George loved rowing. So I rowed. I was never as keen as he was but I grew to enjoy misty Sunday mornings on a grey river, when the only sound was the sharp knock of oars in their rowlocks, then the ripple as the blade entered the water, the slide of the seat, my own breath, the sigh of the river as the blade powered through…. and the breaking wave as it surfaced. I loved the rhythm of sculling, not unlike the thrill of marching, steady, unbroken, a perfect pace. I was never a great sculler, and I gave up after two years when I was pregnant, but I would still turn up dutifully on Sunday morning to help to launder the kits and the towels, to make the bacon butties and urns of tea… to open the bar for the adults to have a pre-lunch drink, and then a lunch drink, and then a post-lunch drink. George loved rowing, so I rowed.
Do you remember when you were first in love, how everything he or she loved became strangely interesting to you? How his vision of life somehow morphed into yours? How ‘I’ became ‘we’? If you have friends who are newly or even not so newly in love, how often do they bring the other one’s name into a conversation? All the flippin’ time! Jill just has to go on about Jack, and Jack just has to bang on about Jill. We love them for it, don’t we, remembering when we were first in love. How could anyone so perfect, so loveable, so desirable even exist? Why didn’t the whole world see how wonderful and amazing they were?
We all long to keep that first love alive, that pre-occupation and sweet obsession, way into marriage, through childbirth and sleepless nights and money worries and huge flaming rows, through in-laws and sickness and health and all that stuff. Many of us do; love changes and matures, it deepens and steadies, but it should always be a sweet obsession, the centre of all our relationships with the people around us.
And listen, we need to be like that with Jesus. Yes! We blinkin’ well do! Don’t look at me like that. If we are in love with Him, if we are in the throes of a real and eternal passion…. how come we aren’t lovesick, excited, enraptured? If we are in love with Jesus how can we be sober, measured, regimented? Love ain’t any of those things. Love is mad, exciting, it quickens the pulse, it reddens the cheeks, it makes us smile, it gives us a longing, a gentleness, a desire to please. It makes us daft. That’s love! It is!
This morning I was overwhelmed with the realisation that when God made the world He already loved it. Maybe the art of creation is love. Maybe that’s why sexual union is also the act of creation. Maybe that’s a bit too circuitous. I’m a bit too excited to think straight just now. But anyway, this morning I realised that God loved us, all of His creation, before time began. Not just you and me, but every living thing. The sky, the sea, the land “And God saw that it was good.’ Because He is good, everything He made was good.
It hit me for the first time, or maybe I just got a deeper understanding of something I was already fumbling around, that God made us because He is love, because He is creativity, and because creativity gives joy. Our existence gives joy to God. You’re a theologian and you disagreee? Well, hard cheddar, mate. I’m telling you – we give joy to God. I know it. So there.
When I write, the act of creating a scene is so full of excitement and satisfaction, challenge and – yes- joy. That’s creativity, and whether your version is cake baking or painting, or sermon writing, or speech making… to create something, where before there was nothing, is an act of love. And of self-expression. God’s creation is the ultimate act of His love and self-expression. He loves us so much that His love can’t be contained. He loves us so much He didn’t stay in deity’s grandeur. He loves us so much He bends to whisper in my ear. He loves us so much He gave us His heart. He loves us so much that He’s there when I wake up terrified. He loves us so much that He is never away from us, not for one second.
And as for talking about us! That’s nothing! ‘See! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…’ (Isaiah 49:16) He doesn’t just talk about us, it doesn’t stop there! He loves me so much that Luce is tattooed on God’s hand. On the palms of His hand! How much would that hurt? (Am I taking the metaphor too far?)
So, listen, all I want to say, all I’m burbling on about is, yes – it’s great when we love God. But listen, oh, LISTEN…. the really great miracle and awe inspiring truth is that God loves us with passion, He loves us with obsessive love, unrelenting, reckless, over-the-top love.
Die-for-you love. That’s the love God has for us. However shabby, wrong, mean, wicked we are… He is love. He is love for us.
He loves us beyond our understanding.
Do you get that? Because if you really do get that, your life is all about God. And if your life isn’t yet all about God, then it just means you haven’t quite got it yet. You’re on the way and all will be well and all will be well, but listen, it will be so much richer, wilder, deeper, when you understand that God is passionate about you, when you realise that He is Love, and that knowing Him means loving Him. The greatest adventure of all – loving God.
I started off talking about George and rowing. You may not know much about sculls – this is a sculling boat. Rowing is the most complete exercise there is, using all major muscle groups including of course cardio-vascular. It involves balance, power and discipline, but it’s the balance part that can land you in the drink because if you catch a crab (miss-stroke) the chances are you’ll capsize. Your feet are held in fixed shoes so you will have to kick free before you can surface. The blades may stay in their locks or they may float away, and your job now is to get the boat to the side, to right it. You won’t manage to right it mid-stream, because it’s thin and light, yes, but it’s also hollow and so is heavy with water, and if one or both oars are in place they complicate things – being 3 metres long (ish). They resist you as you try to right the boat, they scag on the bottom, or they tangle weed, or they spring back and clout you, hard. One cold November morning, with the mist rising off the River Derwent, we were sculling past the boat house towards Darley. I can’t remember now what caused me to miss a stroke, but I did, and I felt myself tipping… flailing… shouting. I kicked free and surfaced, breathless with the cold, every drop of blood instantly crystallising into slush-puppy. If you’ve ever fallen into freezing water you know what I’m talking about – massive, all consuming shock. All I knew was ‘survive… survive…survive….’
My loving husband, the man of my dreams came to my rescue. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? My hero. Broad of shoulder and strong of arm. He turned his boat and rowed towards me… hooray! He was going to offer me his boat to hold onto and so glide me ashore. He sculled towards me – fabulous long controlled strokes – hoorah! And he sculled past me! What???? He rowed past me! As he went he was shouting “Luce ! Stop buggering about – get that blade! Don’t lose it – they’re seventy quid!”
He was pursuing the boat.
The cost of my love? Seventy quid. He never lived it down.
But I was crazy about him, and thinking about him now I smile. Love is joyful.
Love God. Find Joy. Look at Him. If you look at Him, really really look at Him… what joy. You’re going to be head over heels, like me.
As daft as me.