Many Americans have had the experience of getting anesthesia. Last summer when I had three wisdom teeth removed I thanked God for medication that kills pain. I had both local anesthetic and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Even the normal discomforts of dental work were taken away. I felt none of it. I was so loopy I even found the situation kind of funny. The loopy-ness of the laughing gas says something about getting painkillers: they make one less conscious.
As it turns out, we rather enjoy being less conscious. Carl Jung once said “ninety-five percent of people live ninety-five percent of their lives unconsciously.” We like to numb ourselves. We prefer it to dealing with the pain reality often brings. Dulling the pain of life could be a national pastime when we examine the typical experience of Americans. Television stands out as a prime example. There is a new phenomenon called “binge-watching.” A television series drops online through a service like Netflix and one can watch the whole series without stopping. It acts as a great way to dull the pain of reality. Due to this psychic numbness we miss out on the joy of knowing we are God’s beloved.
Immediately after Jesus gets baptized the heavens open and the Spirit arrives. A voice comes from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This story reveals Jesus as God’s Son. It also reveals that you are God’s beloved child. What is true of Jesus is true of you. You are God’s delight! You are God’s joy! Do a simple spiritual exercise right now. Close your eyes. Be quiet within for a moment. Then, repeat within: “I am God’s delight. I am God’s joy.” Synchronize your repetition of this prayer with your breathing. For every breath you take reaffirms God’s joy over you.
God calls Jesus and each one of us “my beloved” and “my delight.” But do we really know we are God’s beloved and delight? Have we really accepted God’s love for us? At his baptism Jesus fully opens to divine love. He allowed God to love him. That is the gift of baptism – Jesus’ baptism as well as our own. We must likewise be open to let God love us.
What does it mean to let God love us? Certainly it means letting go of our inner defenses and walls and consenting to God present in us. To let God love us is a profoundly Trinitarian experience. At his baptism, Jesus let God love him and that allowed him to enjoy his relationship with God the Father as the Son in the Holy Spirit. To let our guard down and allow God into our hearts is to relate to the Father through Jesus the Son in the Holy Spirit. When we let God love us we experience the Trinity.
God is loving us always, but we have so many defenses against letting this incomprehensible love into our hearts and minds. If we did we would change, for love means letting go of what we want to be with another. We each resist the allure of divine love, choosing instead to do what we feel like. But what would it be like if we let God love us? It might mean setting aside our preferred thing to do and spending time with God. To just be in the Presence, especially when it doesn’t necessarily feel good, is an act of love that cracks open our defensive hearts to let in the incomprehensible love of God.
Still, there are times when we get surprised by how selfish we can be. Only after we have or have not gotten our way do we realize just how unloving we have been. However, no matter what you’ve done, before ever being aware of it, right in the middle of your most selfish moment, God loves you. God accepts and delights in you as you are, not as you were or will be. Further, there’s nothing you can do to earn this love or take it away. Nothing you do – no matter how stupid or sinful – will ever stop God from taking joy in your very existence. Hence we always can turn back to God and let in divine love.
Philip Bennet writes, “There are no experts in the spiritual life, only beginners.” (“Let Yourself Be Loved”) This means beginning anew, opening up to the incomprehensible love of God anew and fresh every moment. Don’t waste a second. Return to God now. Pay attention to God now. Sink down into silence and let God love you now. Be present here and now in divine love. This is what the word “conversion” means.
Begin again this very moment. Throw out all numbing activities and open yourself to the real, to what is, to ever-present divine love waiting to enfold you and transform you. Conversion does not happen once or even a few times in a lifetime. Even more, conversion does not happen just every day. It happens every moment. Let down your defenses and take the risk of being vulnerable. Let go whatever numbs you to reality, for that is where God loves you. To do so is to experience what Jesus experienced at his baptism: God loving us as we are. So, we can be baptized again and again throughout the day, always letting in God’s delightful love and letting this love flow through us to others.