The Capacity to Love
[Humanity’s] greatest dignity, [humanity’s] most essential and peculiar power, the most intimate secret…is [the] capacity to love. Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions
Recently I joined a group of United Methodist clergy persons on a journey to the US/Mexico border. We spent five days in Arizona and Mexico and met persons from a variety of backgrounds who made us aware of the complexities of immigration policies. We walked in the desert and saw places of death. We learned about increasing numbers of deaths in the desert as people try to cross into the United States. We heard from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer [ICE]. We met with persons who had just been deported the prior evening. We spent the night with families in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and shared our stories. The experiences I keep pondering are those that reminded me of the humanness of persons on both sides of the border.
Our first meal in Mexico was in a simple home (pictured above) of a mother and her two young children; the father was away on a job. The mother, while caring for her two young children, prepared a simple but wonderful meal of tortillas, mashed potatoes, beans, salsa, soup, and fresh lime. She cooked on a propane stove top. There was no running water in the one-room home. We sat in a circle on plastic chairs and ate in this stranger’s home. And I looked around the room. One bed; one closet. No running water. No room for the children. No room for the parents. One room. Simple. Sparse.
The children had marked up one wall with crayons, something that must be universal. And yet, this house made out of what we might label as scraps was filled with love. The mom and her children had the gift of hospitality and they welcomed us into their simple home with good food and love.
I was surprised to find myself happy to be with this family for lunch. Yes, it’s true that their home is not adequate. I do not like to think about folk having no running water or indoor plumbing in their homes. And living with two children in one room was an eye-opener for those of us who lived in communities of privilege. And while I was troubled by the inequality that exists in our world, on this day with this mother and her two children I learned that human love is resilient and universal. Indeed, by tapping into the human affection of love, we discovered that we were more alike than different in a world of walls and borders.
There’s a lot of anger around the topic of immigration and immigration reform. I’ve noticed how quick we are to run to our sides and start lobbing verbal attacks at one another. But the gift of our trip to the border was to be in community with persons in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico who reminded us that before we are documented or undocumented, before we are citizens of one country or another, before all that divides us, we are first and foremost human being, made in God’s image. And we are created to love. As Thomas Merton so rightly said years ago: humanity’s greatest power is love.
I have been asked by many couples to read a particular passage from Paul’s writings at their weddings: First Corinthians 13. Some people call it the “love chapter,” and it has to be in the “top 5” list of scriptures most used in weddings. But the text has nothing to do with marriage relationships. It is situated in a letter written to a community divided. You might say it was written to a group that had built figurative walls between various groups. The wealthy were not mindful of the needs of the poor. There were those in the community that saw themselves as spiritually superior and brought an arrogance to the common life that poisoned their ability to practice love. Paul writes to these divided Corinthians and reminds them of God’s greatest gift to humankind: love. And his challenge is to practice that love not just with those like us. The real power of love comes when it is shared across those things that divide.
As I sat in this one-room home, sharing a meal with my companions and with a woman and her two beautiful children, I was fully aware of the things that divided us. A wall. The luxuries of indoor plumbing and middle class life. Dreams for her children over against the dreams I have for our children. But in spite of all that divided, there was something that united us. We were knit together by our common humanity. We were united in our ability to practice love toward other human beings, a beautiful gift that we believe comes from the blessing of God.
I’m afraid we are losing sight of all that binds us together in our discussions of immigration reform. We would all do well to ponder Paul’s teachings: the greatest gift we have been given by God is love. How might we discuss migration while retaining our “most essential and peculiar power,” the capacity to love? I’m still pondering that question. Perhaps the Church can be a voice that reminds what we learned long ago from Paul: faith, hope and love remain; but the greatest gift of all is love.