Saturday, June 13, 2015

God Is No Businessman

"Eros makes promises, but agape keeps them." -- The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Poets and philosophers alike have spent many words describing the almost indescribable. They write words of love, friendship, affection, brotherhood; the writer Dante said of love, "[there was] the love that moves the sun and all the stars." It is this love, all encompassing that concerns Peter Kreeft in his book, The God who Loves You. He writes in a Christian perspective of love experiences. "Everything is a gift from God," writes Kreeft.
This is, he says, incredibly simple, yet our human tendency towards complexity makes it look murky and confusing. The writer, Chesterton, said "life is always confusing for one without clear principles." Yet here is, says Kreeft, simplicity itself, shining brightly if we will only look. God is Love. What he wills for me, comes from goodness, for my own good. This, "is not poetic fancy, but sober, logical fact."
We may then view love in the light of goodness. What comes in a life may be a sign, an indication pointing the way; it means something. Our suffering in love means something, in this view. Christian thought believes that like the Christ upon his cross, our suffering is for all, for the common good--ours and others. Love then, points the way back to the divine giver. The parables of the Christ do not tell us to love humanity in the abstract.
We are called instead to love our neighbor as our self. We are not called to like our neighbor, but to love as our self. It is to individuals that this love is directed. God's love then is personal, like a mother or a father love; it is unique because it becomes us, and giving it then, becomes its expression and cause. Love means then to share the light of the world, one person at a time with our family and friends.
Here is the part which becomes difficult for us: When we share with our neighbor, love, as ourself, we sometimes confuse the love God gives with our physical, corporal self. It's as if, in love, we have given our self literally, and not spiritually; thus in ego, a sense of possession arises. You are mine and I am yours. Perhaps even ownership, a relation which gives no heed to free will, replacing loving freely.
God is a lover. God is not a businessman or a manager taking account of all his stock. Martin Luther wrote in his treatise, The Liberty of a Christian, that what God wants is not possession nor a technical performance in life, but something simple and profound.
God wants our hearts. He gives and we receive through the Spirit. A heart may not be demanded or bought; it may not be contained or caged. It is freely given, and freely received. Luther was right. This is a simple truth which liberates us from the darkness and confusion of love. In love we are free.

As adults we may first try many ways to obtain and capture a heart. Some may work for a time, but ultimately the heart of love is free and flies where it wills. It cannot be possessed. This is frightening to one who feels great desire or need for that heart.
Yet thinking carefully, one may discover its source is not the person who first made its presence felt, the Beloved, but the One who gave it first in the Spirit of Love. The one who loves all, who loves freely.

The chains of possession must not be;
 yet at times ignorance or wickedness overcomes, and possession is confused for love. It is not. Love is free and must be. This recognition of freely given love is a love that honors, respects and lasts at least as long as the One who formed us in it.
Thus as adults mature, many come to the knowledge that romantic love "reveals the beloved, and is meant to point us towards union, Oneness with God."
Often we find ourselves in places which we never have dreamed of before, places which call for our complete attention, and challenge us beyond measure. Love is one of those places; yet there is no school for love, no way to read a book to easily or painlessly learn of its nature. So we come into adult life armed with the love we learned as children within our family, the love that we may have encountered in our religious experiences, the friendships we develop in our youth, the pleasures of shared activities and hobbies with family, friends, groups or clubs. All this we bring into adult life, but romantic love, eros, we have the least direct experience of as young adults. Perhaps we witnessed the many occasions of fondness and affection our parents exchanged, a friend in high school, a romantic flush that grew for a few months and then faltered.
Bringing these early experiences into the everyday world, we find that one day, we are inexplicably drawn, impelled into a connection with one who is not our family, not quite like anyone whom we've known before, and yet we are drawn to them, to a flame that seems to burn brightly when together. A relationship develops, perhaps not like one we've known before in our young life, but then a bit like every relationship we have experienced. There is friendliness, sharing, laughter, understanding, and perhaps, a quiet peacefulness when together. But what of it? Much of our social relationships are influenced and dictated not by the individuals, but by societal norms and values which seek to define and place persons into fairly rigid categories. And society, as a component of the everyday world is rigid in conforming to the established norms. Unlike the words of poets, the mystics, and philosophers, living a love story can be difficult and confusing.

This article first appeared here on October 19, 2009


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Where Is the Self, the Non-Self?

"Love has very much to do with Bodhichitta...When you are animated by bodhichitta, the strong desire to devote yourself... is all you need." -- T.N. Hanh, Cultivating the Mind of Love

"Love has very much to do with bodhichitta," writes Buddhist monk and teacher, T.N. Hanh. "Love had to do with a strong desire to become a monk, to practice for a whole generation, and a whole society... Bodhichitta was our support and protection.
When you are animated by bodhichitta, the strong desire to devote yourself to the practice of dharma (dharmakaya) for the well being of others, is all you need. Bodhichitta is a source of power within you. The best thing you can do for others is to help them touch the bodhichitta in themselves. The seed of bodhichitta is there; it is a matter of watering that seed to bring it to life."

Hanh writes, "Where is the self? Where is the non-self? Who is your first love? Who is the last? What is the difference? How can anything die? If you want to touch my love, please touch yourself." Can water be grasped by its form? Can it be traced to its beginning? Do you know where it ends?

It 's the same with love. Love is without beginning; it is without end. "It is still alive within the stream of your being." Live now, consciously in the moment, looking deeply. Your world is a joy; your love lives. Looking deeply into your love, you discover that the Buddha lives.

"When the unreal is taken for the real, then the real becomes unreal;
when non-existence is taken for existence, then non-existence
becomes existence."

--Dream of the Red Chamber, by Tsao Hsueh-Chin