It must’ve been difficult for Paul – such a passionate man – to be an itinerant preacher in days when travel took a long time and communication was an arduous task, with letters being the only option. I think of all the people Paul met, influenced in ways that changed their lives and then left to spread the gospel somewhere else. We can hear the cost of that pattern in the greeting to the Philippians this morning as he writes his feelings and encouragement to them after his departure. (PHIL 1:1-11)
I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you…I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right that I should think this way about all of you because I hold you in my heart…For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value…
As I copy Paul’s words I feel their power. He seems to have grasped the lesson of love in its highest form which is deeply personal and yet detached from ego. By that I mean the ability to love for the sake of the beloved rather than for ourselves – a way of loving that does not cling to the other to fulfill our needs but which helps us to become a fully mature human person while doing the same for the other. This is the love that would allow Paul to leave Philippi because his mission was to spread the gospel rather than settling into life in one place.
We live in a time of great mobility in our country. People in younger generations often do not live and work in the same community where they were born as did our ancestors. I think of my mother who was devastated when my father was transferred for work to Syracuse, New York from Newton, Massachusetts in 1960. She had lived in the same square mile for her first 45 years; Syracuse seemed like the end of the world to her. Her love for my father and her children, her recognition of the necessity of the move and her ability to go out of herself for others allowed her to embrace the move (after some months of distress!). She blossomed in Syracuse and then in New Haven, Connecticut and Florida, leaving behind loved ones each time that they moved, but able to hold people in her heart as she responded to the letting go of their physical presence.
I sit in gratitude this morning (every morning, really) for my mother. I think, too, of all those who have taught me such lessons of the heart. Moreover I wish to be able always in matters of the heart to achieve what Paul desired for the Philippians: an increase in love and in the ability to discern what is of value for my own good and that of the people I love.