the surface of our lives. Soon we begin to feel it; we radiate peace, calm, security, and confidence. And this won’t take a lot of effort, either. In fact, it feels quite natural, as though we’re simply relaxing into who we really are and letting God lead.
I recently shared in one of our Wednesday evening Zoom calls that I’ve been touched and inspired by a new patient we have at hospice. He is blind and deaf and has been since birth. He’s now on hospice care for a condition that has become untreatable. We weren’t sure, at first, how we would establish a connection with him. We worried about whether our presence would frighten him, since we were strangers. We didn’t know how to communicate so he would understand us.
But we discovered in our first visit that sight or no sight, hearing or no hearing, our patient has a beautiful way of whole-heartedly enjoying the world. When I first met him, his caregiver suggested I simply tough his arm lightly, which I did. Instantly his face lit up and he waved his hands in the air—his caregiver said he was “dancing” because he was happy to meet me. She described how much he enjoys being with the people in his house, how he just loves everything one of his caregivers cooks and eats every bite with great enthusiasm, and how not long before, after several days in the hospital, they could tell how glad he was to be home because he kept inhaling deeply the comforting scent of being home, in his own bed, with his own pillows, and the people he knew and loved best in the world.
It’s hard to put words on what a touching and life-affirming experience this was. This man—who we thought was severely limited in his capacity to enjoy life—uses every sense he has to take in, relish, and celebrate the life he has. He is a truly joyful being. The gladness of his soul just pours from him.
It made me think of this verse from Mary Oliver’s poem, Hum,
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing.
With no effort, with no training, without even sight and hearing, our new patient radiates waves of love into his environment and everyone around him is blessed. It’s like Dr. Lewis said in the interview with the reporter—we have a built-in sense that helps us connect on a deeper level with the true emotional state of one another. While we’re together, we align with each other’s hearts. I think it’s one of the genius ways God’s knits us together as one big living family.
And that’s why I felt so lifted and touched that day—my heart tuned itself to the joy and wonder of my patient’s inner experience. And if we let the compass of God’s love point the way, we too could be lifting and encouraging weary and burdened hearts everywhere we go. The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran said,
“Wake in the morning with a winged Heart
and give thanks for another day of loving.”
When we become aware of and believe in the power we’ve been given to bless and lift up the world around us, we’ll no longer be weighed down by doubts and hopelessness. People who hate don’t remember who they are, but Love will point the way back. People who live in fear have lost touch with the goodness and security of God within them, but Love will help them find the safety of God’s care. People who look out at the world and see only darkness and trouble and threatening strangers need our help in finding their spiritual heart once again so they can feel the Love of God, at work in their lives and in the lives of those around them.
The gift has already been given us, Friends. The Love of God is awake within us. Let’s do all we can to let it guide of our thoughts and words and actions this week and celebrate the goodness, the blessing, the Light of God we find shining back.
- OT Jeremiah 31: 3-6
- NT 1 John 4: 7-21
- Ellis, Neenah. If I Live To Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians. https://www.amazon.com/If-Live-Be-100-Centenarians/dp/1400051428
- Goldstein, Dr. Elisha. Meditations and Practices. https://elishagoldstein.com/ecourses/basics-of-mindfulness-meditation/resources/
- Oliver, Mary. Hum. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/reviews/excerpts/view/14854