You Have to Practice God

Quote from Toni Morrison's novel Paradise:

Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison...

Love is none of that. There is nothing in nature like it. Not in robins or bison or in the banging tails of your hunting dogs and not in blossoms or suckling foal. Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God. 

You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn--by practice and careful contemplations--the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God--carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it. 

How do you know you have graduated? You don't. What you do know is that you are human and therefore educable, and therefore capable of learning how to learn, and therefore interesting to God, who is interested only in Himself which is to say He is interested only in love. Do you understand me? God is not interested in you. He is interested in love and the bliss it brings to those who understand and share the interest...

Such a bracing, fascinating passage. Of course, there are lines we'll find utterly objectionable. That we don't deserve love. That you have to earn God. That God isn't interested in you. 

The quote comes form a sermon in the novel, so its narrative context has to be taken into consideration. Still, there's a lesson here. The Bible says, "faith without works is dead." The same is true about love. Love is a diploma. Love is not natural and it's hard. Love, as a capacity, has to be earned. You have to practice God. 

I appreciate the quote because we all want love, to give and receive it. But how many of us have put in the work? Few, I think. So while I wouldn't defend every line of this quote, I appreciate the call it is putting on my life. Today I want to practice God.

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