Saturday, October 3, 2009

Love Takes Risk

Beguinage Brugge, Belgium

Although ardent desire permeates the pages of Scriptures, it often startles us when we first experience it. We are not sure what to do with such intense inner emotions. Often to experience such powerful inner longing is painful, and we are afraid of being overwhelmed.

If we are truly to experience the Lord’s love for us, we must learn to let go of control. Not only is love a powerful force, but when we are in love with God Almighty, we cannot be the ones in charge. Much of our contemporary spirituality that seeks to place God—and our relationship with him—into a neat, orderly box is merely a fantasy of our own making. Vibrant, living relationship does not fit into quick quiet times. Moreover, any “god” contained by our boxes and controlled by our expectations is not the God of Scripture who rides on the winds of the storm and in whose presence the mountains shake to their very foundation (Psalm 18).

The Beguines were not willing to settle for such tame spirituality or such a shadow of relationship with the true God. They wanted to encounter the Creator of the universe and were willing to be overwhelmed by his divine presence in prayer.

Afraid of Disappointment
Another reason we are afraid to tap into our subterranean desires is that we know we might be disappointed. Will we be hurt if we expose our hearts? What if our longing for love is not fulfilled? What if we surrender our hearts to such intense longing for Jesus only to find that we cannot truly experience an intimately relationship with him as we had hoped?

Love requires risk. When we open ourselves to be loved, it also leaves us exposed to hurt, and most of us avoid such a position of weakness. True relationship makes us vulnerable because relationships are never static. They ebb and flow, and our emotions are bound to go up and down. Even a relationship with the Lord has highs and lows as we see throughout the Psalms. The Lord never forsakes us, but at times we cannot experience him as we would like. Other times he surprises us with his manifest presence. Vital Christianity entails risk, and take that risk, we must!

Here again the Beguines provide wisdom and insight. Another of these devout women of the thirteenth century named Hadewijch wrote a letter encouraging one of the young women who looked to her as a mentor:

"O beloved, why has not Love sufficiently overwhelmed you and engulfed you in her abyss? Alas! when Love is so sweet, why do you not fall deep into her? And why do you not touch God deeply enough in the abyss of his Nature, which is so unfathomable? Sweet love, give yourself for Love’s sake full to God in love" (p. 56).

Hadewijch was aware that we can be hurt or disappointed even in our love relationship with the Lord. Because it is truly a love affair with another Person, we are vulnerable. As a result, some people who lack courage fear that cost will to too high and therefore withdraw from Love. In doing so, however, they lose all the good that they would have gained from opening their hearts to the Lord, asserted Hadewijch.

Therefore, we need to take courage: we must take the risk of opening up to the Lord. In one of her poems Hadewijch challenged us as her readers to “take the adventure”! Although our hearts might temporarily feel hurt at times, in the long run we will discover God’s great faithfulness to us. If we persevere, we will experience the fidelity of divine love.

"He who wishes thus to progress in love
Must not fear expense, or harm,
Or pain; but faithfully confront
The strictest commands of Love . . .
In all her comings and in all her goings:
Anyone who behaved thus, relying on Loves’ fidelity,
Would stand to the end, having become all love in Love" (p. 218).

Personal Reflection: Tap into Our Longing
Let us not settle for bland devotion or some tame religion. Rather, like these women of old, let our spiritual formation throb with longing for the Lord and pulsate with passion for an intimate relationship with the personal Creator of the universe. Willing to release control, let us pursue the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and body—not satisfied with anything less than the adventure of being in love with Almighty God!

Hadewijch’s powerful writings can be found in Hadewijch: The Complete Works, translated by Mother Columba Hart, in The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1980).

2009 © Glenn E. Myers


  1. Dr. Meyers, there is a common thread that seems to weave the story of the Benguines together and that was surrender. The love they earned required them to give their all so that they may experiance all that God had for them. They were not perfect, but were striving for perfection in Christ. I know those that would argue that because woman are more in touch with their feelings that this made it easier. However, I would beg to differ, because when there is not a feeling to go with it, there has to be faith and the Benguines showed this through the living of their everyday lives in giving their all. They showed the love of Christ, in their word and deed and that is what I believe make them a wonderful example for us today. You pointed out with Psalms 18 that God does not fit into a box, and if we wish in our current context of life to experiance all of God, the church is going to have to tear down the box they have built and stand again with their feet planted on the Rock of Ages. Surrender requires action on our part.

  2. In reading about the depth of the Beguine, Hadewijch, it is a bit unsettling to think of the absolute abandon which ruled her life and her intimate relationship with the Lord. She was prepared to be hurt and to have times of what seemed to be separation from the Lord because she knew that the love of the Lord, Jesus, was insurpassable; "O beloved, why has not Love sufficiently overwhelmed you and engulfed you in her abyss? Alas! when Love is so sweet, why do you not fall deep into her? And why do you not touch God deeply enough in the abyss of his Nature, which is so unfathomable? Sweet love, give yourself for Love’s sake full to God in love" (p. 56).
    Her words, "give yourself for Love's sake full to God in love." What power there is in those few words; to give ourselves in love for Love's God...where would we find sweeter love and safer love than in our Loving God?
    Thanks Dr. Myers this has been a great reminder for the Spiritual Renewal portion of study. Nancy McCabe

  3. The devotion the Beguines expressed for the Bridegroom was and is remarkable. Knowing how the Church in America (and, perhaps, the West in general) will often latch on to one idea and raise it as a new standard for bringing renewal, however, I must voice a caution that we not forget the other aspects of God's love relationship with his Bride.

    While he certainly is our Bridegroom, he is also our Father, and often loves us with a fatherly love. Sometimes, that fatherly love brings chastening, but not so as to leave us broken. Hosea 6:1 reminds us of this side of God's love in recounting God's relationship to the people of Israel:

    Come, let us return to the Lord.
    He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
    he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.

    Sometimes, I must admit, that I am much more familiar with God's chastening than I am with his Bridegroom love. Yet I remember that the Father who loves his child is swift to discipline him. I am glad to learn of his love in such ways, but also long to know again the passion I once held for him, when I first learned our our bethrothal.