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Center for Action and Contemplation

Learning to Love

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Spirituality of Letting Go: Week 2

Learning to Love
Sunday, September 4, 2016

I did not know what love was until I encountered one that kept opening, and opening, and opening. —Christian Wiman [1]

If your only goal is to love, there is no such thing as failure. Francis of Assisi succeeded in living in this single-hearted way and thus turned all failure on its head and even made failure into success. His intense eagerness to love made Francis’ whole life an astonishing victory for the human and divine spirit; he showed how human and divine can work beautifully together.

That eagerness to love is the core and foundation of St. Francis’ spiritual genius. He encountered a love that just kept opening to him, and then he passed on the same by opening and opening and opening to the increasingly larger world around him. Francis willingly fell into the “bright abyss,” as poet and faith writer Christian Wiman calls it, where all weighing and counting are unnecessary and even burdensome. After Francis’ conversion, he lived the rest of his life in a different economy—the nonsensical economy of grace, where two plus two equals a hundred and deficits are somehow an advantage.

Such transformation of the soul, both in the inflowing and in the outflowing, was the experiential heart of the Gospel for Francis. He brought the mystery of the cross to its universal application (far beyond the Christian logo), for he learned that both receiving love and letting go of it for others are always a very real dying to our present state. Whenever we choose to love we will—and must—die to who we were before we loved. So we often hold back. Our former self is taken from us by the object of our love. We only realize this is what has happened after the letting go or we would probably always be afraid to love.

This metaphor from Martin Laird can help us see how contemplation is good practice for this transformative inner stance of love:

The contemplative’s inner stance is not one of being swept downriver along with everything else. The contemplative’s repose is not a passive state but an engaged, silent receptivity, “an ever moving repose,” as St. Maximus the Confessor calls it. [2] Like a riverbed, which is constantly receiving and letting go in the very same moment. Vigilant receptivity and nonclinging release are one and the same for this riverbed awareness as it constantly receives all coming from upstream while at the very same moment releasing all downstream. [3]

Gateway to Silence:
Surrender to love.

[1] Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2013), 23.
[2] St. Maximus the Confessor, Quaestionis ad Thalassium 64, in Patrologia Graeca 90.760A, Martin Laird’s translation. See also Augustine, Confessions 1.4 (trans. Chadwick, 5).
[3] Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation (Oxford University Press: 2011), 79.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 191-192.

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