One of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament — perhaps even one of the most beautiful passages in all the wisdom literature of the world — comes from the 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I think anyone interested in Christian mysticism and contemplative spirituality needs to be familiar with this passage. It affirms who God is, how God loves us, how inseparable God’s love is from us, and really sets the stage for how Christian mysticism and contemplative spirituality is simply a way of responding to that love.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39, NRSV)
As I read over the passage, I began to pray for the grace of resting in the truth of God’s love.
Here are some thoughts about this passage, followed by a prayer I wrote in response to this passage.
The first line is such a powerful and profound promise: “all things,” not “some” or only those that conform to God’s will. All things. And while Paul does qualify that this applies “for those who love God,” I think when we remember that God is Love, we can read this as “All things work together for good for those who love Love” and it retains its integrity.
Likewise, while it is tempting to read the second line dualistically, I think you could make just as strong a case that it is a radically nondual statement: Those whom God foreknew — and wouldn’t that be everybody? After all, we are one large family, the family of humankind. The next sentence then just deepens the nondual perspective to open up into a lovely affirmation of how God’s glorification extends throughout all people.
The passage goes on to acknowledge, in some of the most beautiful prose found in the Bible (or perhaps in all literature), that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s a stunning refrain, reframing and amplification of the promise first made in Romans 5:5: “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
So if no one or nothing can separate us from the love of God — not even ourselves! — then we are left with one fundamental choice: accept it or not. I think for me, that’s a question about relaxing into that acceptance. I accept God’s love theoretically but I don’t always embody it. Yet the more I relax into this love, the more I am likely to simply realize it, enjoy it, and calibrate my life to it.
It’s easier to smile than to frown. Takes less muscular effort. But oh, how we love to frown, how I sometimes frown far too much! May God give me the grace to rest into God’s “smile.”
A Prayer in Response to Romans 8:28-39:
God, help me to relax into your love. I don’t have to manage it, control it, or make sure it’s flowing in my life. I do not need to prove myself worthy of it or somehow reassure you (or me) that’s all going according to plan. I do not need to waste time trying to figure out who is your “elect” or not, who is saved or not, who is in your grace or not. I can just accept that you love everyone, and so I can relate to everyone I meet as if I’m relating to someone truly special and precious in your eyes. Help me to relax into this place of radical trust, radical acceptance of your love, and radical compassion. I know it’s nothing to fuss over, and the more grounded I become in the ordinariness of your love, the more I am equipped to live a life of radical mercy, forgiveness, compassion, justice and love. Help me to live in your peace, so that I might be your peace — and your joy, and your love. Amen.