I don’t know how best to respond to the divisions and alienations of our common life, whether in the public square, faith-communities, or families. What do embodying love and working for peace look, sound, and feel like in our troubled and tumultuous times? How can fear lessen and compassion grow?

I don’t know how to explain persuasively to folks who are understandably wary and skeptical why I believe that the local church has a vital role to play in the mending of the frayed fabric of that common life. I know all too well that congregations can give primary energy to secondary things, pursue conversations that don’t matter to avoid the ones matter most, and confuse the ceremonies of American civil religion for the good news of God’s rule and reign. I also know, however, that churches can, under the sway of the surprising Spirit and by means of the hard work of thoughtful discernment, become shelters of true belonging, laboratories of just-mercy, and demonstration-plots of reconciliation.

I don’t know as much as I’d like to know about how to encourage people to accept that God’s love for them—for all of us—is abundant, unconditional, and unending and to trust that God wants to liberate us from everyone and everything which demeans, distorts, and diminishes us.

I don’t know how to inspire my students to approach their college years as more—not less—than preparation for decades of employment. They’ve been trained to view their scores on standardized tests as evidence of education more than they’ve been invited to think expansively, imaginatively, and critically. They face futures which include the likelihood of onerous student debt and an uncertain job market. No doubt, they need to acquire and hone skills for the world of work. How, though, can I urge them to see education as more than job-training—to view it as a lifelong search for meaning, an ongoing exploration of human flourishing? At their core, these are questions about how we help each other, not just students, to “live for more than “bread alone,” since most of us are susceptible to sacrificing matters of the spirit on altars of success.  

I know a lot less than I used to know. Because I live in close proximity to my life’s once-far horizon, I’m more acquainted with the borderlands of mystery and the pathless terrain of the soul. I puzzle-over how even close encounters with death can lose their power to inspire authentic living; denial has great and vexed power. I’m aware of how easily the routines of the daily overwhelm the urgencies of eternity. I sense how fragile and how durable the heart is, how it yearns for and resists mercy, and how it seeks and pulls-back from transformation.

What I do know is that love reconciles, heals, and transforms. Love casts out fear and lets in grace. Love inspires and energizes; it teaches and guides.  

Therese of Lisieux prayed: “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love.” In the face of so much I don’t know, I know, at last and again, that my calling is love.