A purple mist has fallen gently over the earth since the recent announcement of Prince’s death. Another shooting star has blazed through the night sky and disappeared over the horizon.
In reflecting on the artist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Ernie Suggs wrote about a 2007 Prince concert he attended in Las Vegas:
We had seats at the lip of the left side of the stage. At some point, Prince jumped off the stage and walked through the seated area of the club. But he started on the other side. I watched like a hawk as he took the slow walk toward us, praying that he would not turn around. Mind you, we were the first table closest to the stage. Meaning that when he walked back to the stage, we would be the last table. And I situated myself so that I would be the last person he saw before getting back on stage. When he got to our table, he and I stood face to face. Eye to eye.
And Jesus said to his friends, and he says to us:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We associate purple with Jesus, too – the purple cloak with which he was wrapped on his way to the cross, to mock him for allowing himself to be called the king of the Jews. We associate purple with secular royalty, yes, but in Jesus’ case, purple throbs with his life-giving majesty, his sacrificial love.
We face again the question of the ages: How do we do that? How exactly do we fulfill Jesus’ commandment to love one another? How do we live into that wonder of sacrificial love? Part of how we show love, of course, is through our outreach to the community and beyond, our volunteer work, our donations to charitable organizations, our reaching out to those who need our help. And part of it is directly with each other with whom we live and work and go to school every day.
A family friend, a woodworker, carved a statue of two heads in close conversation, and our friend explained that the two heads depicted discussions in church parking lots. In the work, our friend was commenting on the many times in faith communities when we discuss difficult or challenging issues not directly with the person with whom we’re having troubles but with another person who may or may not even be involved in the controversy.
But Jesus calls us to a harder ministry, a higher way – Jesus calls us to look each other straight in the eye and find a way to talk about what we need to talk about in a loving way. Jesus calls us to speak the truth in love. And it is possible for us to do just that. Some may find it easier than others, but we can all learn the discipline of giving and receiving feedback in such a way that it only enhances, nourishes, our relationships rather than threatening them. And the more we do it, the more confident we are that we can do it, and that God will help us with every conversation.
Years ago, I worked with a rector in Alexandria, VA, who believed very strongly in the importance of having a regular time for us to meet to talk about anything in our working relationship that was bothering either one of us. As we continued to meet week after week, I found that my trust in him grew because I knew we were keeping our relationship clean, that he didn’t have any hidden disappointments, resentments or unspoken thoughts contaminating the way in which we worked together. And neither did I. And the more we had those conversations, the easier they were. They were just another part of the week, just another part of the day.
Ernie Suggs will no doubt remember his eyeball to eyeball exchange with Prince for the rest of his life. A close, intimate exchange without words that had to have been powerful beyond words. And I will always remember those sessions with Hal – attending to our relationship, building trust, practicing speaking the truth in love.
That’s what we can give to each other, with God’s help. The next time we find ourselves annoyed, perplexed, angry, frustrated with a person in our lives – whether our family, a friend, another person in our faith community, we can look her or him straight in the eye and speak directly; we can speak the truth in love. And by doing that, we will be showing them love beyond bounds; we will show them how much we treasure and cherish their relationship; that they matter enough to us to give them the gift of our vulnerability. That we care enough to give them our raw, unprotected, undefended selves. And with that, we will move through the purple mist cloaked in the mighty robe of Jesus, the purple robe of sacrificial love.