From quite an early age, I’ve had an affection for the songs that have come to be known as American Standards. Songs sung by the likes of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan (a voice to die for!) and more recent artists such as Diana Krall. Part of the attraction is the cool, sophisticated vibe of this music. But I’m also taken by the frequent romantic themes in these songs that reflect every aspect of human love: love that is wistful, yearning, undying, unrequited, alas sometimes unfaithful, and sadly, love that is lost. One of my favorite lines from these songs comes from a Billie Holiday song from 1956: “I’d rather be lonely without you than happy with somebody else”. What a line! It makes sense to our hearts but not to our heads.
There’s an old saying that “money makes the world go round”. While I don’t know whether that’s true, I do think that love gives meaning to our time in this world and is a powerful force in our lives. So why is that?
Of course we know that God is love. Therefore, given God made us, and we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are also at our core, love. We come into this life, ideally (if we are lucky) giving and receiving love, only to return at the end of our pilgrimage, to perfect love. However, while we are here, loved as we may well be by family, friends and lovers, there is always a sense of incompleteness. St. Augustine captured it best in his famous statement that our hearts are always restless until they rest in God. This is a powerful force: our search for perfect love.
Moreover, in addition to this “restlessness”, a challenge with which many of us have to deal, is a sense of uncertainty, maybe unworthiness; not only in our human relationships but also with God. Sure, we are told that God loves us. And we’d like to believe that God loves us, but as we look at our continued struggles to be good people, we may have our doubts. Paradoxically in fact, the more you pray and do good works, the harder you work for “purity of heart”, the more likely you are to become aware of what you think of as your shortcomings, or unlovable traits, and question even more your worthiness. So what to do?
Recently at happy hour, a nightly ritual I’m afraid, I was listening to a song recorded by Fats Waller in 1935: “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”. It goes on to say “And make believe it came from you”. It seemed to me that this might be a helpful and hopefully reassuring way of looking at our relationship with God. We could capture what we think God would say to us if She/He was to actually write us a letter. You can pick your own words but perhaps something like:
I loved you before you were born and will love you forever.
Whenever you do not act out of love, know that you are forgiven as soon as you desire it. Jesus made this clear when He spoke of the Prodigal Son.
Whatever struggles you face, I will be there with you always. We will suffer together. The crucifixion is proof of that.
And as you saw in the resurrection, My promise that in the end, all will be well and all manner of being will be well.
I’m looking forward to seeing you (not too soon).
With Love and Blessings,
Your Heavenly Father
And you might want to end the letter from God like Fats Waller sings in the original song:
“Lot’s of kisses at the bottom, I’ll be glad I got ‘em”.