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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Human and Divine Pattern

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Therapists Sue Johnson and Kenneth Sanderfer write about how loved ones can deepen their emotional connection to each other and become more open to receiving God’s love:

Those who know and live with a sense of secure connection to special loved ones have been shown to be more able to tune in to and be compassionate toward others, deal with anger constructively, cope with distress, stay open to and forgive others, show more generosity and tolerance, and shape a positive sense of self as one who is worthy of love and care. These qualities go a long way in exemplifying the human virtues laid out in Christ’s teachings. . . .

When our most important love relationships, those with parents and life partners, are positive, they open us up to the love of God. When we feel precious, held, and protected by loved ones, it appears to be easier for us to feel comfortable seeking closeness to God, have confidence in [God’s] benevolence, and open ourselves up to faith. . . . When the bonds of human love are positive, one secure connection cascades into another.

As Father Richard teaches, an early loving connection with our parents or caregivers helps create a capacity and desire for intimacy with God:

Our initial sense of connection with our mother, and hopefully with our father, is the beginning of the unitive consciousness to which we ultimately want to return. If, in the early months and years, we received wonderful gazes of love from our parents (or other caregivers), mirror neurons were formed that provide the physiological foundation for intimacy. They allow us to grow into an adult capable of intimate, close, tender I-Thou relationships with others and with God. [1]

Johnson and Sanderfer point to the mystical traditions of experiencing God as a lover, which deepen our ability to be intimate with others:

Even in a monastery, this link appears between devotion to a partner and devotion to God. At Sant’Antimo Abbey in the Tuscan hills, built some nine hundred years ago on the Via Francigena—the ancient pilgrims’ path to Rome—the monks’ chant echoes out from the soft stone at lauds, terce, sext, and vespers. They sing in joy, “O God, you are my God, at dawn and dusk, I search for you.” It is not accidental, surely, that the bell calling them to prayer is named “the spouse.”

In this sacred circle, where a sense of closeness to the divine and a loving connection with important others work in tandem, love is the gift that keeps on giving. Love for the divine guides and enhances bonding between partners, and the daily practice of love between partners helps to strengthen a sense of secure connection with God. The sacred circle is illustrated in this verse from 1 John 4:7: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

[1] Richard Rohr and James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 2(Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Sue Johnson with Kenny Sanderfer, Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples (New York: Little, Brown, 2016), 256, 260, 261–262.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 1 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Jack Delano, View of crowd dancing to the music of “Red” Sounders and his band, at the Club DeLisa, Chicago, Illinois (detail), 1942, photograph, New York Public Library, public domain. Nathan Dumlao, Untitled, 2020 (detail), photograph, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: In the center photo we see two bushes, separate but entwined, touching and sharing space. Human intimacy requires us to come as ourselves, undefended, co-creating a space for connection. Friends, lovers, communities who share raw hopes for change: we welcome each other into the intimacy of authentic presence.

Story from Our Community:

My experience with Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation has been profound and life altering. I have transitioned from a cradle Catholic with few working ideas of spirituality of my own, to a free-thinking individual who has given herself permission to think outside the box. I can believe and doubt at the same time. I am finally able to accept that I don’t have all the answers and I have the faith at least of a mustard seed.
—Jacquelin F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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