What does it mean to love? What does it really look like?
St John gives us a clue when he writes (1Jn 3.18), “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
We talk a lot about love when we talk about God and being a Christian. But sometimes it can be really hard to do! Especially when we’re trying to love God – what does that really mean?
And it’s hard to love people who, in all honesty, we don’t like or who we find difficult. It’s hard to love strangers and people who are very different from us.
We need to start small. And God knows this. And so he shows the way. The love of God permeates all that exists, and sustains that continued existence. From the smallest grain of earth to the tallest tree to the mighty elephant, to you and me.
Today is “Earth Day”, and so it seems very appropriate that we might think of starting with the literal earth under our feet. This is of course a very Franciscan thing to do, so I shall turn to my favourite Franciscan teacher, Fr. Richard Rohr, for some help…
St. Bonaventure (1221–1274) taught that to work up to loving God, start with the easier lesson of loving the very humblest and simplest things, and then move up from there. “Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror, through which we may pass over to God, the Supreme Craftsman,” he wrote. And further, “The Creator’s supreme power, wisdom and benevolence shine forth in created things.”
Fr. Richard encourages us to apply this spiritual insight quite literally. “Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people. Love rocks and elements first, move to trees, then animals, and then humans. It works. In fact, it might be the only way to love, because how you do anything is how you do everything.”
Our job as conscious humans is to awaken early to this innate beauty and goodness in all of creation. Why wait until heaven when we can enjoy the Divine Flow in all of nature now?
To return to St John, this is the commandment of God – to love. This encapsulates all that God calls us to do and to be. For as St Paul pointed out (1Cor 13.4-7), love does no harm and seeks only the best for the beloved. That love will manifest in myriad ways and actions, but it is always and forever at the core of our faith.
And if we love, if we obey God’s command, then even as we are held within God, so also God dwells within us, through the Holy Spirit. We are One with God through Christ, and even as we are One with God, so we are also One with all other things in existence – for they too are held within the love of God.
 Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, 1.9–10, trans. Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press: 1978), 63.