Today is Valentine’s Day. A day ironically hated by many single people, and even by some coupled people, like my husband, who does not want Hallmark to dictate the way or the day he is to express his love for me. Having spent more of my life single than coupled, I never did like Valentine’s day all that much myself.
But today I re-read some of “Revelations of Divine Love” by my favorite mystic, Saint Juliana of Norwich, after whom my third child is named. Ironically, as I began to read Juliana, my daughter Juliana called me on the telephone, to tell me of a mystical experience she just experienced, and, on this Valentine’s day, to tell me she loved me.
So I wish to write briefly about True Love. A love not human in origin, but experienced by all who open their hearts to receive it.
I teach World Religions at nearby Salve Regina University. Next semester I hopefully will be offering a second course in Christian Spirituality. In preparation for that, I have been re-acquainting myself with the Christian mystics, by reading an amazing book called “Light from Light: An Anthology of Christian Mysticism,” Edited by Louis Dupre and James Wiseman.
This book invites the reader into the mystical experiences of twenty-five saints or mystics, throughout Christian history. A “mystic,” in my own simple definition, is a person who has had a direct personal experience of the presence of God in her/his life.
Each of the world’s major religions has its own mystics. In our Judeo-Christian tradition, we see many such examples in the bible. As a young teen, my first immersion into the bible was the book of Psalms. It began as a confirmation assignment, which I grudgingly did in the car on the drive to confirmation class. But when I read the Psalms (which literally means “Songs,” and is a book of ancient song lyrics), they began to tug at my heart. A typical young teenager, my heart was filled with extreme emotions that wrestled with each other: feelings of joy and elation when I did well in school or sports or when that boy I liked liked me back, feelings that plunged toward despair when I witnessed the horrors of war, death, prejudice, cruelty, on the daily news. But here in the book of Psalms, the songwriter wrote of all of that – of the whole spectrum of this human life with all of its joys and beauty, and all of its struggles and heartache. I began to read the book of Psalms in my bedroom late at night, finding solace for my young soul.
Without realizing it, as I pondered the Psalmist’s words, I entered into meditation…or what I later learned was called “contemplative prayer.” Through praying with the Psalms, I would on occasion have a direct experience of God’s presence, or, a “mystical experience.” These experiences were reminiscent of earlier experiences I had had as a young child, mostly outdoors, for that is where my young soul is most at home. My first experience of God’s presence, in fact, was when as a toddler, I played in the sandbox in the backyard on a warm, sunny day.
My mother watched me from the kitchen window, where she spent so much of her time cooking or washing dishes. There in my backyard I was aware of a presence loving and protective, like my mother, as close to me as the breeze blowing through my friends, the trees, and caressing my face, or the breath in my body, enveloping me as the sun’s warmth and light. I knew I was loved.
Years later, as a young woman at Harvard Divinity School, I lived with a woman a few years older than I was, who “taught” me about contemplative prayer. My dear friend, Ginger, and I prayed together in our small apartment in Somerville, MA. But truly, it was no different than what I had been doing since I was a young child.
Today as I meditated on the writing of Saint Juliana, and her experience of God’s love, I was lifted outside of myself into communion with this “sister” in spirit, who lived hundreds of years ago, and with God in whom we are One.
In fact, each day, as I ponder the writings of a different mystic, I become part of that great mystical communion of saints.
Some of us experience God’s presence through nature, that sand, those trees, that blue sky, that breeze, that sunlight. Some of us experience God’s presence through a sacred text. That could be any writing, poem, lyric that lifts you out of yourself and connects you to that which pervades and connects us all, that Spirit of Life, of Light, of Love.
I can assure you that, whether you are single or coupled, it does not matter. You are loved. Pretty much every mystic I read assures us that God is Love. So whether or not you receive chocolates or flowers or cards on this day, I hope your heart will open to receive the greatest gift of all. I hope you will know that you are loved.
I close with the lyrics to a song, by Scottish Pastor George Matheson:
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee,
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine Ocean’s depths its flow
May fuller richer be.
In God who is this Ocean,
Linda Forsberg, Copyright February 14, 2017
This blog is dedicated to the two amazing Juliana’s in my life, Juliana of Norwich, and my daughter Juliana Forsberg-Lary
Photos: Painting by Victoria Forsberg-Lary; icon of Juliana of Norwich; Cathedral of Saint Julian, Norwich, England; snow; icon of Saint Juliana; quote of Saint Juliana; Sylvie at Revere beach; Linda at beach in Greece; the Julian Center, Norwich, England; Saint Juliana’s anchorage, exterior; interior, Norwich, England; ceiling of Norwich Cathedral; painting by Victoria Forsberg Lary; Juliana and I, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.