By Jessica Murphy Moo
If I could boil down my sessions with my wonderful Franciscan spiritual advisor to one persistent message, it would be that God’s love for me — for me? I always ask — is abundant. As you can see I can’t even finish the sentence without doubting her, but I always feel better having heard her message.
In my own experience, love and doubt tend to go hand in hand, as they do in the first line of George Herbert’s poem “Love (III).”
“Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back…”
I have held this George Herbert poem close to my heart since college because the tension in that first line (and all the way through the poem) feels so true to me of the love and doubt present in any loving relationship. St. Ignatius encouraged us to see God in all things, and of course this includes our relationships. All the love and doubt bound up in my love for my family, for instance — Am I showing up in the best way for my husband and kiddos? Am I present enough to my aging parents? Is there something I should be saying or doing? — is telling me something about the love and doubt involved in faith in a loving God, in “Love” with a capital “L.”
During Lent, I often feel I’m barreling toward Palm Sunday, toward the reading of the Passion, toward the moment when Jesus cries out, “Why have you forsaken me?” The moment, read aloud, always makes me cry. I hear love and doubt. It’s crushing to me that Jesus felt doubt in that painful moment, but it also makes him real to me.
In the poem, Love just keeps showing up, unruffled by the doubts of the guest. I so hope to be like that in my relationships, to keep showing up, to keep inviting someone in. There’s so much vulnerability involved on both sides of the relationship equation, but it’s the challenge of our faith to acknowledge the doubt and to keep trying, to keep showing up for one another and for Love.
We all know that things can get lost in translation. But what if, through the attempt of translation, however imperfect, things can also be found?
I first heard “Parlez-moi d’amour” (“Speak to me of love”) at a literary/musical “cover” event. Writers got up to the mic and read works by other writers they admired, and singer Dayna Kurtz performed a night of cover songs. Kurtz’s voice captivated me, and I became a fan.
I loved her performance of this love song. At the time I didn’t know that a lot of people love this song. It’s been around since the 1930s, originally performed by Lucienne Boyer (written by Jean Lenoir). It’s in several movies — “Casablanca” included — and Barbara Streisand performed a version in English.
I’m grateful I heard it in French first, not because I understood all the words (my high school level French got me only to the gist of things), but because I think without the words, I listened for other things from the performer. I like the challenge of listening for “other things” or allowing music to work its magic on my heart without getting tangled up in the thoughts in my head.
I’ve since looked at English translations — love and doubt are wrapped up in this love song — but I know that the trouble with translation is that it never quite gets it right. Right?
I think the attempts and misfires of translation are why I have so much trouble writing about anything having to do with faith. I get words down, I try to explain what’s going on in my heart — where, in spite of suffering, is the source of that well of joy? — and it’s always a translation that doesn’t sound quite right.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.
I like to think of Lent as a season of trying — trying to see and understand with greater attentiveness not only my faith but also the imperfect translations of my heart.
Jessica Murphy Moo is editor of Portland magazine, the award-winning publication of the University of Portland. Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, Image and Memorious. Murphy Moo is also a librettist. She wrote the words for two operas — “An American Dream” and “Earth to Kenzie” — and she is currently working on a new opera, in collaboration with composer Damien Geter, about “Loving v. Virginia,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made interracial marriage legal in all 50 states. She is an alumna of the College of the Holy Cross (B.A.) and Emerson College (M.F.A.).