Searching for Love

Love: Week 1

Searching for Love
Friday, November 2, 2018
All Souls’ Day

John of the Cross (1542-1591) is one of many Christian mystics who writes about being loved by God in an intimate way. My friend and fellow CAC faculty member James Finley reflects on John’s Dark Night of the Soul as a journey deeper into love:

John of the Cross says we get all tangled up in suffering, and we get all tangled up in searching for love. The root of suffering is the deprivation of love. Now in reality, there’s no such thing as the deprivation of love, because the infinite love of God invincibly pervades and gives itself endlessly to everyone and to all things everywhere. There is no such thing as a deprivation of love, but there is the deprivation of the capacity to experience the love that is never missing. Therefore, my spiritual practice is to look within for the places that are blocking my ability to experience the flow of an immense tenderness that is endlessly giving itself to me in all situations.

The Dark Night of the Soul as described by John of the Cross is actually a tender, merciful art form of love. It very mysteriously dislodges us from whatever is keeping us in the stuck places. Sometimes it is disarmingly joyful and sometimes it is disarmingly painful; but if we lean into it and move with its rhythm, love charts its own course and brings us to a deep understanding of God’s love.

Thomas Merton once said we spend most of our lives under water. Every so often our head clears the surface and we look around and get our bearings. Then blik, we go back under again. In the moments when we get our bearings, we realize, “Oh my God! Look how endlessly trustworthy life is! Look at the God-given, godly nature of simple things!”

John of the Cross says these touches of love go on and on until pretty soon there begins to grow in us a kind of homesickness or longing for a more daily abiding experience of the depths of love we have so fleetingly glimpsed.

What lovers would be content with chance passing encounters in the street? The more in love with each other they are, the more one with each other they want to be all the time. Likewise, there begins to grow in us a holy discontent for spending so many of our waking hours trapped on the outer circumference of the inner richness of the life that we are living. We long to stabilize ourselves in love throughout the rhythmic dance of life.

The more deeply we experience God’s love, the more elusive its consummation seems. There are flares of love, as we momentarily melt into God and God melts into us. Then, like glowing embers, we live in an underlying habitual state of love’s glow. And, in love’s glow, we come to an extraordinary realization: The absence of the Beloved is the Beloved, giving himself or herself to me as the experience of the Beloved.

Building on Finley’s insights, the Dark Night purifies us of our attachment to feelings of union and comfort. Christ lying in the tomb is still Christ—preparing for a resurrection that cannot even be imagined. Today, on All Souls’ Day, may we choose to live in union with all who are still in the dark tomb, faithfully waiting for a certain resurrection.

Reference:
James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Man praying on sidewalk with food, Sergio Omassi.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Every act of complete self-giving in the name of the fullness, even though you feel like you are isolated, ignored, unconnected, and meaningless, connects you immediately and becomes a sacrament of the manifestation of that dance of perichoresis [the circle dance of the Trinity], the fullness of love. —Cynthia Bourgeault

Freedom from Fear

Suffering: Week 2

Freedom from Fear
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Man suffers most through his fears of suffering. —Etty Hillesum [1]

Over the next couple days, James Finley shares insights on suffering drawn from Jesus’ example and teaching.

I would like to reflect on the role of Jesus as the one whose very presence is incarnational testimony of how to approach our life and the ways we suffer. In the Christian tradition, the cross is right at the center of this great mystery. Jesus is the archetypal master teacher, who reveals his teaching through the very concreteness of his life. What is it that allows Jesus to face all kinds of suffering, including his own, and how can we follow him?

We might start this way: In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sweat blood because he was afraid (Luke 22:44). It is possible that he was infinitely more afraid than we could ever be. But the difference is: Jesus was not afraid of being afraid, because he knew it was just fear. So why are we so afraid of fear? We are afraid of fear because we believe that it has the power to name who we are, and it fills us with shame. We feel ashamed that we’re going around as a fearful person, and so we pretend that we’re not afraid. We try our best to find our own way out of feeling afraid, but this is our dilemma, our stuck place, that Jesus wants us to be liberated from. But we cannot do it on our own.

When we start on our path, our hope is that we will be liberated from fear in light of the mystery of Christ. Certainly, this includes doing our best to be as safe as we can be and to help others do the same. And when scary things are happening, it always includes doing our best to find our way to safer places and to help others do the same. But as for the fear that remains, Jesus invites us to discover that our fear is woven into God’s own life, whose life is mysteriously woven into all the scary things that can and do happen to us as human beings together on this earth. This is liberation from fear in the midst of a fearful situation.

As we long for and work toward this kind of liberation, it is important not to romanticize a person’s fear and painful experience by speaking in spiritual terms that can leave the person who is hurting feeling unseen and unmet. At a very basic level, any real response to suffering must always include letting the hurting person know sincerely, “I am so sorry you are having to go through this painful experience. What can I do that might possibly be helpful?”

Here we might also turn to our teacher Jesus who was not one who had risen above human frailty; to the contrary, he discovered directly through his presence that inexhaustible compassion and love flow through human frailty. Our practice is to become present to that infinite flow of compassion and love and bring it to bear in a tender-hearted and sincere manner in our very presence to the painful situation. We do this knowing that God is sustaining and guiding us all in unexplainable ways that are not dependent on how the painful situation might turn out.

References:
[1] Etty Hillesum, Diary entry (September 30, 1942). See An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 19411943 and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 220.

Adapted from James Finley, Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere, disc 5 (Sounds True: 2004), CD.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr

Invincible Preciousness

Suffering: Week 2

Invincible Preciousness
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

My colleague James Finley is someone who incarnates the truth that the suffering we carry is our solidarity with the one, universal longing of all humanity, and thus it can teach us great compassion and patience with both ourselves and others. Here he shares the intimate truth of his own suffering. I invite you to witness Jim’s experience (and perhaps your own trauma) with tenderness and love:

Mysticism doesn’t really come into its own and isn’t really incarnational unless it becomes integrated into the sometimes-painful realities of our daily lives. I think I relate so deeply to Christian mystic John of the Cross who wrote soulfully about a kind of dark night of faith because I was raised in a home with a lot of trauma—physical, sexual, and emotional abuse—and I was very fragmented by all of it. I graduated from high school, ran away from home, became a monk, and joined a monastery.

When I entered the monastery, I thought I had left the trauma behind me. I was in this silent cloister, with Thomas Merton for my spiritual director. I was walking around reading John of the Cross, and I felt like I had it made, really. And then I was sexually abused by one of the monks, my confessor. It completely shattered me. I never thought it was possible. I didn’t see it coming. I decompensated and became extremely dissociative. All the stuff that I lived with growing up came out as feelings of fear and confusion over which I seemed to have no control. There was no refuge for me. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I just left. I started a new life as a way to bury all the pain and move on.

Years later, I found myself in therapy and all hell broke loose. But with prayer and gentle pacing, I learned to see, feel, accept, and find my way through the long-term internalized effects of the trauma I had to endure in my childhood and adolescence. It was in this process that I came upon what I call the axial moment in which our most intimate experience of who we are turns, as on a hidden axis of love, down through the pain into a qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place. It is in the midst of this turning that we discover the qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place is actually the abyss-like, loving presence of God, welling up and giving itself in and as the intimate interiority of our healing journey. When we risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves what Jesus called the pearl of great price: the invincible preciousness of our self in our fragility.

In the act of admitting what we are so afraid to admit—especially if admitting means admitting it in our body, where we feel it in painful waves—in that scary moment of feeling and sharing what we thought would destroy us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves this invincible love that sustains us unexplainably in the midst of the painful situation we are in.

As we learn to trust in this paradoxical way God sustains us in our suffering, we are learning to sink the taproot of our heart in God, who protects us from nothing even as God so unexplainably sustains us in all things. As this transformative process continues, we find within and beyond ourselves resources of courage, patience, and tenderness to touch the hurting places with love, so they might dissolve in love until only love is left. This for me is a very deep, contemplative way to understand that Christ’s presence in the world is being bodied forth in and as the gift and miracle of our very presence in the world.

References:
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download; and

Transforming Trauma: A Seven-Step Process for Spiritual Healing, with Caroline Myss (Sounds True: 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr

Traumatization of Spirituality

Suffering: Week 2

Traumatization of Spirituality
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

James Finley, one of my fellow faculty members at the Center for Action and Contemplation, is a clinical psychologist. He speaks expertly—from a professional, personal, and mystical perspective—on suffering and healing. Here Jim explains how Spanish mystic John of the Cross (15421591) allowed trauma to transform him.

John of the Cross was invited by Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) to join her in reforming the Carmelite Order by returning to a renewed fidelity to prayer, simplicity, and poverty. The priests of the order did not take kindly to the suggestion that they needed reform and demanded that John stop his involvement. John said that he would not stop because he discerned in his heart that God was calling him to continue with this work. The priests responded in a very harsh manner, capturing him and putting him in a small dark prison cell with little protection from the elements. John was imprisoned for nine months. During that time, on a number of occasions, he would be taken out of his cell, stripped to the waist, and whipped.

John felt lost. It wasn’t just because of the severity of his imprisonment. This was the Church! The priests who were mistreating him were people he had emulated. John went through what we could call the traumatization of spirituality, which can be described as a kind of dark night of faith in which we lose experiential access to God’s sustaining presence in the midst of our struggles. [I, Richard, imagine many are going through a similar experience as we learn about the Catholic Church’s extensive cover-up of sexual abuse.]

Trauma is the experience of being powerless to establish a boundary between our self and that which is about to inflict, or is already inflicting, serious harm or even death. It is one of the most acute forms of suffering that a human being can know. It is the experience of imminent annihilation. And so, when your faith in God has been placed in the people who represent God’s presence in your life and those people betray you, you can feel that God has betrayed you. And it is in this dark night that we can learn from God how to find our way to a deeper experience and understanding of God’s sustaining presence, deeper than institutional structures and authority figures.

For John of the Cross, his suffering opened up onto something unexpected.  John discovered that although it was true that he could not find refuge from suffering when he was in his prison cell, he also discovered that the suffering he had to endure had no refuge from God’s love that could take the suffering away, but rather permeated the suffering through and through and through and through and through. Love protects us from nothing, even as it unexplainably sustains us in all things. Access to this love is not limited by our finite ideas of what it is or what it should be. Rather, this love overwhelms our abilities to comprehend it, as it so unexplainably sustains us and continues to draw us to itself in all that life might send our way.

This is why John of the Cross encourages us not to lose heart when we are passing through our own hardships, but rather to have faith in knowing and trusting that no matter what might be happening and no matter how painful it might be, God is sustaining us in ways we cannot and do not need to understand. John encourages us that in learning to be patiently transformed in this dark night we come to discover within ourselves, just when everything seems to be lost, that we are being unexplainably sustained by the presence of God that will never lose us. As this painful yet transformative process continues to play itself out in our lives, we can and will discover we are finding our way to the peace of God that surpasses understanding.

Reference:
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr

Finding Peace in a Troubled World

Finding Peace in a Troubled World
A faculty reflection by James Finley

James Finley reflects on how the mystics can help us keep from growing cynical during disheartening times. Watch the video or read the transcript.

The Buddha

Taoism and Buddhism

The Buddha
Monday, August 20, 2018

My colleague and CAC core teacher James Finley, a student of Buddhism, briefly shares the story of the Buddha’s life to provide some context for Buddhist teachings.

The Buddha was born in India about the year 560 BCE and given the name Siddhartha. His father, the king, kept him sequestered on the palace grounds. Siddhartha grew up, married, and had a son. Around the time of his son’s birth, he finally went into town.

On his first visit, he saw an old person; on his second visit, he saw an ill person; and on his third visit, he saw a dead person. He asked his guide if these things happen to everyone. Told that they did, Siddhartha became disillusioned and disheartened. He said to himself, “How can I live in these conditions conducive to happiness knowing that so many of my fellow human beings do not live in these privileged conditions? How can I be happy knowing they are out there? And how can I myself be happy, knowing that all these possessions and all this wealth cannot protect me from illness, old age, and death?”

Siddhartha went into town for a fourth visit and he saw a sadhu (a wandering ascetic monk). The monk, although dressed in rags, radiated an inner peace not dependent upon conditions conducive to happiness. Siddhartha felt a call in his heart for a quest to come to the understanding of the liberation from suffering, and to come to true and abiding happiness, for himself and others. So, around age 29, he left the palace and his family to begin a six-year inner journey.

First, he joined a yoga community that practiced deep, meditative states. But Siddhartha came to see this as a rarified version of a life based upon conditioned states. So, he joined a wandering group of ascetics who practiced severe fasting. But he became so emaciated and weak that he was in danger of dying. He realized that since his goal was to discover freedom from suffering and to learn the nature of true happiness, things weren’t going well! So, he started to take food. The other ascetics were scandalized and left him.

Then Siddhartha, utterly alone, stopped and calmed himself and looked deeply into his situation. Stripped of all superficiality and adornment of the extremes of wealth and poverty, his situation is our situation. He reveals us to ourselves. He is the human being who has discovered the bankruptcy of the ego’s agenda to come to abiding happiness. He made a vow to sit there under a Bodhi tree until he resolved the human dilemma of suffering and the search for inner peace and fulfillment in the midst of life as it is. Through the night, he was tempted by the demon Mara, but he was unshaken in his resolve.

At first light, Siddhartha turned and looked at the day star with awakened eyes, as the Buddha—meaning “the one who is awake”—seeing life the way it really is, free from all projections, all distortions, all delusions, all belief systems. He saw, we might say, the boundary-less, trustworthy nature of what is. He sat in the bliss of his enlightenment for some days.

Finally, he realized that although many would not be ready to hear his teachings, some would. The Buddha’s first words to someone after his enlightenment were, “In this blind world, I beat the drum of deathlessness.”

 

Reference:
James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CDDVDMP3 download.

Image Credit: Woman Sitting in Front of Monk
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Buddhism can help Christians to be mystical Christians . . . to realize and enter into the non-dualistic, or unitive, heart of Christian experience—a way to be one with the Father, to live Christ’s life, to be not just a container of the Spirit but an embodiment and expression of the Spirit, to live by and with and in the Spirit, to live and move and have our being in God. —Paul Knitter

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley: Weekly Summary

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley

Summary: Sunday, October 8-Friday, October 13, 2017

This week CAC faculty member and guest writer James Finley introduced us to the Christian mystics Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. James is attuned to the pedagogy of the mystics and invites us to a different kind of reading. As he puts it, “The mystics are not writing for our logical minds but to awaken our hearts to what matters most. This requires us to slow down enough to catch up with ourselves. These meditations call us to settle into a quiet, prayerful pondering about who we deep down really are and are called to be and how can we be more faithful to it.”

“I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms; just as in Heaven ‘there are many mansions.’” —Teresa of Ávila (Sunday)

Your God-given godly nature is the infinite reality of you. You are as precious as God is precious. You have a value that cannot be calculated. (Monday)

What if we could join God in knowing who God knows I am eternally in God, before the origins of the universe, and know ourselves hidden with Christ in God forever? (Tuesday)

Infinite Love is the architect of our hearts, and we are made in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. Love is our origin and our destiny. (Wednesday)

The concrete immediacy of life is the infinite love of God manifesting itself in the present moment. (Thursday)

The mystic—that is, the person who is ripe with this love consciousness that’s born in the night—is not more holy but is granted a greater realization of the infinite holiness of the simplest of things. (Friday)

 

Practice: Breathing Love in All Things

I have the intuition that in his Spiritual Canticle, John of the Cross was trying to move us poetically into a spacious state or a way of being in the world which really is Christ consciousness, the way Christ lived his life.

Let’s say you are sitting in prayer and using your breath as the prayer. As you inhale you listen to God saying I love you. When you breathe out you exhale I love you: you give yourself to the love that gives itself to you. In the I love you received and the I love you response, the reciprocity of love and of the communion deepens.

Now while you are sitting there saying this prayer, let’s say there is bodily pain. Now when you inhale, you inhale Infinite Love, loving you pain and all, through and through and through and through and through. And when you exhale yourself into God, you give yourself, pain and all, into the Love that loves you, pain and all.

Let’s say you are sitting there and you are confused; something has happened and you are bewildered. You sit there and as you breathe in God, you breathe in God loving you, confusion and all, through and through and through and through and through. And when you exhale yourself in the I love you, you give yourself, confusion and all, to the Love that loves you, confusion and all.

And let’s say you are sad, and you breathe in God loving you through and through and through, sadness and all; and you exhale yourself in your sadness. Then your sadness is an act of love. And so, in every reciprocity of love, the ultimate irrelevance of conditioned states yields and gives way to Love that unexplainably sustains you in the conditions in which you exist.

This is the message of John’s Spiritual Canticle. It is not saying that you are not in pain, that you are not sad or confused; nor is it saying that you don’t need to deal with these things.

Let’s turn it around. You are sitting in prayer and bubbling over with joy because you just won the lottery. And God is loving you through and through, joy and all; and you breathe yourself back to Love, joy and all. It’s the infinite irrelevance of attainment and nonattainment, the infinite irrelevance of laughter and tears with respect to the oceanic Love that loves you through and through and through and through in your tears, in your laughter, in all things.

So, stabilized in love, we are grounded in the courage that empowers us to touch the hurting places. Prior to being grounded in love, we think we are nothing but the self that things happen to. We are afraid to go near the hurting place because we absolutize the relative. But if we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing, even as it sustains us in all things, it grounds us to face all things with courage and tenderness.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

Reference:
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

For Further Study:
James Finley, Richard Rohr, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download
James Finley, The Contemplative Heart (Sorin Books: 1999) 

Image credit: Mother and Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.

Only Love Is Real

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley

Only Love Is Real
Friday, October 13, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues sharing insights from John of the Cross. Take a few moments in the midst of your busy day to slow down, to enter into the quiet, and to read these words from your heart center, without judgment or needing to fully understand with your logical brain.

Just as with Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle, by the very first paragraph of John of the Cross’ Prologue to The Ascent of Mount Carmel you get the sense that the words are coming from some very deep place from inside of him—or really through him—that intimately accesses a deep place in us:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. [1]

One of the operative principles of love is that love does not rest as long as there is an inequality in love. In seeing the beloved down, the lover is moved to lift the beloved up. John says the infinite love of God will not rest until you are equal to God in love. Even though you would be absolutely nothing without God, God will not rest until you are as much God as God is God. God will not settle for a trace of inequality. In the “dark night of the soul,” we are weaned away from the ego’s finite ideas and feelings about God. We come to know that no idea about God is God. We are also weaned from our ideas about our self as being a finite, separate self apart from God.

Not everyone experiences this kind of union in this life. But in some lives God does not wait until death to begin the consummation through a dark night of the soul. In this nondual state, although I am not God, I am not other than God either. Although I am not you, I am not other than you either. Although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth either. All things are unexplainably, invincibly one in endless diversity forever.

The awakening of this state on this earth does not mean you are holier than others. Rather, you awaken to how unexplainably holy everybody is. The mystic—that is, the person who is ripe with this love consciousness that’s born in the night—is not more holy but is granted a greater realization of the infinite holiness of the simplest of things.

Then, in some strange way, when you die, nothing will happen, because you’ve already died to the illusion that anything less than love is real; and you are aware that Infinite Love is loving you endlessly and giving itself away as your life.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:
[1] John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications: 1991), 114-115.

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, discs 1 and 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Mother and Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.

Experiencing God’s Love

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley

Experiencing God’s Love
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues sharing insights from John of the Cross. Before you read, take a few deep, slow breaths. Feel yourself in your body, in this place. Attune to your heart’s wisdom and let your mind rest in the quiet.

John believed that substantial union is our God-given godly nature. It’s the inherent sacredness of life itself. This dance of infinite love is rhythmically playing itself out in the rhythms of our life standing up and sitting down, waking up and falling asleep. The concrete immediacy of life is the infinite love of God manifesting itself in the present moment.

All of life, distilled to its simplest essence, has to do with the intimate, utterly personal way that each of us serendipitously stumbles upon this great truth. When everything is said and done, only love is real; only love endures. Outside of love, there is nothing, nothing at all. We subsist in varying degrees of awareness from which flow gratitude and peace.

John of the Cross calls this growing awareness of affective union “the way of beginners.” At this stage, our belief is a finite idea about God which reveals something of the nature of the Infinite. Within the Scriptures, there are eloquent, beautiful, finite ideas of the Infinite. And we experience finite feelings of the Infinite. These consolations and solace are the felt sense of God’s abiding presence in our life. This is the ego illumined by faith.

This is just the beginning of our journey. We rightly learn at this stage how to live by this love that we are experiencing. What’s the most loving thing I can do right now for myself, for my body, for my mind, for the gift of my life? What’s the most loving thing I can do for this person, for this community of people, for this animal, for the earth?

The wonderful thing about being a beginner is that we can begin with a confidence that eventually we will arrive at union. When death comes, an extraordinary thing happens: through all eternity, we will no longer be knowing God through finite ideas of the Infinite. Rather, you will know God through God’s own knowledge of God which is Christ; and for all eternity, you will love God with God’s own love which is the Holy Spirit. Through all eternity, you and God will disappear as other than each other.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

Reference:
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Mother and Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.

Love Is Our Origin and Destiny

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley

Love Is Our Origin and Destiny
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Today James Finley will introduce us to another great mystic, John of the Cross. As with all of the mystics, a different kind of reading and perception is required. Remember that mysticism is simply experiential knowing, rather than intellectual knowing. Read today’s reflection with your heart wide open.

John of the Cross (1542-1591) met Teresa of Ávila—then fifty-two years old—when he was a newly ordained Carmelite priest at twenty-five. John was planning to join the Carthusians and become a hermit, but Teresa asked him to join her instead in reforming the Carmelites. Teresa and John shared a rich friendship and correspondence.

When I first read John at age eighteen, there was a certain resonance in realizing he was talking about something that I didn’t understand but I knew mattered very, very much. I’m seventy-four years old now, and I’m still reading him.

Like Teresa, John believed that Infinite Love is the architect of our hearts, and we are made in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. Love is our origin and our destiny. Creative love sustains us breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat. John writes:

God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be that of the greatest sinner in the world. This union between God and creatures always exists. By it He conserves their being so that if the union should end they would immediately be annihilated and cease to exist. Consequently, in discussing union with God, we are not discussing the substantial union that is always existing but the soul’s union with and transformation in God. This union is not always existing, but we find it only where there is likeness of love. We will call it “the union of likeness”; and the former, “the essential or substantial union.” The union of likeness is supernatural [meaning graced or given]; the other, natural. The supernatural union exists when God’s will and the soul’s are in conformity, so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the other. When the soul rids itself completely of what is repugnant and unconformed to the divine will, it rests transformed in God through love. [1]

God’s will for you is Godself. When you, in the freedom of your will, want nothing but what God wills—that is, you live by and for the ever-deepening consummation of this union in love—then these two wills are united in love.

Our spiritual task is to discern the ways in which our heart is at variance with God’s heart. We see how our own subjective perceptions and intentions are compromised or violate our ultimate destiny in love. By this graced recognition, we are released and liberated.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:
[1] John of the Cross, John of the Cross: Selected Writings, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh (Paulist Press: 1987), 89.

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, discs 1 and 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Mother and Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.

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