Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the charismatic Catholic abbot of 12th Century France, is credited with inspiring the domestication of a breed of dog that would emulate his loving personality – the St. Bernard. The abbot was such a lover of men and God that his influence on human history is considered extraordinary. He wasn’t perfect by any means, confessing later in life that he was immeasurably wrong in preaching the necessity of the Second Crusade – a war that had disastrous consequences still being felt today, but such was his influence.
John Michael Talbot, in The Way of the Mystics (with Steve Rabey; San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2005), wrote that Bernard often “condemned churches that were too big, too wealthy, and decorated too elaborately.” On one occasion the abbot wrote: “I will overlook the immense heights of places of prayer, their immoderate lengths, their superfluous widths, the costly refinements, and the painstaking representations which deflect the attention … and thus hinder devotion … I, however, say, ‘Tell me, poor man, if indeed you are poor men, what is gold doing in the holy place.’”
If Bernard had lived in my day, he would have fit right in with the rest of us living out the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s and early 70s. He would have been a hero.
I would want to be known and then remembered as a man who loved men and God. I would rather be known as a lover than a preacher or a holy man. I would rather share the sweet honey of God’s love than the vinegar so many associate with the purveyors of “the good news” (which sounds more like bad news in the ears of many).
St. Bernard wrote on another occasion about “spiritual maturity” (and again I quote Talbot), that quality of life that we Christ-followers are supposed to be aspiring to. He was describing spiritual maturity by contrasting reservoirs and canals. He said it “would be best if people resembled reservoirs, opening their souls to be filled with God’s spirit and then allowing the overflow to empower their ministry to others. But instead, too many people resemble canals. The water of the Holy Spirit flows through their lives, but it disappears as soon as it arrives. ‘The want to pour it forth before they have been filled. They are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves.’”
“And unlike vinegar-stlyle preachers who try to keep people in line with threats of fire and brimstone, Bernard believed divine love could inspire ever-deeper devotion.”
I don’t think LOVE is so weak, so non-confrontational, or so flexible or adaptable that the lover holds nothing precious, and avoids holding to principles that might offend some. I say that because Jesus was the consummate Lover, and yet He never shied away from sharing His thoughts about politics and politicians (see His reference to Herod, “that fox”), or religious bigots (the “hypocrites” and “snakes” that consistently opposed His ministry to those they thought unworthy of God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness). On the contrary, I believe that LOVE is, first and foremost, when it is its most powerful and most influential, having as its object God, and then Man. And because the Lover of God loves God’s ways, His thoughts and His take on life, such a Lover will take a stand for God.
But, here’s the rub. Many (and some most of the) times, God’s ways/thoughts/etc., are opposed to our ways, thoughts, etc. Hmmm. What’s a Lover to do? Be quiet? Be sarcastic and vinegary? Or be brave, wise, and always LOVING of humankind, those wonderful creatures made in “God’s Image?”
Think about it.