thirty-second street

I think the largest lie that we can be sold is that our woundedness weakens our ability to love.

A few caveats: our pasts are not, well—past. They live in our hearts, in our minds, in our present fears, in our patterns of being, and in our habits of relationship. They shape our responses to danger, love, or change, they mediate and form our decisions, they shirk or promote risk. Our pasts—even from our first moments of amniotic darkness—are fraught with contingency, mistakes, and hurt. We are shaped by forces outside of our control, and often to our detriment. Original sin that means are all born into a milieu of hurt, and I can only imagine that any therapist who traffics in helping patients through family of origin issues traumas large and encounters original sin up close and personally each day. Certainly the woundedness of our hearts, shaped by sin before we were aware, weakens our ability to love.

The choices we make each day determine what we become, this is true. You cannot have in your head the self-image of being saintly, kind, or good and snap vicious comments at your spouse, or tell petty lies to cover your ass, or complain about your coworkers. C.S. Lewis says no choice is neutral, that each choice brings us closer to being an angel or a demon. We will, of course, never become either. But a demon simply stands as a symbol of someone who makes choices for no one but themselves, whereas an angel is a being whose entire purpose is worship of another. An angel has no other vocation but to adore the love that made her. So our choices, each day, do make us either a fundamentally more selfish person or a fundamentally more selfless. As crippled as our free wills are, we do have them—and we can act, and that sort of liberty must be celebrated, even as its inherent risks have to be acknowledged.

So, given this, it would seem, one could reasonably argue, that the only way to possibly be able to love and love well is to have no childhood trauma, to be raised in an environment that never left you wanting, that came out to meet you with the uncoerced and spontaneous fidelity of Father, Son and Spirit. To love well means that we have never corrupted our own ability to love by choosing ourselves, by bending that which in us looks for others and chooses others and choose only ourselves. To love well, we cannot just imagine that we are loving well or that we would like to love well, we must actually love well. Each instance of such poor or self-centered love is only further evidence that we are not—perhaps cannot love well. And, since our future is made up of our past, and past habits dictate future habits, each instance of choosing of the self only further encloses us in a fortress of our own egotistical choosing. The more we choose to love only ourselves, the less able we are to love others.

And this is exactly what grace has come to interrupt. The incarnation is the embrace of our own woundedness, the milieu of sin we built with our first fall, and an introduction of God into its mediocre everydayness, in its startling and torturous conclusion, and in its nihilistic silence on the other side of death. In the meaninglessness of life without love, Meaning enters and offers us another route. Not avoiding our woundedness, but through it.

Salvation is not offered only to the worthy or the ready. Love is not available only to the golden children of the world. And happiness is possible for the scarred. In each instance, if and when love triumphs—it’s never a foregone conclusion, for it’s always a costly victory—the depth of the darkness only increases the radiance of love. Because the love that emerges from the other side of our scars proclaims: even this—even this ugly wound, even this unjust violence, even this unmitigated loneliness—this, too, belongs to love.

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