Magazine article The Christian Century

To Love God

Magazine article The Christian Century

To Love God

Article excerpt

They say that you cannot unlearn to ride a bicycle or to swim. Some scientists suggest that a physical change occurs in the brain when one masters such an activity: the brain is physically rewired. So it may be also with words we memorize when we are young. One of my permanent imprints comes from childhood instruction in the catechism: "We fear and love God that. . ."

Fear, we were told, did not mean that we should cower before God. It indicated a stance of awe before the Other (though such terms were not used) - the kind of awe that the shepherds felt at the angelic announcement of Jesus, birth.

What does it mean to love God? Of course, we were taught that God loves us. Our part of the bargain was to respond with reciprocal love. Doing so, or at least talking about doing so, became a major theme, so familiar it could easily be overlooked.

A reminder came in an article about "Love of God" in America (March 9), by Edward Collins Vacek, a Jesuit father. Let me cite it as a quotation or theme of the year, certainly appropriate in this season.

In my own conversations with Christians, I find that almost all of them talk approvingly about love for others, some talk confidently about God's love for us, but few are willing to talk about their love for God. When I press them to say what it means to love God, some of them in fact deny that we can love God directly, many admit that they don't give much thought to love for God, and most deny that there is any ethical obligation to do so. They judge that it is wrong not to love people, but they have no such thoughts about neglecting God. …

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