Self-Giving

Love: Week 1

Self-Giving
Thursday, November 1, 2018
All Saints’ Day

Divine love is compassionate, tender, luminous, totally self-giving, seeking no reward, unifying everything. —Thomas Keating [1]

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. That’s what happened in Jesus’ case, that’s what he is teaching. . . . Give yourself fully, hold nothing back because in this act of complete self-giving you make manifest what the kingdom of love looks like. —Cynthia Bourgeault [2]

It seems to me Christianity has put major emphasis on us loving God. But in the mystics, I consistently find an overwhelming experience of how God loves us! This comes through most of their writings: God is the initiator, God is the doer, God is the one who seduces us. It’s all about God’s initiative. Then we certainly want to love back the way we have been loved. As my father St. Francis (1181-1226) would often say, “Love is not loved! Love is not loved!” I want to love back the way I have been loved. But it’s not like I’ve got to prove my love for God by doing things. My job is simply to complete the circuit!

The mystics experience this full body blow of the Divine loving and accepting them, and the rest of their life is about trying to verbalize and embody that. They invariably find ways to give that love back through forms of service and worship; but it’s never earning the love, it’s always returning the love. Can you feel the difference? God’s love is almost a different language. It’s not based in fear, but in ecstasy.

God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves. It is that simple and that difficult. To be present in prayer can be like the experience of being loved at a deep level. I hope you have felt such intimacy alone with God. I promise it is available to you. Maybe a lot of us just need to be told that this divine intimacy is what we should expect and seek. We’re afraid to ask for it; we’re afraid to seek it. It feels presumptuous. We can’t trust that such a love exists—and for us. But it does. And I just told you.

Often the imagery used to illustrate the human-divine relationship is erotic, because it is the only adequate language to describe the in-depth contemplative experience. I have often wondered why God would give us such a strong and constant fascination with one another’s image, form, and face. Why? I think it’s because all human loves are an increasingly demanding school preparing us for an infinite divine love.

Today we recognize this school as the only real training ground for “All the Saints,” and it can never be limited to those who have fully graduated. As the entire New Testament does, we must apply the word “saints” to all of us who are in kindergarten, primary school, middle school, high school, college, and doing graduate studies. Love is one shared reality, and our common name for that one shared reality is “God” (see 1 John 4:7-21).

References:
[1] Thomas Keating with Carl J. Arico, God Is Love: The Heart of All Creation Companion Book (Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.: 2017), 3, https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/product/god-love-heart-all-creation-companion-book.

[2] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 61-62.

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

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