Posts Tagged ‘God in 2nd-person’

Gratitude and God in 2nd-Person

July 30, 2009 2 comments

For some, the notion of “God in 2nd-person” can initially seem somewhat confusing, off-putting even. After all, with whom exactly are we communing? The anthropomorphic “personal God” we know from the Western religious traditions? The pantheon of deities and demons we find in the East? Mother Nature? The Great Web of Life? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? There seem to have been so few exemplars in the modern and postmodern worlds to help us understand the “we” that exists between our individual selves and the divine, especially since this crucial “Second Face” of God is so frequently labeled as obsolete, a quaint relic of mythic consciousness.

It is interesting that, while modernity and postmodernity are quick to dismiss the importance of the 2nd-person nature of God, the Golden Rule (“treat others as you would like to be treated”) is widely acknowledged as the common core of all the world’s religions, and is so easily adaptable to these post-mythic levels of development. And what else is the Golden Rule, if not a distillation of the very essence of God in 2nd-person? While it can be difficult to find this sort of devotional spirituality role modeled beyond the mythic stage of development, it nonetheless shows up in everyone’s life—in every act of kindness, compassion, and empathy, in every quiet feeling of gratitude, in every heartfelt “thank you,” and in every intimate connection we have ever felt with each other and with the world. Whether explicitly acknowledged or not, we are in relationship with God every single moment of our lives. And every moment is another opportunity to express the deepest gratitude for this relationship, allowing the love we feel between ourselves and God to fill our hearts—until we feel ourselves overflowing with warmth and limitless light, spilling it into the rest of the world.

Cultivating this experience of gratefulness—or “great fullness”—is the impulse behind all devotional practice, no matter what tradition it is situated in. As such, gratitudeitself represents a unique space in which we can anchor our discussions of the unity underlying all the world’s religions. While our third-person descriptions of the divine often vary greatly from tradition to tradition, and our first-person experiences of Spirit are usually elusive and difficult to wrap meaningful language around, the feelings of gratitude and thankfulness are universal—so universal, in fact, that they form the living bedrock of all the world’s great spiritual traditions, from the beginning of the world until the end of time.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an ancient deity with a long white beard, a thousand-armed bodhisattva, your guru, priest, or sensei, your friends and family, a stranger on the street, your cat or dog, or the unknowable Mystery behind it all—the point resides within none of these objects of devotion, as they all equally reflect the fractalized perfection of the One. As Martin Buber reminds us once again—in the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, God is not some sort of ultimate ‘Thou’ at the end of the universe, but the hyphen that connects you with everyone and everything in creation. God is the essence of relationship itself, the temple of “we” in which every gesture is a prayer, every kindness a blessing, and every conflict an opportunity to bring even more love into the world.


Simply Love

July 21, 2009 2 comments

Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being. Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.” –Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Simply love.

This is all Christ, or any other enlightened master, has ever asked of us.  Love fully, love freely, and love completely.  Love to the bottom of our hearts, to the depths of our souls, using every moment as an opportunity to express gratitude for our blessings and our devotion to one another.  It is such a deceptively simple instruction—so much so that we rarely find it being followed in a wholehearted way in our own lives or in the world around us.  This is one of the central paradoxes of Christ’s message: it is so simple that almost everyone misses it.  So simple that most people would have an easier time walking through the eye of a needle than they would walking the path of God’s love.

It’s hard to love so fully. Even hearing the words “simply love” can sound fairly glib and cliché—we have become habituated to our world, and when so locked into our own day-to-day habits, it can be very difficult to see the universe as a living manifestation of God’s love.  But being so habituated is not itself a bad thing.  It is a delicious twist of irony that, while the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the stairway to heaven ascends upon steps of habit—morphogenetic habits that constantly add new layers of depth to the universe, Kosmic tendencies that have led from inert matter to chaotic biology, to the abstractions of mind, and onward into the soul of the future.  The idea is not to eliminate our habits altogether, but to bring awareness to our habits, to make subject object, and loosen the grip of the habituated mind, allowing for more spontaneous outbursts of love, clarity, and joy.

While it’s true that we are all suspended within God’s Heart, surrounded at all times by the radical Presence of His love—infinitely patient, infinitely abundant, and infinitely available—our own hearts are anything but infinite, forever incapable of reflecting the full effulgence of God’s love.  The human heart is a bloody and broken thing—stippled with scars, shrouded in shadow, and horrified by its own fleshy mortality.  Our hearts will inevitably fall short of our ideals, recoil at the first hint of fear, and invariably lead us astray—sometimes we even allow our hearts to wound the ones around us while recklessly pursuing some form of comfort or convenience.  Our hearts are damned to disappoint us—which might explain why the notion of forgiveness plays such an important role in the Christian tradition.  We are asked to love beyond our means, but we are never asked to be any more perfect than we always already are.

We are simply asked to recognize ourselves as what, in the deepest recesses of our minds, we already know ourselves to be.  We know that every hardship we’ve ever suffered—every humiliation, every betrayal, every silent defeat—every pain we’ve ever felt has in some way carved into our hearts, allowing us to contain more love, more joy, and more liberation.  But we also know that no matter how full our hearts may be at any given time, they can always be fuller; they can always continue to grow and strengthen, and pump more and more of God’s love into the world.

The human heart seems to be designed to grow.  It is a work-in-progress (or, if you like, poetry-in-motion) and is constantly changing and evolving.  We are, after all, created in the image of God, and our hearts are each a reflection of God’s own Sacred Heart.  As such, our hearts continue to evolve as the rest of the universe continues to evolve, increasing the force, range, and half-life of our love to unimaginable magnitudes.  As the creative force of Eros exerts its extropic pull upon the universe, so does a natural pressure build within the heart, an innate urge to expand and come ever-closer to its own limitless potential.

This is what drives us to practice.

We exercise our physical form so that we can more fully embody our love.  Our bodies are both temples of worship and furnaces of will—it is within our bodies that our beliefs become our practices, our ideals interface with our behaviors, and our compassion is transformed into action.  By deepening our relationship with out own bodies and striving to be as healthy as our anatomies allow us, we dramatically increase our own ability to respond to the pressures of the world with strength, courage, and kindness.

We exercise our emotions and our shadows so that we can discover all those broken pieces of ourselves we have long forgotten about—dark splinters of psyche and nerve-ridden filaments of neurosis that often remain completely hidden from us, distorting our perceptions of ourselves, of our relationships, and of the world around us, and ultimately suffocating the potency of our love.

We exercise our minds so that we can cultivate the mental clarity and sophistication required to understand God’s word and the universe around us, growing through lens after lens of cultural values and worldviews—great stained-glass mosaics with increasingly intricate patterns of magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral colors, each refracting the light of God’s love in very different ways.

And finally, we exercise our spirituality so that we can more fully realize Christ’s instruction to simply love.  We intuit that this entire world—all the sin, all the suffering, and all the fragmentation—is just an illusion, a ruse to distract our attention from the one true God.  And so we close our eyes to the world, sinking into the inner room at the core of our own souls, looking beyond the frenzied noise of thought to the all-pervasive silence behind all things.  We are each alone in the unimaginable quiet, the only place we could ever hope to hear the seraphic whispers of God’s voice.  And so, sitting right here in the center of consciousness, right now before the Throne of the Lord, here and now in the Kingdom of God, we begin to pray.

We surrender ourselves to the infinite Other, catch glimpses of our timeless Beloved dancing behind chimera clouds, and fall even deeper in love with the unmentionable Mystery.  God alone is real, and we pray before Him for guidance, for inspiration, for forgiveness, and for the strength to love—and in the very act of praying, our prayers are answered.  By recognizing the intrinsic Oneness of God and submitting ourselves to something so undeniably greater than ourselves, our hearts are opened even more, allowing even more of God’s love to flow through our veins.

Feeling a gentle warmth growing within us, we begin to tumble upwards through our hearts.  Wiping away the already-fading memories of Theosophy, we open our freshly baptized eyes and watch the world explode into a carnival of bliss and color, the faint hum of love emanating from everything we see—God is the world.  Fully human and fully divine, we feel the rhythm of two hearts beating in our chests and a palpable current of electricity flowing through our bodies, threading all of our souls together into the sweet melodies of love.  Awash in the sacred Hymn of creation, we all look to each other, gazing tenderly at one another.  Some faces we know as friends and family, some we recognize from the street during our daily routines, and a great many more we’ve never seen before.  We look into each other’s eyes, sharing a single universal smile, and simply love—loving as fully and freely as we’ve ever loved, holding this moment as the most precious moment we’ve ever known, as if this were the only moment we will ever share again—and knowing that, in a very real sense, it is.

And there has never been anything more beautiful.

Originally published on The Sacred Heart of Christianity. Part 2: Simply Love (w/ Rollie Stanich and Ken Wilber)