One of my favorite Christian authors and pastors is Rob Bell. Whenever he publishes a book or releases a video, I consume it immediately. His progressive evangelical view of God, faith and scripture capture my heart and imagination and help me look at my own ministry and spirituality in a new way. Bell’s latest book The Zimzum of Love, co-written with his wife Kristen, goes one step farther by providing profound insights on my marriage and the deeper mysteries of this sacred relationship (and btw, is a great companion piece to Bell’s Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality).
A Hebrew word used to “talk about the creation of the world–not in a scientific way but more like something somewhere between poetry and metaphysical speculation,” zimzum is the space which God creates between two people in a marriage for them to thrive in unconditional, sacrificial love.
Through back and forth dialogue, the Bells are honest about the ups and downs of marriage and offer practical advice for couples who wish to strengthen their marriages and live fully in relationship with their partner.
Rob and Kristin present the basis for their book (which divulges, thanks be to God, from the numerous syrupy step-by-step instruction manuals as well as misogynistic and theologically damaging views of marriage) in the following video:
This is one of those books where I found myself highlighting a paragraph or two and making notes on nearly every page. Two passages that stuck out in my reading were:
When you zimzum, you are consciously deciding to give your energies first and foremost to one person. That’s the power of the exclusive space-out of seven billion people on the planet, you first give yourself to just this one person in just this one way. You direct your love and will and energy to this one.
Like a laser beam, when you direct and focus your energies, they intensify. And when the two of you direct and focus your energies on each other, you create an extraordinary energy field between you. It’s the buzz, the crackle, the electricity that hums between you…
As you intentionally take action for the well-being of this person you love, strengthening and protecting the exclusive space between you, something unexpected happens. Your love overflows. Your love and devotion take you not just beyond yourself, but beyond the two of you. The energy that is generated between you transcends the two of you. By first committing to just each other, you naturally create something bigger than you both. This is why marriage is good for the world. Love that overflows makes the world a better place. It’s a gift–a beautiful, divine, sacred gift to the world.
God is described as a relationship of one. Early theologians called this relational oneness of God trinity. God is movement, motion, energy, generosity–a trinitarian community of infinite love, endlessly moving beyond for the good of others. In this trinitarian understanding of God, love is the engine of the universe, the life force that surges through all of creation. The nature of love is that it can’t be contained; it spills over and naturally creates new space for others to thrive.
This love takes us back to the first impulse you had to zimzum for this person you love. When you zimzum, you are aligning yourself with the most foundational creative energies of the universe. You’re experiencing the same love that sustains the world. This space between you is sacred because when you live beyond yourself, orientating yourself around the thriving of another, you are reflecting the image of God. You are unleashing in this space between you the same divine energies that continue to create the universe.
These particular statements made me wonder about how the Church might engage in the zimzum of love.
What would churches look like or how could they thrive and be healthy/healthier if it’s leaders and members committed to creating an exclusive space between them and the ministry of the church? What would it look like if distractions (like arguments over the color of the sanctuary carpet, signage, worship attendance, the style of the bulletin; and an over-filled busy work and social schedule) were eliminated so more energy was focused on creative and transforming ministry?
What would the life of a congregation look like if members were to align their faith with the Divine energy that creates and sustains the universe? What would it look like if followers of Christ reflected the image of God in exclusive relationships with the poor and homeless, the oppressed, the victims of injustice, the people whose cultural, religious, racial, sexual and gender identity is different from our own?
What might the church and world look like if Love overflowed, if we unleashed the energies of God in the relationships God has called us to create and cultivate in ministry and service?