Incarnation: Week 2
Love God in What Is Right in Front of You
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The God Jesus incarnates and embodies is not a distant God that must be placated. Jesus’ God is not sitting on some throne demanding worship and throwing down thunderbolts like Zeus. Jesus never said, “Worship me”; he said, “Follow me.” He asks us to imitate him in his own journey of full incarnation. To do so, he gives us the two great commandments: 1) Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-28). In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us that our “neighbor” even includes our “enemy” (Luke 10:29-37).
So how do we love God? Most of us seem to have concluded we love God by attending church services. For some reason, we thought that made God happy. I’m not sure why. That idea probably has more to do with clergy job security! Jesus never talked about attending services, although church can be a good container to start with, and we do tend to become like the folks we hang out with. The prophets often portray God’s disdain for self-serving church services. “The sanctuary, the sanctuary, the sanctuary” is all we care about, Jeremiah shouts (7:4). “I hold my nose at your incense. What I want you to do is love the widow and the orphan,” say both Isaiah and Amos (Isaiah 1:11-17, Amos 5:21-24), as do Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Micah, and Zechariah in different ways. The prophetic message is absolutely clear, yet we went right back to loving church services instead of Reality. I believe our inability to recognize and love God in what is right in front of us has made us separate religion from our actual lives. There is Sunday morning, and then there is real life.
The only way I know how to teach anyone to love God, and how I myself can love God, is to love what God loves, which is everything and everyone, including you and including me! “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). “If we love one another, God remains in us, and [God’s] love is brought to perfection in us” (1 John 4:12). Then we love with an infinite love that can always flow through us. We then are able to love things in their “thisness” as John Duns Scotus says—for themselves and in themselves—and not for what they do for us. That takes both work and surrender, and the primary work is detachment from our selves—from our conditioning, our preferences, our prejudices, our knee-jerk neurological reactions. Only the contemplative and trustful mind can do that.
As our freedom from our ego expands—as we get ourselves out of the way—there is a slow but real expansion of consciousness so that we are not the central reference point anymore. We are able to love in greater and greater circles until we can finally do what Jesus did: love and forgive even our enemies. Most of us were given the impression that we had to be totally selfless, and when we couldn’t achieve that, many of us gave up altogether. One of Duns Scotus’ most helpful teachings is that we should seek “a harmony of goodness,” which means harmonizing and balancing necessary self-care with the constant expansion beyond ourselves to loving others in themselves and for themselves. Imagining and working toward this harmony keeps us from giving up on impossible and heroic ideals. Now the possibility of love is always right in front of us and always concrete; it is no longer a theory, a heroic ideal, or a mere distant goal.
Gateway to Silence:
God in me sees God who is also beyond me.