Love Cannot Wait

by Killian Noe, Cofounder of Recovery Café and the Recovery Café Network

I will never forget the day that Hurricane Gloria made landfall in New Haven, Connecticut. It was 1985 and I was a student at Yale Divinity School. The sky became strangely dark, even though it was the middle of the day. The wind howled like coyotes and was so strong it literally picked up huge trees and threw them down on the roofs of houses and cars. Everyone in New Haven was ordered to stay inside to avoid being hit by flying debris.

And then suddenly, as if someone flipped a switch, right smack in the middle of this raging storm, everything stopped. It was completely silent, calm, and extraordinarily bright. Some friends of mine and I who lived in student housing ran outside and discovered that the sun was so bright we needed sunglasses to protect our eyes.

My friends and I were experiencing the “eye of the hurricane.” 

After running around the campus, assessing the damage, all of a sudden it all started again, drenching rain, howling wind, flying debris . . . and strange darkness in the middle of the day.

Darkness this Time of Year

For a lot of people in our Recovery Café communities, the darkness seems especially intense during this holiday season. A Member of one of our Seattle Cafés shared, “Never having money to buy anything for anyone is harder this time of year.”

Many of those who struggle with clinical depression find the darkness of that illness more severe this time of year; partly because the days are shorter and partly because they are expected to feel happy during the holidays and they don’t.

Some feel loneliness more intensely this time of year. Others more intensely miss loved ones who have died or are far away. Some feel more intensely the ache of relationships that are broken or baffling this time of year.

And of course, this year many of us are acutely aware of the darkness of war in the Middle East and Ukraine and other places of immense suffering.

Celebrating the Image of Divine Love

Several years ago, John Barbee, a Seattle Recovery Café Member who died this past year, asked me, “What is it exactly that we celebrate at Christmas?” 

Most of the world’s faith traditions—like Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and others—teach that every human is made in the image of divine Love, that the light of divine Love shines in you and in me.

What I celebrate this time of year is that the light of divine Love shines in the middle of the darkness around us and within us. The gift of this season is the reminder that divine Love can be found and experienced in the middle of our darkest moment, our most painful memory, our worst inner wounds, our most destructive behaviors, and even our stubborn self-loathing.

St. Francis of Assisi wore a patched robe because he wanted to appear to others exactly as he was on the inside—wounded and weak, as we all are, if we are honest.

Recovery Café Valley of the Sun; Chandler, AZ

St. Francis had faced his wounded self and it was precisely there in his woundedness that he experienced unconditional love. His mantra became, “I am profoundly loved, nothing more and also nothing less.” That unconditional love comes to us right smack in the middle of our mistakes, our failures, our places of intense pain.

St. Augustine wrote, “In my deepest wound I found you, Divine Love, and it dazzled me.”

So what I celebrate at Christmas is that the light of divine Love that shone through Jesus 2,000 years ago is still shining in the darkness of our time; it is still shining through you and me. 

Losing Touch with that Light

Problem is, a lot of us lose touch with that light of divine Love within us. We are so aware of the darkness in our life circumstances, or the darkness within us, that we struggle to fully claim and live from the light of unconditional love in us. Maybe we’re aware of a tendency to judge and criticize. Maybe we’re aware of a habit or compulsion that is destructive to ourselves and others. 

Perhaps we can’t fully claim we are instruments of light and love because we feel so inadequate. Some think, “Maybe someday when more of my wounds have been transformed, that light of unconditional love will shine through me, but not as wounded as I am right now.” 

Everyone Deserves Recovery Café; Hayward, CA

Love Cannot Wait

But love cannot wait until all our inner wounds and fears are gone. Love needs us as wounded healers. Love cannot wait until the darkness around us or within us is gone. Love does not choose us to be instruments of light because we are adequate, good enough, or because we have gotten rid of all of our darkness. Love chooses us right now to be the instruments of love the world so desperately needs. 

Like the eye of the hurricane, divine Love comes to us right smack in the middle of our pain, our struggles, our life circumstances, our inadequacies, our weaknesses, our inner wounds, and shines brightly in the middle of that darkness. And no matter how dark that darkness is, it is not stronger than the light; the darkness cannot overcome the light of divine Love within us. 

Our True Self

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who committed his life to contemplative prayer and to crossing barriers between Western and Eastern religions. He coined the term “Centering Prayer,” and said that when we pray we go to our center and from there pass into the mystery of divine Love. He called that place of divine Love in you and me our “true self.”

He wrote extensively about how we can nurture our true self, the place of divine Love within us, until everything we think, say, and do begins to emerge from that deep, true self; until every attitude, every vision for the future, every creative endeavor, every response to others, emerges from that place of divine Love in us, from our true self.

How do we know when we are operating from our true self, from that deep place of unconditional love in us, and when we are operating from our shallow, ego-driven self?

Recovery Café Clark County; Vancouver, WA

Jesus’ Embodiment of Divine Love

Since it is almost Christmas, I’d like to briefly name some of the qualities and behaviors in Jesus’ life which we can expect to see in our own lives as we nurture the light of divine Love in us.

1. Jesus made nurturing that place of God in himself through silent prayer or meditation his number one priority. He didn’t just take a few moments when he was stressed to center himself. His entire life was lived from his center, from the foundation of love, from his true self, from the wellspring of love within him.

Jesus set aside blocks of time for prayer, meditation, and deepening his connection with Divine Love. That connection requires commitment if it is to be maintained. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mystic, said centuries ago, “All human evil comes from this: our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.” 

(A study at the University of Virginia found that 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would sooner endure an unpleasant electric shock than be alone in silence for even 15 minutes!)

2. Jesus always stood with and for those in his society who were being ignored, excluded, and oppressed. And he confronted systems that perpetuated oppression. Confronting systems that oppress and exclude led to his execution. His life challenges us to confront systems that oppress and exclude, anyway. 

Recovery Café Medford; Medford, OR

3. Jesus practiced forgiveness. Even when the Romans nailed him to a cross—a brutal form of execution in his day—Jesus forgave his persecutors. 

Jesus never returned violence when others were violent toward him. He returned love—always and only love—no matter what was said to him or done to him.

Gordon Cosby, my mentor, wrote: “People, especially those close to us, have the power to deplete and hurt us. We are all clumsy at loving and in our clumsiness we hurt each other. We give others the power to drain our joy unless we can allow all persons, and all groups, to be who they are—which includes their clumsiest, most hurtful behaviors. We may need to choose a different kind of connection with people whose abusive behavior hurts us profoundly, but we still must choose to forgive them for their behavior if we want to live in the joy that is our birthright.”

Practices to Celebrate the Season

What if we celebrated this season by committing to at least one of these practices beginning today? 

Is there someone you have held a grudge against who you need to forgive? Not because they asked you for forgiveness or especially deserve forgiveness, but because we cannot be fully free instruments of light and love when we are holding onto grudges. 

Recovery Café Seattle; Seattle, WA

Do we have a tendency to harshly judge and criticize others? Maybe the one we judge and criticize most harshly is ourselves. Maybe today we could recommit to loving others and ourselves with no attachment to their loving us back.

Maybe we are finally ready in 2024 to make prayer/meditation a priority in our lives, to nurture our connection with divine Love until everything we do and say flows from that wellspring of love within us?

Is there someone we exclude from our love and kindness? Maybe we are kind to most people, but there is this one person or one group of people we just can’t embrace or tolerate. Perhaps this is the year we begin embracing that one individual or group we have rejected and begin finding ways to remove barriers that exclude them.

I’d like to close with the well-known words by Marianne Williamson which Nelson Mandela quoted in his inauguration speech when he became the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

May we let light shine and love be poured out through us even more in 2024.

Thanks for letting me share.

Killian Noe cofounded Recovery Café in Seattle, which opened in 2004. The Recovery Café Network was established in 2016 to support those who felt called to establish Recovery Cafés in their own communities. There are now 65 Cafés across the country and in Canada. Read the full story, and be inspired, by Killian’s book Descent into Love: How Recovery Café Came to Be.