“Love thy neighbor… as thyself”

This past year I was introduced to a variation on the Ignatian examen. In reflecting on my day, I would ask these questions:
1. How was I able to give and receive love today?
2. How was I not?
3. What is the invitation? What am I being invited to do or to be?

What came to mind most quickly and with the most energy were the ways I was able or not able to give and receive love from myself. Spirit was inviting me to pay attention to how I was treating myself. I did not expect this. So much of my religious upbringing invited me to focus on (and improve) how I treat others. Practice kindness. Serve. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” with the emphasis on the first part – love thy neighbor. Even today, it seems the assumption is we are already loving ourselves well. The assumption is we can separate how we treat others from how we treat ourselves. We can’t. We are able to love others exactly to the extent we are able to love ourselves.

I am able to accept, honor the needs and desires of, and respect you only to the extent I am able to accept, honor, and respect myself. I am able to serve you without needing you to respond in a certain way only to the extent that I am able to befriend my own imperfections. I am less interested in making comparison or trying to measure up as I discover myself as lovable. As I practice receiving love from myself, I am better able to receive love from God and neighbor. As I practice  gracing the wounded places in myself, I am better able to offer grace when my neighbor acts out of their woundedness. How I am in relation to myself shapes how I am in relation to others. I am only ever able to love my neighbor as well as I love myself.

Gifts of The Cranky Lady

This snippet of conversation took place after celebrating communion while on retreat this fall:

“This is good bread!” “It’s fantastic!” “Oh, my word.”

“Where did you get the bread?”
“From the cranky lady at the market.”

In response to the quizzical look, I explained. There’s a woman who sells her bread at the market. She often has a steady stream of customers. She offers about a dozen different varieties. I have only been a few times, and each time I go, I have questions. I want to know about the bread I’m getting. Every time I’ve been there, the woman seems to be in a bad mood. She frowns when I ask her my questions, and hastily answers them. I don’t feel warm-fuzzies during these encounters. So, in my mind I dubbed her The Cranky Lady.

Her bread is fantastic. That’s why I return. There was another baker, across town, who was more personable, but she no longer has her shop. I wanted to get bread from her, because communion is a special moment. I figure it is better to have bread baked and offered in joy. I debated whether or not to go to the Cranky Lady for the elements. Would my experience of this person who supplied the bread colour my experience of communion? I would much rather receive from someone I got along withcabin communion (brighter) better.

I needn’t have worried. Our celebration was made holy with prayer and story and blessing. A friend recently reminded me that communion is not complete without everyone there. Welcoming those (or the gifts of those) I am at odds with is not really about grace. (Because it’s not really about me or what I offer.) Welcoming the Other at the table is necessary for wholeness, because the community is incomplete without their presence, their voice, their story.

So, yes, it is good and fitting that we would accept and bless the gifts of the Cranky Lady. Her delicious bread enhanced our experience of the sacred meal. And who knows, maybe she’s not really cranky at all. Maybe she’s one of those people whose face of concentration looks cranky. Maybe this is her being focused and staying on top of things.

And, it’s helpful to remember, some days I am The Cranky Lady offering my gifts.