Regardless of what you think of the Christianity of my upbringing, its one unambiguously worthy value is that of loving others. “Love your enemies,” “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength,” “Love your neighbor as yourself”: Pouring love into the world is Christianity’s core mandate. For five decades of church-going and three decades of serious spiritual practice, loving others has been my orientation and effort.
So when my friend Michael Bischoff cavalierly told a crowd, “What matters is the degree to which we can receive love,” my jaw dropped. I recognized the truth of his statement immediately, but something about his naming it so publicly seemed—heretical? revolutionary? Certainly bold.
In the early months after his diagnosis with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer for which the medical community has no cure, Michael knew that if he wanted healing, he’d have to do more than what his doctors prescribed. When friends threw a party for him, surrounding him with song, laying their hands on him, and praying for him, Michael understood that his wellbeing was connected to his capacity to receive his friends’ and family’s love.
The false humility of my religious upbringing, which I suspect Michael knows well because it’s also rampant in our culture at large, requires that we deflect any attention and care directed at ourselves, or at least pretend to. I see it all the time with writers; when someone genuinely compliments their work, they say thanks while putting up an invisible shield as though to protect their egos from inflation. The result is that they distrust the good will of readers, their own effectiveness, and the success of their work. They miss the opportunity to learn about their strengths and to experience the hidden bond that forms between writer and reader—the literary equivalent of laying on of hands.
A truly humble ego accepts a genuine gift, and honors it by passing it along. Michael’s story reminds me of early on in our parenting seeing a therapist who specialized in adoption issues. He observed how Gwyn relaxed into my arms and said, “Now that’s good.” The degree to which we can receive love is the extent to which we consent to our interconnectedness—to the flow of energy between and among us. Gwyn’s capacity to receive our affection becomes her groundedness, her faith in the world, the wellspring from which she can give. Receiving love is not about our egos at all. It’s deep nurturance, a humble opening of the heart.
Michael may never be cured of his cancer but to the extend he can receive others’ love and generously love himself, that stream of life moves through him and he experiences healing. I’m grateful to be a part of that flow.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
If you’d like to hear Michael’s talk, you can find the Health Story Collaborative presentation here.
June 5, 2018, 7:00-9:30pm: Come hear the inspiring work of emerging writers at the Author’s Circle Reading, 2615 Park Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407.
June 8, 1:30-3:30: Join me to explore what Nadia Bolz-Weber calls spiritual physics: something must die before something new can be born. We’ll exercise our “letting go” muscle on the page, directly experiencing death and release as a part of creation. Second Friday spiritual memoir drop-in series at Wisdom Ways.
September 24-28, 2018: Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice retreat at Madeline Island School of the Arts. Spend a week sinking into your project with other serious writers!