Paternal love precedes filial love. In our bodily life and in our spiritual life it all starts with the father’s love. The love of our heavenly Father gifted us with life in its mortal sense as well as its eternal sense. All love goes back to this. Our earthly father’s love for our mother so operated in God’s love to bring us into existence. The love of that mother and father hopefully reflected and passed on the love of our heavenly Father and we were raised in this reflection. I am and I love are, here and now, extensions of the love of my heavenly Father as reflected in the love of my earthly father and mother. That I am able to love in a filial sense, that is, to love others, is because of paternal love; and there is a lesson in this.
Thinking seriously of the words of the “Our Father” over the years I have been prone to make my own little “adjustments” cautiously trying to do no violence to it. I abhor the archaic “Thee” and “Thou” of many prayers and so my first adjustment was to substitute “You” for each “Thee” and “Thou.” Next, like an editor concerned with space, I condensed “…Who art in heaven…,” to simply “…in heaven…” Finally, in terms of direct address, I shortened “Our Father” to simply “Father.” I was quite satisfied with “Father in heaven hallowed be Your name…” etc., until some reading and some thinking convinced me that the elimination of one of those words did indeed do serious violence to the prayer. The word was “Our.” With the elimination of that small word I had, in one swoop, eliminated the concept of filial love emanating from the Father. It is because of His love that each one of us can look at each other and say “our.” It is the “our” that binds us together in the human community.
Another aspect of the filial emanating from the paternal is that of responsibility. We are responsible for passing on the progressive evolution of our perceptions of paternal love in a filial manner. The love of the Father is manifested by the love of the Son. So should it be that we, as fathers, bestow in an exemplary fashion, the love that we wish our offspring to bestow on each other. It is through the Son that we know the Father, but the paternal love of the Father came first. It is an example for us of what being a father means and how a father loves. It is this primal love from the Father that we, as a father, emulate and pass on.
This morning at Mass the priest talked about parables, particularly the ones in which You compared the reign of God to something like leaven or a mustard seed. He then challenged us to exercise our imaginations and create our own parables about the reign of God.
So, here goes: The reign of God is like one identical twin separated for life from his counterpart. He knows of his existence through others and he knows him through himself since they are from the one same source. The fact that he remains forever out of reach, even at those times when his search seems to be bringing him closer, does not deter him from searching. To whatever corner of the world he travels seeking his twin, he remains one step behind. It is just so in his descents into the inner world, for he knows him as he knows himself. Even though he is a root connection to his own existence, he cannot quite catch up to him. Now the interesting thing is that the second twin is likewise obsessed with finding his brother. But for all the efforts by each of them, neither remains still enough long enough for the other to catch up.
And again, in another sense, the reign of God is like music. We are often delighted, excited, soothed and entranced by music. We connect with it in a way we connect with nothing else. It has a spiritual quality of grace and the power to move us without words. It comes through our sense of hearing and speaks a universal language. It sometimes unwittingly draws us in and it has an uncanny knack for annihilating time and place. It draws us to itself in ways we do not fully understand and it lifts our spirits and molds our feelings. It manifests itself to us in many forms – some more appealing to us than others. Even when we try to shut it out, it remains with us and surfaces in unconscious humming or whistling.
And again, the reign of God is like electricity. It is always there but we pay little attention to it until it is removed. It is something without which our lives would be evermore difficult but which we take for granted without much consideration. It “energizes” our lives even when we pay it no heed. The removal of electricity negatively affects the overall evolution of man as would the removal of the reign of God.
In the alter-ego of an absent twin we search for who we are just as in the context of the reign of God we seek our identity. In the mystical allure of music we transcend the common language around us just as with the reign of God we transcend the mundane. And the energizing charge of electricity is like the special graces of the reign of God lifting us up in our day-to-day existence.
The Mass is the ultimate earthly celebration of the work of God. In each of us, as we journey, there is an inherent resonance of petition, praise and thanksgiving attached to life. If life, in the first instance, is itself the work of God, then the Mass is a celebration of life. But more than that, it is a celebration of God’s response to human life and how He works through it. It is also a celebration of our response to God.
In the Mass we celebrate communally the ongoing messages of the scriptural word – the documented outline of the teaching that was Your work among us.
The Mass also celebrates the mystical aspects of our seeking: the willful and loving surrender to Your body and blood and the embracing of Your triumphal resurrection for our redemption. The Mass is not only a celebration of this work but also a recognition of our dependency upon it and thus a stimulus to the seeking that resonates in us to ask of You, to praise You, and to thank You.
Descriptively the parts of the Mass extend from the history of God among us to current manifestations of contemporary relevance to that history. The Mass is an extraordinarily panoramic prayer encompassing all the ways God has chosen to respond to His people and offering many ways for us to respond to God.
Salvation history is formed from the mesh of the word and The Word made flesh which, in the Mass, is reenacted in the integration of two parts: the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Mass is the celebration of God with us. The fact that it puts us primarily in the role of receivers lends it the quality of celebration away from which we take what is offered. This aspect of passiveness casts the Mass in the role of teacher: the scriptural word, the homily, the history of Eucharist, salvation, and redemption are lessons in who we are and are punctuated by our actively seeking forgiveness, requesting that our petitions be heard, praising You and thanking You. It is in these latter elements that we become active rather than passive participants in the celebration. In this sense the Mass might be considered as a beautiful amalgamation of both a contemplative and an actively solicitous response to God.
We do well to remember that the evolution of the Mass down to its present form is a construct of man based on the only part actually given to us by You at the Last Supper. As such, the Mass reflects the perception by successive generations of our relationship and response to our spiritual heritage.
It is said that it will only be at the end of time that we will realize to what extent the destinies of persons and nations have been shaped not by blatant external powers but by quiet enduring prayer. We most commonly do not see the immediate results. There is a degree of frustration in this, but imagine what cloistered monks and nuns whose whole life is moment-by-moment prayer must feel.
The fact is that our ignorance of the cosmic results of world prayer is only exceeded by the fact that the course of all known history may have been more powerfully shaped by the prayers of man than by the wars, tyranny and violence we recognize. If indeed man has been turned loose for all time to thrust his own free will against the will of an all-powerful God then what can we say about those whose prayer is that the will of this God be done rather than the will of man? Yet it is not to be forgotten that God allows those in this world to oppose Him. If we are able to imagine this, can we not also imagine that he will help those who side with Him? Is it not His own Son who said “ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you?”
That Missouri-mentality that constantly demands we be shown is what gets in the way. Like the Jews of old we are constantly demanding a sign, a proof – and we still don’t trust or believe. Yet if, for example, we were able to take even 50% of everything that happens around us as the result of prayer then we’d have our proof – our sign.
I don’t think anyone prayed that I have a herniated disc in my spine and should undergo surgery, but it happened. I know many people prayed for my health and recovery after this, and it happened. I regard my own father’s conversion as singularly the result of prayer. I regard my wife’s recovery from an abysmal hospital disaster as singularly the result of prayer as well as possibly thousands of other desiderata for which I have solicited Your help.
The signs and proofs surround us. We have asked and been answered. We have sought and found. We have knocked and it has been opened to us – yet we still so often fail to recognize the great power of prayer. Especially within the tiny micro-worlds of ourselves should we be aware of the workings of Your Spirit because we seek to be open to it through meditative and contemplative prayer. The power of such prayer to renew and transform us is not to be denied. There’s great hope in the power of prayer as well as great love and dependency. Yet it truly seems the most dynamic tangible power of prayer is one of self-transformation. The reality of prayer is its power to draw us closer to You in an ever-deeper relationship to which it is exponentially linked. The more we pray the more our love grows; the more our love grows the more we pray. Just as we desire common union in a variety of ways with others whom we love, so we desire communion with You. The primary format for this is prayer; and the power of prayer is in its ability to transform us – like the touch of Your finger on our personal history – on the world’s history!
In recent weeks two notions have surfaced which I’ve come to dwell upon. One from St. John of the Cross and the other from The Imitation of Christ. They are not necessarily related, but they struck me in a special way that I want to share with You.
St. John puts forth the idea that Your “hidden-ness” increases the more we seek You. This could be very discouraging. But I know now that I have experienced its truth without ever really reflecting on it. It is the premise of The Cloud of Unknowing. The more insight I gain in the knowledge and “methodology” of pursuing You, of the interior contemplative life, and of the center of my own being – the slipperier You become. There seems to be an equal distance maintained between You and me – between humanity and divinity – no matter how much progress in the quest I seem to be making. From my reading and writing and praying I may know more things about how others see You and more things about the model for life You left us, and more different ways to pray and to love You, but I do not know more about Your divine nature and its connection with humanity than I ever did. St. John of the Cross says: “Since He whom my soul loves is within me, why can’t I find Him or experience Him? The reason is that He remains concealed and you do not also conceal yourself in order to encounter and experience Him.” In this cryptic insight St. John is saying I must conceal myself, I must hide it in order to shorten the distance between God and man.
The notion from The Imitation of Christ that struck me is that of “the utility of adversity.” Of course it seems strange to think of adversity as useful but it goes along very well with St. Paul’s idea of loss being gain and Anthony DeMello’s tenet in Sadhanna that “suffering teaches.”
Isn’t it interesting how many spiritual truths involve paradoxes in regards to life in this world. The “utility of adversity” is certainly concerned with our spiritual life and not the “quality” of our worldly physical existence which seeks to avoid adversity. But I know it is true for me that going through difficult situations profits me the most spiritually. The times and circumstance my self naturally rebels against are the very ones, if accepted, from which I learn and grow the most spiritually. This holds particularly true in regards to learning about love. There is no greater test of one’s love nor a greater medium through which love grows than suffering and adversity. This is why so much of the comfort, luxury, leisure and extravagance we seek is diametrically counter to love and its growth.
If there is any connection between the two notions I started out with it is this: our natural aversion to adversity is, in fact, a barrier to discerning You. On the contrary, it is something that facilitates and enhances the distance between us.
Everything leads to God! Absolutely everything! We were made for love and everything else was made to make love possible. God made us for Himself and everything else for us. The whole world: the land with its mountains and valleys; plants and flowers; snow and rain; the sea with all its beauty, power and mystery; animals for work, companionship, transportation and food; the day with its blue skies, white clouds and sun; the night with its moon, stars and silence; trees, air, wind, cold and warmth. Every one of these was created for one reason – us! Not for anything else! Just for us! This is because God created us for Himself and He so loved us as to provide these things. Though God has given us even more than these, what need is there for any more evidence of His love?
We manage to assemble all sorts of inventions and gadgets for ourselves, but none of them are really needed. God has given us all we need to return His love. What we do with all these things is a good indication of the way we love God in return for His great love for us.
In this regard I can’t help but thinking of the monastic return to the most elemental of God’s gifts: working and praying in the silent splendor of His creation. Here the simplest things outline just being. The created gadgetry of man’s inventions and the obsession with time lose all importance. The greatness of God’s love shines magnificently in the rising sun, a starry moonlit night, the warmth of a fire, the bold majesty of mountains, forests, and the demure color and beauty of flowers, etc. How do we know God loves us? Look around. Everything shows us His love for us. Everything! And everything is good unless we make it bad.
Sometimes the lives we choose and the directions we take seem bent on spoiling the good things of God’s love. Because of this there is a real need to reflect often on the right use of these things God has bestowed upon us through which we might return His love.
Things that we call truths about God are always acquired from a slightly tilted angle. What we conjure as truth may be the best we can do but, in regards to God, they are not God.
When You were with us You had to deal with us not only where we were at but also from the confines of Your own humanity. You revealed to us what we were able to handle – but even this is not God. The full-blown truth about God is immeasurably beyond our comprehension. What truths You have revealed to us and what truths we have come to with the best reasoning from the best intellects is still infinitely removed from God. The cloud of unknowing is our own humanity. Yet, thankfully, in the intellect, there is that which unfailingly seeks and pursues. It takes the will by the hand and points the way toward choices based on the best form of truth it can give. The intellect shows the way but only the will can step toward the light.
We build our perception and our conceptions of You cell by cell, each cell being some sliver of insight gained in the search; from what we see in others; from what we hear or what we read. Through these channels, now as then, You can touch us. But the totality of whatever we come up with is, at best, as a hair to the entire body.
Laboring under this knowledge might seem discouraging, might lead some to agnosticism or even despair. But to live a life that, in some ways, is now and then able to catch a glimpse of You, to be brushed by the touch of Your hand or to hear the faint whisper of You voice is pure joy because the truth we do know for sure is that such morsels are all that we can handle as a foretaste of what You have in store for the faithful seeker.
So, we go on acquiring what we can, each new discovery building upon what we already have. The one unacquired truth is that something draws us. We can ignore but not escape from the fact that we are drawn. Attached to the absoluteness of cogito ergo sum is the truth that my thoughts and my being are drawn to something outside myself. Even the most primitive and “backward” of peoples remaining in this world are drawn to something beyond themselves. This is the truth.
Meister Eckhart: “…as the soul becomes more pure and bare and poor and possesses less of created things, and is emptied of all things that are not God, it receives God more purely, and is more completely in Him, and it truly becomes one with God, and it looks into God and God into it, face to face as it were, two images transformed into one … The eye by which I see God is the eye by which God sees me.”
God’s “broadcast signal” is out there but it requires very fine tuning to home in on it through all the static and noise of powerful signals upon our receiver. To become on the same wave length as You requires that we become that wave length, and the sending and receiving become the same. This wave length is the true self, the “I” which is and is one with You. It is that which we bury under mounds of “things” that act as tumultuous static against homing in on that wave length.
The eyes of my self by which I perceive who You are, are, correlatively, within the power of my perception, the eyes by which You perceive me. In the realm of my imagination then, what You think of me is limited by what I think of You. The mystical perceptions that contemplation yield feed the imagination. We would hope that they are fabricated by Your hand – Your grace in us. They are not necessarily true or false.
As one among us, You have told us and shown us how You perceive our race. This too fuels the concept of our perception of You and, correlatively, Your perception of us in terms of personal relationship. The cloud of unknowing casts its shadow over us yet You allow, to some who empty themselves, small rays of light as fragile connective threads uniting us.
In commenting on the reply to the question: “How do we go about uniting ourselves to God?” Thomas Merton says that a Zen master replied: “We do not answer such questions.” The reason, Merton says, is because Zen perceives us as already being constantly united to You and that it is only through the ignorance of perceiving ourselves as important that we ask such questions. I know nothing of Zen except that Merton was interested in it and wrote about it. Maybe it’s time I explored it.
Nicholas of Cusa intimates that only the measures that can be known to us are the measures by which we measure God. For one in search of God this is discouraging. Weak, lame, and inadequate though they be, we, in fact, measure God only by the highest standards of the measures we know – those by which we measure the human or worldly qualities of anything. At its very best this mode of measuring doesn’t begin to measure who God is. “All-knowing,” “All-powerful,” “All-present,” are simply attempts at epitomizing human measures of qualities we are able to conceptualize.
The problem, Nicholas of Cusa would point out, is that there are no qualifications coming from us that aptly apply to You. This is why who God is for us is simply our best guess with the tools we have. Only those who behold God might help us here and it might just be that even they do not fully understand.
The Cloud of Unknowing is an entire book that tries to describe our inability to grasp that which we constantly seek to grasp. We simply cannot conceptualize God – except for the one tool, the one measure He has given us with which we can, at least, better measure who He is – You! We see now as in a mirror darkly, but what we are able to make out is defined by Your reflection of Your Father.
In contemplating God we do well simply to empty ourselves completely of everything and let ourselves be silently “filled.” Contemplation then is not an activity we direct toward God, but one which God directs towards us if we but still ourselves. But with You, the line between meditation and contemplation is clearer. We can actively imitate and engage in thinking about Your life, Your example, and the day-in-day-out ways You reflected God’s love for His creatures. And, because You were human like us, You have shown us that with which we can measure. We can meditate upon Your words of teaching, Your stories, Your compassion and love. In our meditation we can visualize You moving among the people of Your time. We can feel the enmity of Your foes and we can identify with the emotions You felt. These become for us the measures by which we measure God.
You have said, “Those who know me know the Father.” What we know with our minds and hearts is You and, at the same time, we can be still and open our spirits wide to the pouring in of the spirit of God.
One of the greatest obstacles we must overcome in the life of the spirit is the strong natural inclination to not allow You to work in our lives, but rather to control You and direct You to what we want.
We, in our daily lives with others, do not allow the kind of trust needed to place ourselves, without reserve, in the hands of another. This kind of “letting go” runs counter to a “me-first” society. In the spiritual life this is a great wall against grace. It is true, as well, that the practice of our spirituality is based too much on what we do; that is, the ways we control, organize and implement the routine of our spiritual life.
I continually hearken back to the ideal of centering prayer which is to totally empty one’s self of everything and just rest, openly and vulnerably, in being one with You. When centering prayer is not going well it is because the effort to reach the ideal has too much self in it. It is a very difficult thing for me to eliminate the influences of everything else in my life and to just breathe and “be” in You. Yet it seems in this manner the more I am able to stay out of Your way and allow You free unencumbered access to me, the more genuine is the spiritual experience as a whole.
I have found also that this experience carries over to our relationships with others. Too often we try to control others rather than just letting them “be” in our lives. On this level though the quandary of responsibility to others: wife, children, employers/employees, etc., arises. It is commonly accepted that marriage partners have rational responsibilities to one another, the carrying out of which certainly influences the lives of each and, unless openly accepted, may present the aura of one trying to control the other. The identical dynamic prevails also in parent/child relationships. From this it is not a stretch to discover the sources in the dynamics of our relationship with You. Too often we treat You as the child and ourselves as the parent rather than accepting the necessary trust of the reverse. When we are able to place our childhood in the hands of Your parenthood we can know that the relationship is right. But when we extend the logic of this relationship to our own children so that they might see the ideal of a loving relationship between a child and its parent, we experience the rebelliousness, even in ourselves, which pecks away at that relationship. That I want my child to interact with me as a parent in the same way I might want to interact as a child with You as Father is an ideal based on the trust, openness and childlike abandoning of control. Yet the child in every one of us is strongly inclined not to let our father work in our lives. Often we expend great energy and cleverness in becoming independent of our parents’ influence. In this way the drifts of our earthly lives often define our spirituality.
The seven pillars of Anthony DeMello’s Sadhanna are underpinned by a philosophy of acceptance, receptiveness and openness that helps us stay out of Your way and not control You. It is really at the heart of the spiritual life and it takes a lifetime to work at, but it is the working at it and not giving up that pleases You greatly.