In many ways my relationship with You is a wedge between me and others - particularly in my own family. I keep thinking of that scripture passage that says You have come not to unite but divide certain relationships and I wish not to compromise You in my life. The easiest way to rationalize it is to say the fault in not in me or You but in others. After all, I’ve already been witness to how the love of one person for another has divided a family. Many human faults and foibles surface here, not the least of which are jealousy and envy. I understand this. I am at this point with You. I want to love You and possess You privately, exclusively and personally. Therefore, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the attention I want to give You in my life is a source of jealousy and even contempt for some who want to possess me privately, exclusively and personally.
My love for those people You have given me is such that I want them to have the same private, exclusive, personal relationship with You that I want for myself - in fact, so marvelous is it that I truly want for them an even better relationship with You than mine. Many of those close to me know this, or, at least, sense this in some form, yet, somehow, its scent seems to repel rather than attract. Why, through me, can’t You be a magnet to them? There’s too much of me that is incompatible with their image of me loving You. This I know.
I hope I am growing, but I often feel I’m not. I feel that what I am and what I’d like to be are still far apart. The obstacle, of course, is myself. What I am stands in the way of what I want to be. Sometimes I get the inkling that I treat our relationship too personally. It’s really the way I want it and the way I feel most comfortable, but it is selfish. I want You all to myself. I become jealous and even closed to others. I guess we do that with those we love most. We don’t want to share love. We want to be the "be-all and end-all" for the loved one. There are many times when I’m not even sure of how to go about sharing the love I have for You with others. I carry that selfish love right into my family too, and the problem there is that they don’t understand me like You do and I become the source of many problems of which I do not mean to be the source. Help me to share my love for You.
Trying to understand the Eucharist from Your point of view may provide me with some enlightenment about the relationship between God and man. In the earliest scriptures man demanded signs from You of this relationship. There is something of this in human relationships as we look for and demand signs of how another feels about us. The feeling we have toward another may be very true and may transcend any sign we may use, but the necessity of the sign remains, nonetheless, in the other.
Sometimes we are the other who, knowing full well the feelings of another toward us and that they are true, still demand a sign. At its least intellectual level, the sign is physical. In fact, the simplicity of physical signs of love contain the immediacy lacking in the intellectual comprehension of love. That is why the Eucharist is like a kiss or a hug.
In the life of a human being there is a need to receive more than to give physical affirmation that one is accepted and loved. Real love truly does transcend this need. Purely, love does not necessitate these signs. I cannot hug, kiss, or make love to You, or Mother Theresa, or my mother or father who died years ago, but my love (though not finished) is as truly in progress as my love for my wife and children to whom I am able to give these signs and receive them in return.
The signs of our love for You are manifested in the inclinations of our hearts and in the signs we bestow on others. But You have given me the physical hug and kiss of the Eucharist in perpetuity as the sign, in human weakness, that I need. Daily You not only tell
me but You show me that You love me and that I am accepted. What Eucharist can I make to You? In what manner can I return the kiss of the Eucharist? In that act of love-making, You gave me Your body and blood. It is perplexing to consider myself only a passive (though grateful) recipient. I cannot touch You as You touch me. I can tell You of my love and I can live as You taught us and I can be as open as possible to communicating with You in as many ways as possible. You do not need me, but, in spite of that, You want me. You do not need to touch me, but You kiss me with a real sign of Your love. In these ways it is obvious that You have already chosen me. What is left is for me to choose You. I do need You, but I allow worldly needs to often push You aside. I need to touch You but I still search for the hands with which to do that. Even this, though, love transcends.
I’m thinking about how much I use the word "dear" when I pray. Every vocal prayer, other than the formula ones, I start with "Dear God" or "Dear Jesus" or "Dear Lord". It is, of course, a term of endearment. It’s also very personal. I seldom even stop to think about what it means; but when I do, I realize that You are the only One with whom I use the term. I don’t call my wife, my mother, or my children "dear" - even thought they are. It doesn’t feel right with them - like I’m schmoozing them. But I don’t feel at all uncomfortable saying it to You, or schmoozing You - because You know me and understand me and accept me and my love without any condition - and that kind of love is divinely dear; and that kind of friend understands dearness in a way that even the people closest to you cannot.
Often the liturgy of the word or a homily at Mass serves as a springboard to thoughts I express in these letters. That is the case today. I’m confused and wondering at the apparent dichotomy of Christianity in the gospels and the contemplative life style of groups like the Trappists. You know well my leanings are toward a personal spirituality, and, therefore, I tend to idealize contemplative spirituality. Yet - and this cannot be denied - You taught a very social gospel, and the modern church and her leaders are emphatic about Christianity being a social phenomenon. Now, I realize that groups like the Trappists are a community, but does this mean that a private individual cannot, by being contemplative, be fully a Christian in the gospel sense? What about the hermits? It seems to me that everything about me must stem from my relationship with You. Therefore, the most important thing seems to be to cultivate and ever deepen that relationship and let all else follow its course.
Seems like every once in awhile I hit a dry spell. I really want to write to You, but nothing seems to come. My life becomes preoccupied with barrages of people, circumstances and events to the point that that’s all I can think about, but it’s not what I want to write to You about, and, alone with You, I keep coming up empty. Maybe that’s exactly what I should write to You about even though I don’t want to.
The best word I can summon to describe the feeling of coming out of these spells is "thrilling". It happens when I’m very still, silent and alone with You in a room with the door closed against all outside barrages. The moment all else is jettisoned and I feel You fill the emptiness is thrilling. It makes me think that this must be a little bit of heaven - having You all to myself. This feeling prompts me on such occasions to the realization that the things I really want to write to You about are just these kinds of personal (You and me) feelings. It’s about weeding out everything in my life ( some weeds are extraordinarily stubborn) and letting You speak to me as I speak to You about us. It’s about being that little moth who gets an exquisite little burn from being a touch too close to the fire but does not fly away; rather comes back to be singed again and again.
Sometimes I like to look back over the time reflected in these letters to You and what I discover is a history of the Divine Gardener cultivating me. The analogy is not new, but, at the moment, I find it strikes me as it did Thomas Merton. His writings are full of words like: growing, flowering, blossoming, and blooming in regard to the development of his own spirituality. I feel as he did, the reality of Your cultivating me. Your painstaking concern for my growth and flourishing is the most powerful ongoing sign of Your presence to me. I am most grateful for that and pray it may increase.
The "big picture" of my life plays from diminuendo to crescendo as Your love grows, flourishes and increasingly builds. It is Your work! Doors open, insights come, and degrees of enlightenment follow because of the tender, detailed, unhurried plan You have for me - Your flower. The nutrients and water I receive seem purposely to be discovered and used because I am who I am now. What follows may be different, depending on my growth, but it will be right. The passive and patient attention with which I await Your care is a big factor in my growth. I, like an immobile rooted plant, must allow all that comes to me, good and bad, and let it happen with acceptance for my growth.
What is the "trick" to making You present in the people and events of our everyday life? I like the insight provided by Father Keating here. He thinks the key is intense focus on what we are doing at the moment - pure, undistracted attention. That’s what makes You present. He cites the example of the bartender and says that You are more present to him when he is tending bar with commitment and dedication than when he is at Mass thinking about tending bar. The curious idea of applying this to my experience on a recent retreat occurs to me. I’ve been dwelling on the single most potent impression from that retreat; namely, that the "busy-ness" of my mind activated by "things to be done" (Martha and Mary) hovers over every still and silent moment with You, moments that I wish to relish. It happens at home too - measuring time with You against what has to be done. Finding myself in this condition frequently, I can’t help thinking about the bartender at Mass thinking about bartending.
The point the bartender and I may be missing here is that in the focus of actually doing those things to be done, You may be more present than in those distracted moments of stillness and silence. In the example, isn’t it interesting that the bartender doesn’t think about being at Mass while tending bar; and I did not think about being in silent solitude with you while working. Is it possible that the lesson of "where our heart is, there also is our treasure", is not so much an indictment concerning the things of the world as it is a teaching meant to show us that our treasure (You) may best be found in the very focus of our heart’s desires; even in the activities we might not consider "religious" or "spiritual"? That is to say, You may be more present in the concentrated focus of painting a ceiling, changing the car’s oil, or remodeling the bathroom, etc., than in thinking about these things while trying to pray.
This is not meant to demean attentive, undistracted spiritual exercises for these are of a higher nature and are to be pursued, but only to take a bit of "tarnish" off our distractions and propose that these "leanings" of our heart may, at a given moment, contain more of You than something else. At the same time, I think it would be detrimental to pursue this form of Your presence aggressively. Certainly it could erode the essence of higher spiritual exercises. The point may be simply that we should consider the distractions of a busy, active life less as moments separating us from You and, hence, strenuously to be avoided, than as opportunities to sanctify the moment of what we are doing by inviting You to join us in painting the ceiling, changing the oil, or remodeling the bathroom.
Sometimes people do good things just so they won’t feel bad - and they call it charity. It’s not that it’s bad to feel good about such things, it’s just that to "feel good" or "not feel bad" as a motive leaves You out, leaves others out, and emphasizes the "self". There is a point in the development of a conscience where guilt becomes a powerfully uncomfortable feeling - a feeling we don’t want to have and so we do what we think is necessary to get rid of it. When we become convinced that we can control this guilt by what we do, i.e. to cover it over or remove it by what we do, we are placing our destiny, our spirituality and, indeed, our existence in our own hands.
If one does good and is charitable (loving) without realizing that You are the reason, source, and example of all love, the good feeling we get is nothing but pride and self-aggrandizement. Guilt is a universal motivation, for we all are guilty, but we handle this guilt individually and unsuccessfully if it excludes You.
Do I love myself more than I love You? Should the way I feel - good, bad, innocent, guilty - be more important than You? I must reflect on the ever-present reality that I am guilty and I will feel bad but that through it all Your love for me is constant and not governed by my guilt or the way I feel. If I don’t feel good, if I don’t feel innocent - these are of little consequence in the face of Your love for me. When I can learn to seek the presence of that love from moment to moment and rest in it, then my guilt dissolves in You, and I will act not for love of myself or for my comfort but for love of You. Consequently, I will dwell less and less on what I feel guilty about.
Just the other day I read a definition of spirituality that I really like: spirituality is "self- transcendent love." That’s the crux of the matter, "self-transcendent love." Our nature is the image of Yours, and Yours is love. When we transcend our selves that nature shines through and we are clearly closer to the angels.
It’s not a stroke of genius to observe that each of us tailors his/her spirituality to suit themselves. I guess, depending on intention, this can be bad or good. Intention seems most important here. How we choose to love You and nurture that love for growth seems to be a personal matter between us and You. And so my spirituality - Your gift - is of a certain nature and essence peculiar to who I am and how I meet You. I’ve lived well over a half century and have experienced much, have studied much, read much, reflected and prayed much. Who I am before You now is a product of what I have done with all that by the help of Your grace and love.
The "mode" of acquiring my brand of spirituality has been self-taught (and is certainly flawed) but the ongoing development within that "mode" has been from Your divine whisper in the silence and stillness of lectio divina and centering prayer. These have become such beautiful interior wellsprings that, invariably, two things occur: 1) I want to share it but I experience frustration at how to do so, and 2) it reinforces an attitude in me toward any outside influences that might alter my "self-taught" mode. There’s a little too much self in that. If Your whisper guides me within my mode, Your whisper has also guided me to it and, hopefully, it is Your mode, not mine.