Where there is love, there are no demands; for demands imply assertion of one’s will over another. You so loved us that even unto death You made no demands but allowed our wills to choose. The concept is inextricably linked to the notions of control, manipulation and hidden agendas. Where these exist, real love does not. Where love is pure there are no expectations. Anthony DeMello S.J. talks of love being a sensitivity and response to the reality of another, not making a "project" out of the loved one through expectations.
Love also cannot be predicated upon dependency. We, of course, will always rely on others for something. Where we cannot meet our own needs, others can - but this is all it is: reliance, trust, hope and even gratitude - but not love! While each of these dispose us toward love, love cannot be predicated upon demands, expectations, or dependency. How this all operates to purify the idea of love in my own life has a great deal to do with how I look at my love for others and how I look at my love for You. Putting it this way makes it sound like I have two kinds of love: human and divine. While we often speak of it this way, I’m not so sure that for us humans they don’t dovetail.
In regards to our love for others, and then our love for You, how do demands, expectations and dependency dovetail with DeMello’s notion that love is a sensitivity and response to the reality of the other? In this there seems to be the potential of making love a very cool and heady affair - a concept lacking heart and warmth. Yet, sensitivity and response belie this. Sensitivity and response are from the heart and are warm and human. Demands, expectations and dependency are calluses of the heart, speed bumps to response and drugs numbing our sensitivity. This goes for our relationships with You as well as others. To love You and love our neighbor are not far apart. Each manifests itself in the other. There is a contingency of one upon the other. In this sense, therefore, it may be said that they are one. When my notion of loving You depends on Your meeting my demands (prayers), or when my loving You depends on my expectation of "rewards" from You, it manifests itself in the same attitude toward others in my life. My love for them becomes dependent upon them meeting my demands and on what expectations from them I can count on.
Only dependency offers a distinction between my love for You and others. Because of who You are it just may be a quality of my love for You that I do totally depend on You - not in the sense that eradicates my will, but in the sense that I negate my "self" and place my being trustingly in Your hands. To do this with another is like putting him/her on the same level as You, and that may just be the point! To get to the reality, the essence, the pure being of another is to see that by which we, in common, love and are loved. The hard part is to sweep all else aside and focus on this reality, be sensitive to it, and respond.
How does one measure the capacities of love within one’s self? What on earth, in this life, defines the degree of my love for You? There is no other answer but the degree to which I love others. If I say it is You l love best, whom I do not see, then, in this life, how is that love actually reflected in those whom I love most and see daily?
It is in this regard that I tend to think that my wife, the one I love best in this world is the yardstick of the love I have for You. How often she, more than anyone else in the world, affords me the opportunity to grow more in love with her and, consequently with You. If I want a mirror of my love for You, all I have to do is look at my wife. Through her difficult times You have constantly opened doors for me to enter and grow more in love with her and, consequently, with You.
Marriage is taken more and more lightly in our society, but the true sacramental nature of marriage is most revelatory as two people bear with each others’ weaknesses and grow from each others’ strengths - forgiving failings and learning patience.
If my love for You is reflected best in my love for others, then most supremely it is reflected in my love for my wife. She, I don’t think, realizes the channel of love she is for me. For myself, it is through no other one person: beside her, with her and through her that love’s message is comprehensible. You indeed are the third element in this trinity - the invisible partner without whom love has no meaning.
It is also true that my wife, as the premier balance-point in my life, reflects in my love for her, my love for other people. All the flaws in my own character and in my love surface first in my relationship with my wife. She is an unwitting master teacher of wisdom, patience, and perseverance in Your hands. I have written before about the many channels through which You speak to me. There is none more personal than my wife. While there may be those who can perfect their love for You through the channels of many other people, I am the dull plodder who may take a lifetime just to perfect it in one other person. Yet, for this one other person, I am most grateful. She is, for me, another person of You.
I think it was DeMello who wrote: "Reality is not problematic; take away all humans and problems dissolve." Well, the problem is you can’t take humans away. The ground of all reality as we perceive it is inextricably bound up with life and death and everything that comes in between - but, of course, that’s reality as we perceive it. When Pascal points out that our wretchedness and our greatness cannot exist one without the other he affirms the human problem with reality. The reality being that our nature has fallen from what it was meant to be and we yet strive mightily to recapture it. That reality which once was ours is now shrouded in a mist - an incomprehensible cloud. It seems to follow that there is something else to our reality than life and death. But it is our loss which has removed the certainty about this "something" and replaced it with a commerce in speculation; and that is, at best, as far as we can get. So, while this commerce in speculation is fueled by our "problems" with other humans, it is by no means certain that taking away all humans will dissolve our problems with reality. Actually, it would make things much more difficult.
What we do know of the unknowable reality is through other humans - remove them and it’s like turning all the lights out. Even in a cloister where pedestrian daily intercourse is marginalized, the writings of others are read and digested. You shine through to others through the illumination that our lives give to each other.
Therefore, if our problems with other humans are a puzzle to our perception of what is real or to clearing aside the clutter that’s strewn along the way, think of how we might perceive reality without them. We are made in such a way that we can’t do this. This may be what we mean by our "fallen nature". This may be what we lost in Eden.
Even if we were the purist of hermits we could not so eliminate Your words and the context of the people who surrounded You. We could not eliminate what others have written or said. In other words, we cannot get to that dim part of reality beyond life and death without others, nor they without us.
I am tempted to think that, hypothetically, one might arrive at the reality beyond without the "problems" of other humans, but am brought up short by the "necessities" of evangelization, love, and service to others You gave us. It is clear, in this, that we are being told we cannot arrive at reality except through others.
You know how things I read influence me. I’m reading an autobiography of a priest who traces his spirituality and growth from boyhood through the seminary and into his ongoing struggles with the institutional church. It’s fascinating because it’s something with which I can so easily identify. He describes himself as a "square peg" as well as a "Don Quixote". While his non-conformity and idealism rub some the wrong way, it seems delightful and refreshing in many ways to me. I can identify with his "square-pegness" and Don Quixoteism. He and I, to a large extent, are spiritual loners. That loneliness makes the journey more difficult because you love so much and there are so many terrific people you want to take with you who are "unwilling" to go. These are the people you love the most but who often seem to understand you least and, consequently, put the most pressure on you to make choices that please them. These are not the choices you would necessarily make for yourself or the course you would follow.
Does love of You really demand that out of love for others we do things that we would not choose to do if those others were not involved in our lives? I think so!
The spiritual zenith of love seems to be to love You and others gratis. In essence all love that is genuine is spiritual no matter the loved one. Yet, there persists a conflict between the genuine article and what I, because of outside influences, perceive to be love. The difference hinges upon the word gratis which means "no strings attached" - unconditional!
Why do I love anyone? The word "goodness" comes to mind before all others - or, at least, the observable potential for goodness. This "potential" is the primary reason an individual can love himself. How much greater, then, is actual goodness like Yours? This should clearly make it easier for me to love You than to love myself. But it’s not so.
You know that my love of You is mirrored by my love for others. You also know that my love for others often has many "strings" attached. I say I love someone but how often, in fact, is that love predicated on what the loved one can do for me. Somehow it seems purer to love in gratitude than to love in hope. Somehow it seems better to love not for what another can or will do, but for what has been done already. There is more love in thankfulness than in supplication.
To totally eradicate even the slightest selfish influence of love is difficult. But that is what is needed. The epitome would, therefore, seem to be one’s ability to love another for no other reason than the goodness of the loved one. The free giving of such love, based on gratitude and looking toward union is, I think, what it means to love God gratis. It is true that what is human in us, constantly dictates how we love God. Thus we are at constant war with our "selves" every time we try to embrace the loved one gratis. We keep crashing into the stone wall of "what’s in it for me?" Maybe if I love God I’ll get to heaven, or I’ll be a better person, or others will admire me, or I’ll grow to new spiritual heights. While each of these may be desirable, even good, they nonetheless are "strings" attached - conditions. To truly cut all such "strings" is monumentally difficult by ourselves. Yet to arrive somehow at the ability to do so is genuinely loving gratis.
Because of Your many "abstract" qualities You are, in many ways, easier to love than the people dwelling in the concrete reality of our daily lives. So often their love for us comes with many "strings" attached. This is not true of Your love for us. It is that kind of love which is our goal.
I wish I could discover why, when I’m away from my home, I have the warmest good thoughts about the happiness of being there, and when I’m there, petty turmoil and discord make me wish I was somewhere else. When I’m away from home I picture the beautiful faces of my wonderful family. I imagine each of them in their own way with their own particular expressions and personality traits that make each of them so unique - and I love them because they are my life. The images glow with warmth and I long to be with them because they are so good and so loveable. It was for this that You sent me into the world.
But at home so many extraneous distractions conflict with the pure images I am able to conjure away from home that I long to seize only those images again which, of course, may mean going away from any arguing, bickering, teasing, hollering, boasting, crankiness, etc., that are not a part of my pristine images. Yes, I want all of us to be saints and I try to shut out anything that negates that desire, but I know we’re not saints because saints don’t run from life.
I was sitting in church recently, basking in the silence and stillness of a late afternoon week day, and I was thinking about writing to You about my problems with trusting and letting go. But You did it again! You decided that You had something else to tell me that day. I love the way You surprise me in subtle ways.
This time it was through the medium of a fat, bald, dumpy-looking man, probably in his mid-sixties, who walked into church while I was in the wings. He shuffled slowly to the front of the church, kneeled down, and visited with You. I don’t think there had ever been a time up to then that I so powerfully experienced the clout of the second part of "love Me and love your neighbor". I have been in churches, temples and mosques dedicated to God all over the world. I have seen the magnificent art work and statuary, and the elevated architecture they all embody in His honor. I’ve seen literally hundreds, even thousands of people at a time assume an unaccustomed air of solemnity, respect and piety in the presence of such awesome surroundings. I have seen men, women and children deify by their demeanor the plaster images, crucifixes, paintings and buildings dedicated to God and those who served Him - but none of that can better mediate my love for You than that fat, bald, dumpy-looking man in his mid-sixties. Nothing is more important than loving You, and there is nothing more critical to loving You than loving others.
At this point in my journey, I would strongly defend solitude, silence, diminishing of self and openness to the Spirit as the paths most to be followed. Yet pursuing these is not without some puzzling predicaments. For example, to say we should not hide our light under a bushel basket but should let it shine, and, at the same time, our right hand should not know what our left hand is doing, to me, presents a contradiction - but maybe not.
It would, on the surface, seem that in order to let my light shine forth there is an ever-present struggle with silence, solitude, and diminishing of self. It even sounds like these things are the basket under which I should not hide my light. Yet, for my right hand not to be concerned with my left, self-diminishing, silence and, at least, inner peace seem to be pre-requisite. It is a quandary, but I think the key is in the word "light" and just what I consider to be my light.
Human accomplishments, skills, talents and obstacles overcome are often sources of inner pride. They are the things for which my human nature craves recognition - a pat on the back. They are not my light. These are things that, if my "left hand" is involved in them, my right hand should not even be concerned. These are the things of life that should just be allowed to "let be". Even though who I am would like to shine in these areas, this is not my "light". My light, without letting it become an inordinate source of pride is precisely the silence, solitude, self-diminishment and the ability to "let be" all those other human accomplishments that I erroneously believe to be the part of me I want to shine. What shines forth from them is pride, ego, and selfishness - not light - not that which my right hand or anybody else needs or wants to know.
The humility which puts these in their proper place and opens willingly to the Spirit’s gifts in silence, solitude and self-diminishing and grows and accepts them without fanfare - this is a "light" which cannot be hidden. It is humility! The bushel basket under which we must not put it is woven with the noise, self-centeredness, and selfishness of pride. Pride is the basket! Humility is the light and it will shine by itself! It will shine by itself because it is You in me - not me! All this has to do with diminishing one’s self so that You might increase and shine evermore through me as I grow.
I always feel I come up far short regarding the amount of effort needed to grow spiritually. This takes a whole lot of interior cleaning and maintenance that must be sustained. Bouts of self-delusion and rationalization wrestle with perseveranãe and!eîdurance. Real effort is the gratitude we must show for Your gift. It is not a gift for which a "thank-you" and a closet are apropos. I’m not too bad at this in short spurts here and there but, at this point, what is needed is not only "deeper" efforts but most especially longer and more sustained ones that get to and emanate more from the core of who I am. It is a bumpy road with successes one day and setbacks the next salted with a few days of mindless forgetfulness in between. It is a real effort, but I am learning that the successes and setbacks - even the forgetfulness and laziness - are not as significant as the effort. Of course it all has to do with love, and true love takes effort - constantly rededicated effort in the face of setbacks, wounded pride and forgetfulness. Unconditional love is the only kind and there is great interior effort and great selflessness involved in unconditional love.
Among the things that help me most here, I have found silence. Silence is a great leveler of pride and, therefore, a great diminisher of self. Silence takes great effort and is fraught with discouragement. I’m finding that it does not only have to do with words, or holding one’s tongue (though that is most important) but also the silencing of certain actions that convey "body language". To lose oneself entirely in the object of love – is love! But it emanates from the effort to get there.
Merton distinguishes his own exterior humility from the deeper, more difficult interior humility that dwells courageously in the truth. Here again we’re talking huge effort ( and a lot of failure because we’re dealing with the self) but it’s the effort itself that’s important. It is You who sustain my efforts with oft-repeated "fear nots".
The idea that my self is valuable to others is not to be pushed by me but rather pulled by others. I must manage to displace my self with You. To do this I must abandon concerns for what others may think of me - especially in terms of value to them. It is something to be received unadorned and interiorly dismissed with indifference. In this humility becomes the realization that my being is a gift from You - I receive it; so others receive the gift of "me" in a natural and unobtrusive way. So often all I can think of is what I have to offer - what I have to give. The problem is the "I" - the self as "I" -instead of just simply the self as is. I do nothing for You, but my "being" magnifies You. That is my value.