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Center for Action and Contemplation

Love Is Universal

Monday, September 23, 2019


Love Is Universal
Monday, September 23, 2019

Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love. God made both of these, but [God is] not knowable through the first one. To the power of love, however, [God] is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance. . . . [God’s] very nature makes love endless and miraculous. God will never stop loving us. Consider this truth, and, if by grace you can make love your own, do. For the experience is eternal joy; its absence is unending suffering. —The Cloud of Unknowing [1]

In the fourteenth century, the inspired, anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught that God in Christ dealt with sin, death, forgiveness, and salvation “all in one lump.” It is a most unusual, even homely, phrase, but for me, this corporate and mystical reading of history contributes to the unitive vision we are seeking, as we try to understand the Universal Christ. Jesus by himself looks like an individual, albeit a divine individual, but the Christ is a compelling image for this “one-lump” view of reality. In the fourteenth century, The Cloud’s author would’ve enjoyed the last remnants of mystical holism before the Reformation and Enlightenment elevated dualistic thinking. The writer reflected the more Eastern church understanding of the resurrection as a universal phenomenon, and not just the lone Jesus rising from the dead and raising his hands as if he just scored a touchdown, as is depicted in most Western art—and even in a giant mosaic that looms over the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium.

I am convinced that the Gospel offers us a holistic, “all in one lump” understanding of things. We also see this idea everywhere in Pauline passages, expressed in different ways: “in that one body he condemned sin” (Romans 8:3); “He experienced death for all humankind” (Hebrews 2:19); he has done suffering and sacrifice “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:28); or the embodiment language of Philippians, where Jesus is said to lead us through the “pattern of sin and death” so we can “take our place in the pattern of resurrection” (3:9-12). And of course, this all emerges from Jesus’ major metaphor of the “Reign of God,” a collective notion which some scholars say is just about all that he talks about. Until we start reading the Jesus story through the collective lens of Christ, I honestly think Christians miss much of his core message and limit its meaning to individual salvation, reward, and punishment. Without a universal and unifying spirituality, society will remain untransformed.

Only surrendering humbly to the radical path of love will result in the discovery that God is not the object of our longing and love, but is the loving itself. As the author of The Cloud teaches, God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.

[1] The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009), 14.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 162-163.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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