The Meaning of Spiritual Love

Love: Week 2

The Meaning of Spiritual Love
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When you looked at me
Your eyes imprinted your grace in me;
For this you loved me ardently;
And thus my eyes deserved
To adore what they behold in you.
. . . And let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty.
John of the Cross [1]

When we read poetry as beautiful and profound as this verse, we can see why John of the Cross (1542–1591) was far ahead of his time in the spiritual and psychological understanding of how love works and how it changes us at a deep level. He consistently speaks of divine love as the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter.

In the inspired passage above, John describes the very process of love at its best. Here is my paraphrase:

You give a piece of yourself to the other.
You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously).
This allows the other to do the same in return.
You do not need or demand anything back from them,
because you know that you are both participating
in a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving—
one that fully satisfies and creates an immense Inner Aliveness.
Simply to love is its own reward.

You accept being accepted—for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever! This is the key that unlocks everything in me, for others, and toward God. So much so that we call it “salvation”!

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is why it is crucial to allow God and at least one other person to see us in our imperfection and even in our nakedness, as we are—rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and utterly transformative mystery of grace. This is the glue that binds the universe of persons together.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once we allow it for ourselves, we will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others. In fact, nothing else will attract us anymore or even make much sense.

Can you let God “look upon you in your lowliness,” as Mary put it (Luke 1:48), without waiting for some future moment when you believe you are worthy? Simply love what God sees in you. Many of us never go there, because to be loved in this way is to live in the naked now, and it is indeed a very naked moment.

References:
[1] John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, stanzas 32, 36. See The Collected Works of John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS Publications: 1991), 79-80.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 162-163.

Image credit: “Ladybug” (detail) photograph, Roderico Y. Diaz.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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