Sometimes first words matter a lot. Often they set the stage for what is to come. Sometimes they form the kernel of truth or wisdom that courses through all that follows. Sometimes they set the reader or hearer or conversation partner up for the journey ahead. Sometimes they open the doors to new ways of seeing the world. Sometimes they do all of these things. So it is in the case of the dedication of Sister Helen Prejean’s book, Dead Men Walking. Sister Helen dedicates that book to her parents, “…who loved me into being.” Imagine that—imagine being “loved into being.”
Maybe you don’t have to imagine being loved into being. Maybe you need only to remember your own experiences of that kind of generative love—the doors that love blew open, the wounds that love healed, the gifts that love nurtured, the possibilities that love unveiled. Perhaps you remember a person or community that loved you into being, that opened wide for you possibilities you hadn’t dared dream for yourself.
When I stumbled across those words of dedication, I found myself remembering the community that loved me into being, the little neighborhood in which I was raised and the church in which I grew up. That community didn’t love an idealized version of me, they loved me—the me that picked flowers from the neighbors’ yards, the me that pushed every line anyone every drew, the me that snuck out of Sunday school on a regular basis. They knew me and they loved me and that made it possible for them to love me into being more than the sometimes-unruly child I often was.
The theologian, mystic and pastor Howard Thurman once said that love is seeing people as they are and treating them as they can be. I think he was talking about loving people into being the children of God they already are. Communities of faith, at their best, are places where folks love one another into being, places where people can be loved and accepted as they are but also seen in the fullness of all they can be.
The teacher in me sometimes sees worshipping communities as schools of love—places where we see God’s love in action loving us into being and places where we both learn and practice loving one another into being. What a place for kids to grow up! And what a place for each of us to grow and to grow in love!