I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
I tend distinctly toward intellectual snobbery. I like to make it known that yes, I read literature. Or theology. Or that I watch prestige television. Whatever. It is the tendency of an asshole, to be completely honest.
And when I first started reading Love Does by Bob Goff, I jumped pretty easily to criticism. Yes, the writing is full of trite soundbites. Yes, the stories are next-to-unbelievable and clearly the product of a privileged life of money and whiteness. Yes, the the “only Jesus, no religion” talk drove me batty (see also the Catholic Stuff podcast episode “Why I Love Jesus But Hate Religion”). All of that remains true.
But last Wednesday night felt strangely empty. I was busy, out and about, but my day had a little hole. I missed sharing my heart with a group of women I’ve never met outside of a Google Hangout.
Over the last few months, I heard these women talk about their pains and joys, what moves them in Christ, their struggles and hopes, and we laughed.Many of the women loved the book. A few, like me, could take it or leave it. I learned from them.
I learned, in Bob’s words, to be “palms up.” Both a physical posture and an attitude, being palms up is learning to be postured toward acceptance. With open hands, receiving what the Holy Spirit is breathing into my life. And for a series of Wednesdays this spring, that meant sitting down with a La Croix or a cup of tea or a beer and opening my palms to Bob’s idea of radical love and a handful of women across the country.
If I can take away one thing, it is to live palms up. Reaching out to others, reaching up to God, radically open to whatever my life can become. Living palms up is intensely Marian, though I don’t think Bob considered Our Lady when writing that sliver of a chapter.
When Bob says palms up, I pray Henri Nouwen’s appeal to God for unclenched hands.
When Bob says whimsy, I hear Chesterton saying wonder.
When Bob says, “You weren’t just an incredible idea that God never got around to making. The next step happened for the world when God dropped you on the planet,” Lewis echoes in my brain: “But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work.”
For all my complaints, Love Does really does tell the story of a man living the call of Christ in his life. And there is no minimizing the whimsy and power of that.
And there is no minimizing the whimsy and power of connecting with the kind of honest, lovely, beautiful souls that showed up on Wednesday night after Wednesday night, palms up, to talk about love and Jesus and a book.
I’m a little less snobby and superior now, I hope, and I’m trying to do love. Like really trying.
This Wednesday night, I’m reading poetry while drinking a piña colada and listening to Gregory Alan Isaksov, which is the long way of saying I am making myself cry a little.