Psalm 87: 1 On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; *the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
God. Loves. Fill in the blank. More.
Over the years to ones I have loved, I have abbreviated the sentiment expressed in the psalm to one word – ‘more.’ Sometimes as a response to their expression, I love you, I reply, “More.” And sometimes upon seeing them or writing to them, I’d say or sign off with “More.” The one word has functioned to say more to the loved one than the three words, I love you, could.
Children use the comparative often. Mommy loves me more than you. The more-than comparison always begs the question of ‘favorites,’ and that line of thinking stays with us into adulthood. The youngest is the favorite or the first born, etc. My beloved niece recently hit the jackpot when visiting my dear aging father who apparently told her she was his ‘favorite granddaughter’. Whether he said so or not, it is what she heard and she is boasting like the psalmist boasts today about the Lord loving more than the other. Of course, we all know, as do each of my dad’s five granddaughters, that God’s love is not comparative – God loves us all, none more than the other, but, differently.
God loves us each uniquely and differently. God puts people and experiences and pets and rainbows and sunsets in our lives so that we may feel his love in all its depth – we are not alone, as Dan Piraro’s Bizarro panel here so tenderly illustrates. Differently, not more than. My dad loves my niece’s sense of humor – one quite similar to his own – and he loves her for even wanting to be his favorite, for boasting that she is. That means something to her and to him. God likes when we boast of his love for us, too.
When my children were young one of (the many) bedtime routines – after books and prayers – was to settle into a sort of litany of love. Laying beside them I would ask, “Who loves fill in the blank?” And my child would name someone, like their brother or sister. And I’d respond, “Yes, your brother loves fill in the blank.” And then I’d ask again, “Who else loves fill in the blank?” And on we’d go asking and naming all the family, friends, pets, teachers who my child knew loved him or her. I was always the penultimate one named, “Yes, I’d reply, mommy loves fill in the blank.” And at that prompt, my son or daughter would have settled in for the night – eyes closed, waiting to respond to the last, “Who else loves fill in the blank?” “God” he or she would say. “Yes, God loves you, sweet one.”
I can’t be sure but I believe this ritual gave each of my children a way to ‘feel’ God’s love, personally. Laying there all snug as a bug in their beds, my arms wrapped around them, recalling all the people God had put in their lives to love – it was a way to experience God’s love that the word alone, without modifiers or context, doesn’t often deliver.
St Augustine wrote that God is love. Yep, true that. But as much as I know this I don’t always feel through every cell of my being, God’s love. Perhaps because the word ‘love’ is so inadequate on its own.
There are so many ways to experience love – to love and receive love. Robert Johnson, author, psychotherapist, and former member of a Benedictine Monastery has written extensively about the inadequacy of the English word for ‘love’. In his book, The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden, he writes:
“Sanskrit has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have 30 words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of 30 words for love … we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.”
It is helpful to remember that when speaking or writing or hearing anything about God’s love, our word for the truth doesn’t really function. We have to employ modifiers such as ‘more than’ and contextualize to get the point that God is love.
The psalmist found one way to express the depth and dimension of God’s love for the chosen people of Israel – he employed the modifier: The Lord loved us more than the people of within Jacob’s gates.
Ok. But as I might say to my child, “who else loves God?’ “The people of Jacob love God.” And who else does God love? God loves the people of Jacob.
God. Loves. Fill in the blank. More.
Praise God from whom all blessings – and love – flows.