Reflections on covenants made with love, themes from 1 Corinthians 13.

This week we celebrate the renewal of Ray & Arden’s Wedding Vows during the year of their 60th anniversary: such vows are bound as a covenant made in the sight and presence of holy love (agape).


This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love, And to help one another.  
— James Vila Blake

Link to scripture, focusing on verses 4-8a and 13. For prior reflections on agape (holy love) contrasted with other forms of love, visit this post.

Questions to consider:

  • What vows, oaths, pledges and promises have you made to an individual, entity or organization?
  • Which covenants and promises have included a promise of love?
  • What promises were made to you in return? Did those reciprocal vows or promises also include love?
  • What practices support your ability to keep your promise?
  • What symbols signify those promises? Do you wear or carry them on your person?
  • What is the difference between a covenant and a contract?

Are you fleeing from Love because of a single humiliation?What do you know of Love except the name?
… Since Love is loyal, it purchases one who is loyal:
it has no interest in a disloyal companion.
The human being resembles a tree; its root is a covenant with God:
that root must be cherished with all one’s might.
A weak covenant is a rotten root, without grace or fruit.
Though the boughs and leaves of the date palm are green,
greenness brings no benefit if the root is corrupt.
If a branch is without green leaves, yet has a good root,
a hundred leaves will put forth their hands in the end.
— Rumi

Appalachian Elegy (Section 6)— bell hooks

listen little sister / angels make their hope here
in these hills / follow me
I will guide you / careful now / no trespass
I will guide you / word for word / mouth for mouth
all the holy ones / embracing us
all our kin / making home here
renegade marooned / lawless fugitives / grace these mountains
we have earth to bind us
the covenant / between us / can never be broken
vows to live and let live

On Covenants

To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a Covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation’s sweetest dreams of itself. — Leonard Cohen

When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be remember. Because all of you have made covenants — you know what to do and you know how to do it — our greatest need is to remember. — Spencer W. Kimball

Mother Earth needs us to keep our covenant. We will do this in courts, we will do this on our radio station, and we will commit to our descendants to work hard to protect this land and water for them. Whether you have feet, wings, fins, or roots, we are all in it together. — Winona LaDuke

The word ‘slavery’ and ‘right’ are contradictory, they cancel each other out. Whether as between one man and another, or between one man and a whole people, it would always be absurd to say: “I hereby make a covenant with you which is wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I will respect it so long as I please and you shall respect it as long as I wish. — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper, let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace in the hearts and minds of all of our people. I believe that we can. I believe the problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings. — John F. Kennedy

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. — Edmund Morgan

The best way to strengthen a home, current or future, is to keep covenants.  — Linda K. Burton

Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage. Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit – that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back – then we “cut our losses” and drop the relationship. This has also been called “commodification,” a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of “covenant” is disappearing in our culture. ― Timothy Keller

Dalai Lama’s Commentary

With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
for the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space endures,
as long as sentient being remain,
until then, may I too remain
and dispel the miseries of the world.

In conclusion, those who like myself, consider themselves to be followers of Buddha, should practice as much as we can.

To followers of other religious traditions, I would like to say, “Please practice your own religion seriously and sincerely.”

And to non-believers, I request you to try to be warm-hearted. I ask this of you because these mental attitudes actually bring us happiness. As I have mentioned before, taking care of others actually benefits you. — 14th Dalai Lama

Holy Covenants: Jewish & Christian Commentary

In legal language, a covenant generally denotes an agreement between two or more parties. But in a religious context, a covenant is much more significant. It is a sacred promise with God. [God] fixes the terms. — Russell M. Nelson

God doesn’t want us to have rigid rituals with Him. In the new covenant, He is more interested in having a relationship with us. — Joseph Prince

The Israelites frequently forsook God, and he as frequently forsook them. But when they repented and returned to him, he remembered his covenant and delivered them from their distresses. — Adoniram Judson

A covenant made with God should be regarded not as restrictive but as protective. — Russell M. Nelson

The work of man is to respond to the Covenant by obeying the commandments of the Torah, those commandments that can be obeyed here and now. — David Novak

Then God establishes his Covenant with Noah, and with his sons, “and with every living creature.” Many recall the Covenant with Noah, but forget the Covenant with all other living Beings. However, God does not forget it. He repeats the terms “all flesh” and “every living creature” a number of times, to make sure we get the point. No one can make a Covenant with a stone: for a Covenant to exist, there must. be a minimum of two live and responsible parties to it. Therefore the Animals are not senseless matter, not mere chunks of meat. No; they have souls, or God could not have made a Covenant with them. The human Words of God affirm this: “But ask now the beasts,” says Job 12, “and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee … and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

When God makes a covenant with us, God says: ‘I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.’ In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: ‘I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.’ Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms. But God didn’t make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That’s why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God’s faithfulness in our lives together.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

Things that become important to economies become ritualized and become deified. Because I’m Jewish, I always thought it was interesting that in Judaism, salt seals a bargain, particularly the covenant with God. Some people, when they bless bread, they dip it in salt. Same thing exists in Islam. — Mark Kurlansky

Marriage has a unique place because it speaks of an absolute faithfulness, a covenant between radically different persons, male and female; and so it echoes the absolute covenant of God with his chosen, a covenant between radically different partners. — Rowan Williams

Settle this in your heart: Whether I am up or down, the Lord Jesus is the same. Whether I sing or sigh, the promise is true and the Promiser is faithful. Whether I stand on the summit or am hidden in the vale the covenant stands fast and everlasting love abides. — Charles Spurgeon


Meditations on bearing each other’s burdens: themes from Galatians 6

Have you heard the phrase, “Share the load?” This week’s themes from Galatians reflect being in community by recognizing each other’s challenges and issues, and finding ways to work on them together. Link to scripture: Galatians 6: 1-10. — Rev Gail

You live in me; I live in you. — Richard Rohr

Questions to consider:

  • Whose burdens do you already help to share?
  • When do you feel overwhelmed by serving and giving of yourself, and do you take time for self-care?
  • What does self-care look like for you?
  • How is your community part of your self-care?
  • Do you feel responsible to solve all of the problems about which you are aware, or can you prioritize, and give your time and energy to specific concerns or causes that kindle a passion in you?
  • Who has helped you to carry a burden?

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing. ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Call Me by My True Names (excerpt)
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Call me by my true names
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

…  My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom
in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can. — John Wesley 

Love is the bridge between you and everything. — Rumi

Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious. ― Ruth Reichl

When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death. ― Clarence Darrow

Judaism … For us, faith is the redemption of solitude. It is about relationships – between us and God, us and our family, us and our neighbours, us and our people, us and humankind. Judaism is not about the lonely soul. It is about the bonds that bind us to one another and to the Author of all. It is, in the highest sense, about friendship. — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

As we continue our earthly journey, if we learn to bear each other’s burdens and to exchange the rich patrimony of our respective traditions, we will see more clearly that what unites us is greater than what divides us. — Pope Francis

I know that part of the mixed blessing of getting older is that you have lost somebody. You’ve lost more than one person maybe and you get that message that life is really short and to be here for it. And second of all, you’re seeing people who were given such an excruciating burden to bear and they did it, and they did it with a lot of support, and they did it one day at a time, and they did it against all odds and they came through. And there are certain losses you never get over, of course, but they’re not broken bones anymore. There are things that are going to make you limp for the rest of your life, but they’re weight bearing again. And when you’ve seen that up close, when you’ve seen people come through, it just changes everything you know about life. — Anne Lamott

He [author of Galatians] speaks to the plural, the Us of the community. A community which does not give up to self-indulgence reaps a good harvest. That community cannot depend on the efforts of a few; the community as a whole needs to use its freedom well. — Andrew Prior

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because … God is love. — Martin Luther King

What I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he identified the poor as blessed and the rich as needy … and then he went and ministered to them both. This, I think, is the difference between charity and justice. Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another. ― Rachel Held Evans

When we do good for someone else a strange thing happens. We help someone thinking we are doing something for them, but in the practice of it we find that we are the one who is blessed. When we extend our heart to someone else, it is our heart that is filled. — Church for All People

Now human beings can begin to revel in what is meant by growing to full stature as a responsible and participative spiritual adult whose work on the planet really, really matters. Life, suddenly, is more a blessing both to the universe and to the self than it is simply a test of a person’s moral limits. To be alive, to be a person in the process of becoming, it becomes clear, is a blessing, not a bane. We are, alone and together, significant actors in the nature of life and the strengthening of the fibers of humankind. — Joan Chittister

You (and every other created thing) begin with your unique divine DNA, an inner destiny as it were, an absolute core that knows the truth about you, a true believer tucked away in the cellar of your being, an imago Dei that begs to be allowed, to be fulfilled, and to show itself. … This is your True Self. Historically, it was often called “the soul.” … Every Sacrament, every Bible story, every church service, every sermon, every hymn, every bit of priesthood, ministry, or liturgy is for one purpose: to allow you to experience your True Self—who you are in God and who God is in you—and to live a generous life from that Infinite Source. — Richard Rohr

I think we would have to agree that there is something built into the very nature of a life of sacrificial love, a life of bearing one another’s burdens, a life of loving your neighbor as yourself that is “wearying.” You give and give and give some more, and never really know if any of what you’re giving is doing any good at all! But Paul recommends that we take a longer look when we find ourselves getting discouraged. We need to look at things from a broader perspective when we feel that our work is insignificant. In a very real sense, our “bigger” perspective of the vastness of the universe and our place in it needs the “broader” perspective of the Kingdom of God that continues to grow and produce fruit until the final harvest day. — Alan Brehm

Emptiness and compassion go hand in hand. Compassion as transaction—me over here, being compassionate to you over there—is simply too clunky and difficult. If I am going to be responsible to receive your suffering and do something about it, and if I am going to make this kind of compassion the cornerstone of my religious life, I will soon be exhausted. But if I see the boundarylessness of me and you, and recognize that my suffering and your suffering are one suffering, and that that suffering is empty of any separation, weightiness, or ultimate tragedy, then I can do it. I can be boundlessly compassionate and loving, without limit. To be sure, living this teaching takes time and effort, and maybe we never entirely arrive at it. But it’s a joyful, heartfelt path worth treading. — Thich Nhat Hanh

The Bridge
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I stood on the bridge at midnight,
   As the clocks were striking the hour,
And the moon rose o’er the city,
   Behind the dark church-tower.

I saw her bright reflection
   In the waters under me,
Like a golden goblet falling
   And sinking into the sea.

And far in the hazy distance
   Of that lovely night in June,
The blaze of the flaming furnace
   Gleamed redder than the moon.

Among the long, black rafters
   The wavering shadows lay,
And the current that came from the ocean
   Seemed to lift and bear them away;

As, sweeping and eddying through them,
   Rose the belated tide,
And, streaming into the moonlight,
   The seaweed floated wide.

And like those waters rushing
   Among the wooden piers,
A flood of thoughts came o’er me
   That filled my eyes with tears.

How often, O, how often,
   In the days that had gone by,
I had stood on that bridge at midnight
   And gazed on that wave and sky!

How often, O, how often,
   I had wished that the ebbing tide
Would bear me away on its bosom
   O’er the ocean wild and wide!

For my heart was hot and restless,
   And my life was full of care,
And the burden laid upon me
   Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,
   It is buried in the sea;
And only the sorrow of others
   Throws its shadow over me.

Yet whenever I cross the river
   On its bridge with wooden piers,
Like the odor of brine from the ocean
   Comes the thought of other years.

And I think how many thousands
   Of care-encumbered men,
Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
   Have crossed the bridge since then.

I see the long procession
   Still passing to and fro,
The young heart hot and restless,
   And the old subdued and slow!

And forever and forever,
   As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
   As long as life has woes;

The moon and its broken reflection
   And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven,
   And its wavering image here.

Where Will I Find You
— Yehudah Halevi,
translated by Peter Cole


Where, Lord, will I find you:
your place is high and obscured.
And where won’t I find you:
your glory fills the world.
You dwell deep within—
you’ve fixed the ends of creation.
You stand, a tower for the near,
refuge to those far off.
You’ve lain above the Ark, here,
yet live in the highest heavens.
Exalted among your hosts,
although beyond their hymns—
no heavenly sphere could ever contain you,
let alone a chamber within.

In being borne above them
on an exalted throne,
you are closer to them
than their breath and skin.
Their mouths bear witness for them,
that you alone gave them form.
         Your kingdom’s burden is theirs;
who wouldn’t fear you?
And who could fail to search for you—
 who sends down food when it is due?

I sought your nearness.
With all my heart I called you.
And in my going out to meet you,
I found you coming toward me,
as in the wonders of your might
and holy works I saw you.
Who would say he hasn’t seen
your glory as the heavens’
 hordes declare their awe of you
without a sound being heard?

But could the Lord, in truth,
dwell in men on earth?
How would men you made from the dust and clay
fathom your presence there,
enthroned upon their praise?
The creatures hovering over the world
praise your wonders—
 your throne borne high above their heads,
as you bear all forever.

Memorial Day Commentary and Reflection on BELONGING: Themes from Paul’s Letter to Romans

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell, 1 January 1970, Dak To, Vietnam, Listed on February 7, 1978 as Killed In Action, March 24, 1970:

If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.
(Note: See the end of this email for reflections about Memorial Day.)
BELONGING: Themes from Paul’s Letter to Romans

Of Heirs (A Theme from Romans)

Every man is his own ancestor, and every man is his own heir. He devises his own future, and he inherits his own past. — Frederick Henry Hedge

Your story is the greatest legacy that you will leave to your friends.It’s the longest-lasting legacy you will leave to your heirs. ― Steve Saint

Continue reading “Memorial Day Commentary and Reflection on BELONGING: Themes from Paul’s Letter to Romans”