minoxidil side effects

Toward Beloved Community

 

 When Jesus revolutionized public worship by instituting a Eucharistic Celebration—a Love Meal—he did not tell us his End Plan was to create the Beloved Community. Nor how it would come about. Jesus left that work to the human heart and the Spirit who would inspire us.

Inspiration for me came from attending the Eucharistic Celebrations at the churches of the Monastic Order of Jerusalem in Europe. Whenever we are in Paris or Florence or Rome, we have made a point of attending their liturgies. What makes these Eucharistic Celebrations so inspiring? Dressed in white robes, the entire community—priests, sisters and brothers—mount the altar for Vespers followed by Mass. At the Kiss of Peace, they all descend into the congregation to offer the Kiss of Peace with warm smiles and gracious handshakes.

Their Kiss of Peace is not just a ritual gesture. It is intentional! Mind, heart and will are embodied in their intentionality. It says: “We are here to support you. We are here to anoint you. We are here to release the Spirit’s gifts to you.” Their demonstration should inspire us to a vision of the Beloved Community. For the Beloved Community to come about, our Kiss of Peace must first of all be intentional, not just a ritual gesture.

Wounded Community. Our Kiss of Peace must be the outward expression of our awareness that our community of sisters and brothers whom we meet at our Eucharistic Celebrations is a wounded community, and we must be moved by compassion for one another.

Compassion awakens our hearts to the fact that the Mass is not a private devotion, but a Love Meal. A Love Meal where Jesus invites us to consume bread and wine, Jesus’ Body and all the members of his Body, and where we will be consumed into Mystical Union. With this awareness, our Kiss of Peace becomes meaningful. And Jesus’ End Plan to create the Beloved Community begins to evolve.

Let us look at life’s reality. Every one carries a cross. No one escapes. In our midst at Mass, there are those who are fighting cancer or some other deadly disease or addiction or loneliness or depression. Those who are struggling with relationships—separation or divorce, unresolved issues, children who find growing up difficult. Or families with special children.

Besides, we are born into the human condition of alienation from God, alienation from anyone who is different from us, alienation from ourselves due to heartless minds. The list is endless and it is real. For these people, our Kiss of Peace says: “Whatever your cross, we support you in your suffering.” Then the Beloved Community is in the process of becoming!

Challenged Community. Do you feel challenged by your presence at Mass? We must be deeply aware of the challenge in our Eucharistic Celebrations. Jesus challenges us to pour ourselves out into his Love Meal. His Love Meal is a challenge to create the Beloved Community.

Unfortunately, the Church has taken the challenge out of our Eucharistic Celebrations. It has transformed Jesus’ Love Meal into a church service. Just follow the ritual and you are home free—no challenges. But Jesus’ Love Meal is a challenge to surrender ourselves intentionally into union with Jesus and our sisters and brothers.

Look at how challenging the core actions of our Eucharistic Celebrations are and grasp their dynamic, erotic invitations to union. When we offer up our gifts of bread and wine—symbols of our lives—together with the celebrant, we must intentionally act out our desire for spiritual communion with Jesus and our sisters and brothers. When the celebrant consecrates our gifts of bread and wine, we must intentionally be consecrated for sacrifice. At Communion time, we must intentionally receive Jesus and our sisters and brothers as bread and wine, as they receive us as bread and wine.

We must ritually act out our desire for union with Jesus and the Beloved Community. When we offer our Kiss of Peace, we are saying: “We desire Mystical Union with you and we hope you desire the same!” Then the Beloved Community begins to take shape.

Empowered Community.  Are you aware that our Eucharistic Celebrations are occasions of empowerment for you? The same Spirit who transforms bread and wine into the Body of Christ at the Consecration anoints us, empowers us. The empowerment is ours for the asking. No credentials required. No skills needed. Just heartfelt desire and awareness that the Spirit seeks to empower us.

Our work is to surrender to union with the Spirit, to yield to personal transformation by the Spirit. Focusing on one area of our personal woundedness makes the transformation process more real to us. For example, our intolerance of others who are different from us.

Just as Jesus revolutionized public worship, he also revolutionized anointing of individuals. Empowerment comes no longer through prophets, but directly through the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit anoints all who participate intentionally in his Love Meal for self-transformation and to empower others.

Christian communities cannot become the Beloved Community without each of us experiencing self-transformation.  But again, we must intentionally seek it. When we offer our Kiss of Peace, we are saying: “We are anointed and we anoint you. We release to you the Spirit’s gifts of love, hope and faith to bless and support you. Please reciprocate.” Then our community is on its way to becoming the Beloved Community.

Conclusion. Creating the Beloved Community will be the ultimate witness to Jesus’ authenticity and on-going presence and power in the world. For our part, it will take awareness and intentionality.

Awareness that our Christian community is a wounded community and our intentionality to be compassion to our sisters and brothers. Awareness that our Christian community is a challenged community and our intentionality to surrender into union with Jesus and our sisters and brothers. Awareness that our Christian community is an empowered community and our intentionality to surrender to the Spirit’s empowerment to transform ourselves and to empower our sisters and brothers for self-transformation and Mystical Union.

New Spiritual Landscape

The article, Holy Eros, proposed a whole new spirituality based on our understanding that eros is an intrinsic characteristic of human psychology and healthy spirituality. In doing so, the article was implicitly calling for a whole new spiritual landscape: With a new life vision. With a new mode of encountering God, others and created reality. And with new spiritual dynamics.

It should also be noted that the proposed spirituality is rooted in the nature of the human person. The person becomes the point of departure. In the hierarchy of knowledge with Revelation at the top and human knowledge at the bottom, we are proposing a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down one.

If it has taken the Church, focused on Revelation, 2000 years to discover the nature of the human person, this fact suggests the wrong starting point was taken with very sad consequences: The potential for human beings to achieve deeper spirituality has been limited, and God’s action in their lives has been limited.

By redirecting the point of departure, we are not suggesting that we ignore Revelation, but rather that we relate it to the nature of the human person. We are asserting that truly knowing the psychology of the person helps us to understand Jesus better, helps us to understand God better, and helps us to encounter the reality of the spiritual more deeply. Taken together, the human reveals the divine and the divine reveals the human!

New Life Vision.  With the person as the point of departure, let us ask ourselves what are the elements that we see on our new spiritual landscape? They are the same elements that comprise a person’s life vision. In his book, Fully Human, Fully Alive, Fr. John Powell, SJ defines a life vision as a person’s set of attitudes: attitudes toward self, God, others, reality, life.

Now we are proposing that we embrace a whole new spiritual landscape based on a life vision that positions eros as the cornerstone of each of our attitudes. Understand that if we change our attitudes, we change our life vision. Changing our life vision changes our values and the way we live life. The result is a new spiritual landscape. Let’s keep our model of our new spiritual landscape simple for greater clarity:

  • Self—We see ourselves as erotic beings driven by a passionate, sexual, pleasant life force that empowers our relating, our loving, our thinking, our creating.
  • God—Seeing ourselves as erotic beings, we see God as Infinite Eros, Infinite Lover, permeating all creation in communion with us and all creation.
  • Others—We see others like ourselves as erotic beings, with whom we desire to relate in spiritual communion.
  • Reality—We see eros driving us to spiritual union with and greater appreciation for creation, divine and human (nature, art, music, literature, dance, theater).
  • Life—We see life as a challenge for us to awaken our eros and channel it, awakening that energy to live vibrant, full lives, and containing it lest it destroys us. That calls for the practice of compassion, described later.

Take some time to reflect on this proposed new life vision and the resulting new spiritual landscape. Pray over it. Get comfortable with it.

New Mode of Encounter. Given our new spiritual landscape, how do we relate to God, self, others, reality? In his book, I and Thou, Martin Buber revealed the basic attitudes that affect our encounters with reality. He described one mode of encounter as an I-It attitude that positions us outside a relationship, so that we can analyze, judge and make decisions about the object of our encounter. That is our usual mode of encounter. We tend to relate to people, even to God as objects. The other mode of encounter is the I-Thou attitude that disposes us to relationship. Here we treat all—God, others, creation—as subjects actively radiating out to us their positive vibrations.

The I-Thou attitude is the basis for the proposed mode of encounter for the person living with the new spiritual landscape. This is the attitude that the practice of compassion makes possible. It consists in being fully present to God, others, reality, with a caring heart and an attentive mind. In our practice of compassion, we gift ourselves, we surrender ourselves, we yield ourselves to God, others, reality to receive their presence and their giftedness. This practice is a contemplative approach to life. It calls for a disciplined, centered way of living—to the extent that it is humanly possible.

The Spirit uses our erotic nature and our practice of compassion to gift us with an array of joyful, fruitful experiences: spiritual union with God, others and creation; living in the present moment; heightened awareness and perception; and thankfulness for the gifts of creation (divine and human). The Spirit’s gifts may not always be available to us, but it is always worth praying for and striving for.

It is our eros at work within us that drives us to union with reality and to make our practice of compassion become a way of life—The Compassionate Life.

New Spiritual Dynamics. Living The Compassionate Life and embracing the new spiritual landscape sets the stage for a new spiritual dynamics in our relationships with creation, with others and with God.

First, take creation, human and divine. When we can compassionately encounter human creation such as art, music, dance, etc., our erotic selves drive us to experience spiritual union with them. It is as if human creations enter into our interior life. We experience the dynamics of the original creators and of the live performers. The result? Our aesthetic appreciation and pleasure are greatly enhanced.

As for divine creation, here too we experience a new spiritual dynamics. When we can compassionately embrace nature, we experience an erotic desire for union with God’s erotic life force that drives trees skyward, that thrusts their branches out in exquisite symmetry. We experience trees, bushes, flowers from the inside out. We are brought into God’s cosmic presence within his creations and we experience oneness with God and oneness with creation. A walk outdoors can be encounter with the eros of God. But remember, no interior dialogues, just yielding to beauty, being present to Presence.

Second, take others. Driven by raw eros we seek our own fulfillment. However, our practice of compassion toward others enables us to be safely erotic in our self-giving to them. For a brief, joyful time, we are emptied of our ego’s control so that we can be open to the presence and giftedness of others. We experience a new spiritual dynamics of positive vibrations flowing between us and others. For example, if our raw eros drives us to be judgmental of some one, we find that we cannot act that way when we consciously practice compassion toward that person. For we cannot give ourselves to the other as gift and at the same time pass judgment on the other.

Third, and most importantly, our new spiritual landscape produces new spiritual dynamics in our relationship with God. Erotic selves relating to the erotic God! Perhaps we can best see this dynamic relationship if we perceive God as Compassion.

The contemplative, centered nature of the practice of compassion sets this practice at the height of human action and interaction. So, taking our cue from the psychology of the human person, let us apply to God our concept of compassion, realizing that no concept can encompass God’s nature. That said, we see God as infinitely present in all and to all creation, with infinite love and infinite attention, ever gifting us and his creation. God is Infinite Eros, Infinite Lover, in communion with us and all creation.

So, on our new spiritual landscape we have our erotic selves interacting with God who is Eros, and an erotic God interacting with us. That is the new spiritual dynamics of the spiritual life. In that dynamic relationship God both awakens our eros and contains our eros. We are used to asking God to contain our eros. In the Our Father we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, the new spiritual dynamics prompts us to pray to God to awaken our eros.

We see God as Eros at the center of our personhood radiating out love beams through our minds, hearts and wills to awaken our eros to see all—people, ourselves, creation, events—through the eyes of love. Our erotic response: we attempt to stay connected with and centered in the source of Divine Eros within us.

We see God as Eros awakening our eros by inviting us to break out of our comfort zones and to take risks at greater love. Our erotic response: we seek signs of Divine Eros in our deep, positive feelings and desires, for these are the prompts of Divine Eros inviting us to Divine Dialogue and greater love. And we strive to yield to these divine invitations.

We see God as Eros taking charge and awakening our eros to move us beyond our normal responses to people and events to carry on Jesus’ ongoing incarnation. Our erotic response: we attempt to unite with this divine burst of energy to be channels of energy to awaken others’ faith, hope and love.

Our new spiritual landscape enriches us with a new spirituality, a new life vision, a new encounter mode, a new spiritual dynamics in our encounters with God, others and creation.

Holy Eros

Could it be that the saints and mystics encountered Jesus as Eros? The Holy Spirit as Eros? God as Eros? The spiritual life as an erotic affair? I think so, despite the fact that the Church’s toxic spirituality had denigrated eros almost from its inception.

What has been the effect of such negative spirituality? It has impacted the spirituality of married couples in particular, but also all seeking a spiritual life. For it has pitted soul against body, hiding the glory of our embodied personhood: we are incarnate spirit, a being who is body, soul and spirit. Further, it has fostered unhealthy spiritualities.

History of Eros. Ironically enough, the pagan, first-century author Plutarch appreciated the connection between eros and marital spirituality. In his “Dialogues of Love,” he wrote: “Physical pleasure with a spouse is the seed of friendship and the participation in great mysteries. Though the physical pleasure is brief, from it grows day by day respect and grace, affection and faithfulness.”

Contrast Plutarch’s insight with the Church’s long insistence that reproduction was the saving element in marriage. I believe that when the Church resolves its discomfort with eros in marital relationships, it will bless eros for all spiritualities. The result? A second Pentecost will dawn. The good news is that 2000 years later the Church is beginning to discover eros as an intrinsic characteristic of human psychology and healthy spirituality.

In his first encyclical letter, God Is Love, Pope Benedict XV1 rehabilitates the word “eros:” “…it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love—eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.” Also, he states that God’s love “may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.”

Where does all this take us? I will propose a new, bold spirituality that will empower us to live a deeply spiritual, fully human life—based on a spirituality of eros. For starters, let us define spirituality as a theology of God, a psychology of human beings, and a methodology for bringing human beings into an ever deeper relationship with God.

Psychology of Eros. First, let us look at eros in human psychology. For the human being, eros is pleasure, is passion, is sexual, is our empowering life force. It is the total mind-body response. It embraces the power of our sexuality to empower our relating, our loving, our thinking, our creating.

In their book, Holy Eros, James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead, define eros: “Eros is the vital energy that courses through the world, animating every living thing. It is…the energy that stirs humans to be in touch, to reach out and link their lives in lasting ways….Eros is the force that quickens our hearts when we encounter suffering and moves us to help and heal. Sex, curiosity, compassion—Eros moves through our lives in delightful and bewildering ways.”

These definitions of eros sound very positive, but there is a terrible bias against the word itself built over many years. In his book, “Original Blessings,” Matthew Fox writes: “We have a word in our language for passionate celebration, but it has been co-opted by the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry…the reason the pornography industry has priority on the word “erotic” is that our spiritual traditions in the West have lost passion for passion and passion for eros.” Our first task is to regain our comfort with the word.

Eros in Spirituality. Eros is both our richest gift and a problem for us, warns Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in his book, “The Holy Longing.” He says that we are born with fire in our bellies—eros—that drives us to love, beauty and creativity, or to destructiveness. Ultimately, our spirituality is what we do with that energy. He gives three examples.  Eros drove Mother Teresa to heroic accomplishments for God and the poor. Eros drove the rock star Janis Joplin to death at an early age from an overdose of life. And eros drove Princess Diana both to a life of charity as well as to a life of the jet-setter.

Rolheiser concludes: “Spirituality is about finding the proper ways, disciplines, by which to both access that energy and contain it.” So, at the heart of living a spiritual life is a dialectic calling us to entertain opposing ideas and to seek to resolve their conflict. On the one hand, if our spiritual life is not an erotic affair with an Infinite Lover, it is not a spiritual life. It may be a pious or religious way of life, but it is not a spiritual life which seeks deeper union with God.

On the other hand, to access deliberately eros has its challenges. But, ultimately, we must befriend our eros and not look upon our erotic feelings “like potential terrorists threatening to hijack the ship of self and steer it uncontrollably into dangerous waters” in the words of Wilkie Au, spiritual director and writer. What’s the solution?

Spirituality of Eros. We need a bold, new spirituality to resolve this dialectic related to eros. We can’t just focus on embracing eros. We can’t just zero in on containing eros which has been our principal strategy for years. We need a spirituality of eros that gives us a methodology that enables us to access eros in our life experiences, engage it and befriend it, allowing eros to become a natural part of our lives.

Most importantly, such a spirituality must provide us with a theology of God that cultivates a passion for living the spiritual life erotically. Our understanding of the Christian Vision must provide us with a supportive environment for living with eros as a natural part of our lives. Like Jesus’ garment which was one piece, so our methodology and theology must be one piece. At the same time, this spirituality must provide us with a discipline to defend us against the potential excesses of eros. Together these elements comprise the proposed spirituality of eros.

Methodology for Eros. How would one live such a spirituality? The clue is in the articles I have written on the spirituality of compassion. I have shared the various discoveries I have made about that spirituality since I first experienced it in 1988 at the Louvre Museum. This reflection has forced me to make still another discovery—that I have been living a spirituality of eros all these years because the spirituality of compassion is essentially a spirituality of eros.

Recall that the spirituality of compassion directs us to be fully present to the object of our encounter with a caring heart and an attentive mind. Whatever we are encountering, we must gift ourselves to the other to receive its gift. We must yield or surrender ourselves to the other whether it be art, music, dance, nature, other people, God. So it impacts the whole spectrum of our lives. Note: our efforts will not always produce the desired disposition, but God appreciates earnest effort. The rest is up to the Spirit.

At first, I had thought that the practice of compassion was simply a technique for concentrating the full energies of our mind and heart on the object of our encounter. A form of centering our minds and hearts. Then I realized that this practice was the way to spiritual union. Now I discover that it is the way to awaken my eros in order to gift, yield, surrender myself to the object of my encounter. The spirituality of compassion is indeed a spirituality of eros. This practice gives us a methodology to access eros in our life experiences, engage it and befriend it, allowing eros to become a natural part of our lives.

Containing Eros. The practice of compassion also eliminates the surprise of the pornographic in our lives. If we see all of life through the eyes of eros, we weaken its force. When the pornographic is the only source of eros, it has a more powerful effect. It causes us to focus on it and make a monster of it. Further, the fact that the pornographic offends the gestalt—the whole, integrated configuration—of our spirituality of eros makes us uncomfortable with it. We don’t want sensationalism; we want the joy of spirituality. Thus, we are more able to contain its power.

In addition, the above mindset disposes us spontaneously to draw upon the practice of discipline as described in Article 8. Briefly, this virtue has two facets—attentiveness and inattentiveness. We practice attentiveness to the interior landscape of our spirits to determine what directions our heart wishes are driving us. We practice inattentiveness to enable us to watch our compulsive needs wilt away.

Theology of Eros. Thus far, we have said that psychologically the human person is essentially an erotic being, and that the practice of the spirituality of compassion gives us a methodology for both accessing and containing eros. Note also that this spirituality leads us naturally to a theology of eros.

Now let us look at such a theology. For if the human person is an erotic being, then God must be perceived in erotic terms to be relevant. In an interview of Rubem Alves, Brazilian theologian and social scientist that appeared in Cross Currents, he states: “…a theology based on epistemology, no matter how fierce, doesn’t move people. We are not constructed in a Cartesian [philosophical] way. We are erotically constructed.” Here is a sketch of a theology of eros:

  • God as Eros—God is a passionate God. God did not want to remain totally Mystery, the Cloud of Unknowing. The Ultimate Source of Being, the Ultimate Source of Beatitude wanted an incarnate union with humankind. God is Eros. Further, this erotic God dwells at the core of our beings, recreating us from the inside out. Also, this erotic God permeates all creation. When we contemplate the incredible beauty of creation, we can only conclude that God is Eros Who wants to win our hearts.
  • Jesus as Eros—When we perceive the life events and words of the historical Jesus as contained in the Risen Christ, we discover the Jesus Process—a power source from which we receive the gifts of the Spirit. Then we can pray: “Risen Christ, set in motion the Jesus Process in our lives and pour into our hearts Jesus’ life energies, the love force that Jesus was and is now in the present moment.” The historical Jesus was Eros 2000 years ago and Jesus is Eros today.
  • Spirit as Eros—It is through the Spirit that the Infinite Lover issues Lover’s invitations, awakening us to the possibilities of love each day, calling us out of our tombs daily to experience new life like Lazarus. As Eros, the Spirit takes initiatives in our lives, stirring the movements of our hearts to inspire us and invite us to greater love, hope and faith.

How ironic! Eros, the life force rejected by the Church for so long has become the cornerstone of a spirituality that empowers us to live a deeply spiritual, fully human life. Further, I can trust a God Who is Eros, for He wants union with me, as I want union with Him. I can trust a God Who is Eros to take me home when my days on earth are completed.

 

Encountering Infinite Lover

We have said elsewhere that through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jesus discovered God the Father as Compassion Who loved all beings and all creation with unconditional love. In other words, Jesus discovered God as the Infinite Lover at the very core of his being and all beings. This discovery transformed Jesus into a radical lover of God and all humanity.

What are the implications of Jesus’ experience for our spiritual life? Should not our spiritual life reflect Jesus’ experience? Should we not be attempting to encounter God as Infinite Lover as Jesus did? Should not Jesus’ vision of God as Infinite Lover be the overriding thrust of our spiritual practices? Here are three practices to deepen our encounter with God as Infinite Lover.

See Possibilities. See the possibilities of love for an Infinite Lover. Where? In the articles of our faith. We must view them, not just as articles of faith, but as the outpourings of love of an Infinite Lover. God assuming humanity in Jesus’ Incarnation. Jesus living our human life and dying our human death, and that a horrendous one. God gifting us with his Holy Spirit as our Higher Power and intimate guide. We being incorporated into the Body of Christ and empowered with Jesus’ powers. All are incarnate realizations of the infinite love of the Infinite Lover!

Not only must we see these articles of faith as actualized possibilities of Infinite Love, but we must also attempt to grow in our response to these love possibilities of the Infinite Lover. We cannot allow ourselves to acknowledge them only in our minds as infinite possibilities. We must seek to enter into their depth with our entire personhood.

These actualized possibilities of Infinite Love are the facts of our salvation history, but for our spiritual life the degree of our wonder at them must deepen, for it is wonder that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover.

Appreciate Abundance. Appreciate the abundance that God has lavished upon us. God as Infinite Lover possesses infinite abundance, and he shares that abundance with us. We see that abundance manifested in our salvation history, and everywhere we look—in the countless flowers and trees, in the mountains and the oceans. God creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it, and all manifesting his presence, beauty, wisdom, love and attention.

Had God created just one flower or one tree, pilgrims would flock to admire them. Instead, he has lavished his abundance upon us, and we tend to ignore it. Creation must be an intrinsic part of our spirituality. The degree of our appreciation for creation must deepen, for it is appreciation that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover.

Dance the Divine Dance. Dance the dance of the Infinite Lover. Divine Love dances us in three movements—Love Radiating Out, Love Inviting, and Love Taking Charge—over and over again. I will describe each of these movements separately, but there is a dynamic flow here. In fact, we must learn to move with the movements of the dance. It is like a ballerina dancing with three partners, each handing her off to the next. The degree of our engagement in this dance must deepen, for it is engagement that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover:

  • Love Radiating Out is the Infinite Lover at the center of our being radiating out love beams through our minds, hearts and wills so that we see all—people, ourselves, creation, events—through the eyes of love. However, it takes two to tango. For the first movement of the dance to begin, we must prepare ourselves through centering: the practice of firing up our hearts, focusing our attention and entering fully into the present moment to connect with the center of our being. And we must pray that our hearts be opened to the Infinite Lover’s outpouring of Divine Love.
  • Love Inviting, the second movement of the dance, is the Infinite Lover taking action in our spiritual lives, inviting us to break out of our comfort zones and take risks at greater love of the Infinite Lover and others. The first movement, Love Radiating Out, can be so heart-warming and joyous that we are tempted to rest in that experience. But divine consolation is divine invitation. Love Inviting wants more for us. To prepare ourselves we must grow in awareness of the Infinite Lover’s invitations and live in expectancy of them.
  • Love Taking Charge, the third movement of the dance, is the Infinite Lover taking over our lives. Here the Infinite Lover drives us to act beyond ourselves, beyond our normal responses to people and events. We feel Divine Love taking charge of us and moving us beyond our capabilities. And with such ease that we don’t mind the push. Then we understand what St. Paul meant when he said: “Now not I, but Christ lives in me.” With Love Taking Charge, the dance has been completed. However, it is up to us to initiate the dance over and over again through our practice of centering.

No one can ever fathom the love of the Infinite Lover. We can only reach out to the Infinite Lover. But our hearts have been created to pursue the Infinite Lover. And there is great joy in the reaching out–experiencing ever greater wonder at the possibilities of love as demonstrated by God’s actions in our salvation history, experiencing ever greater thankfulness for God’s abundance shared with us, experiencing ever greater engagement in the dance of the Infinite Lover, attempting to dance us into a deeper, more intimate relationship.

 

 

Embracing the Embrace

Often it is difficult to understand the full meaning of our deep spiritual experiences. Simply having such experiences does not exhaust their meaning. We may even need an outsider to explain their significance to us. Such was my experience in discovering a fuller understanding of the practice of compassion.

In the article,  Spirituality of Compassion, I shared my first experience of the practice of compassion which took place at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Staring at the famous painting of the Mona Lisa, I wondered to myself: “Being as exhausted as I am from jet lag, how can I enter into the beauty of this painting?”

No sooner had I asked that question, when I got the answer: “You must be fully present to it with a caring heart and an attentive mind so as to “receive” the presence and beauty of this masterpiece. You must make a gift of yourself to the painting to receive its gift.” It worked! I began to see in the painting what I had not seen before and feel what I had not felt before.

I called this exercise of mind, heart and will the “practice of compassion,” literally feeling deeply with. I have applied this practice to appreciating the arts, such as art, sculpture, music and dance; handling difficult human relationships; enjoying the beauty of nature; and deeply experiencing spiritual practices such as attending Mass and centering prayer. But only recently did I come to understand more fully the inner dynamics of compassionate experiences:

1. Spiritual Union. The practice of compassion is a way to experience spiritual union with God, others, self, nature, the arts. It took my Jewish podiatrist to point that out to me. We had been talking about our travel experiences, and I shared with him my experience at the Louvre Museum. He immediately responded: “Michael Jackson said that at times when he is dancing, he experiences oneness with the divine presence.” My doctor turned to me and said: “You experienced union with, oneness with that painting.”

He had given me a wonderful insight into my joyful experience at the Louvre Museum and into the practice of compassion. In my moments of compassionate living, I had experienced a fuller experience of the object of my focus. But I did not think of it as spiritual union. I looked upon the practice as simply a technique for concentrating the full energies of my mind and heart on the object of my encounter. Now I discovered that it was the way to spiritual union.

2. Total Surrender. Compassionate experiences demand a total investment of our mind, heart and will in the object of our attention. We must be fully engaged. An image that helps me to grasp this dynamic is that of the embrace. In a physical embrace we give ourselves fully as a gift to the other. In a similar manner, we must embrace spiritually whatever it is we wish to encounter compassionately.

Further, compassionate experiences are present-moment experiences. We tend to live in the past or in the future. But to live compassionately, we must enter into the present moment and be fully present. The present moment is the door to spiritual consciousness and spiritual union.

3. Centering Out.  Compassionate experiences involve a “centering out” to the object of our encounter. Admittedly, that is an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. However, the Spirit works in dialectics and paradoxes.

True, we must first center down within ourselves, before we can center out. We must first connect with our center, the Divine Love Center at the core of our being. The usual procedure is to breathe deeply from our gut, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically, to become fully present to ourselves in a gentle and loving way. We might consider this step as being compassionate to ourselves. We are embracing ourselves.

But the action does not stop there. That exercise prepares us to center out—to another person, the beauty of nature, a work of art, whatever. We then focus compassionately on what we wish to encounter in a gentle and loving way in an effort to experience spiritual union.

Spiritual writers tell us that when we reach the center of our being, we are more intimately at home with ourselves, more intimately united with others, more intimately united with God. Note that experiencing the core of our being becomes a source of dynamic energy that flows out spontaneously beyond the boundaries of ourselves to others. So we center down to center out.

4. Mystical Union. Scripture tells us that God is Compassion. No one can define God. That said, however, if we think of God as Compassion in the sense we are using it here, we open ourselves to a rich experience. Then, God is the Being, Who is infinitely present in all beings and creation, with infinite love and infinite attention. Using our image of the embrace, we further describe God as Compassion Who embraces all beings and creation in a compassionate embrace.

In our practice of centering prayer, I believe there is a danger in isolating God from all that He embraces. The result is a focus on a I-God relationship. That belittles God Who pervades all beings and all creation. To get our arms around God in his totality, we must embrace all that God embraces. So, we center down to center out compassionately to embrace God in his compassionate embrace of all beings and creation, and we attempt to embrace all creation in a compassionate embrace. That is the ultimate meaning of Embracing the Embrace!

In so doing, we enter into mystical union with God Who is Compassion and with all creation. Now our intentionality for our centering prayer has become targeted. We want to center down and out to embrace God compassionately as well as all beings and all creation, as the God of Compassion does.

5. Mystical Gratefulness. In his book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, Brother David Steindl-Rast tells us that gratefulness is the way to a life of fullness. When we make it our basic life attitude, he writes, “our eyes are opened to that surprise character of the world around us,” and we wake up from taking things for granted. “Gratuitousness burst in on us, the gratuitousness of all there is. When this happens, our spontaneous response is surprise.”  And wonder and joy!

One of the fruits of mystical union with the God of Compassion is gratefulness. For example, on a walk when we center down to center out compassionately to embrace God’s embrace of creation through his sustaining presence, love and attention, we see as if for the first time. This mystical union has wakened us up. We see the diversity of trees around us with their diversity of leaves, the play of sunlight penetrating them and the shadows they create, and we sense God’s presence in them. And we know that all is gratuitous, all is surprise, all is gift. And we are on the way to gratefulness, a life of joyful fullness.

We should not be surprised that the practice of compassion should lead us to mystical union and gratefulness. For by its very nature, the practice of compassion is gifting ourselves to God or others or creation—the gift of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Spirituality of Compassion

In the article, Compassion for Others, we gave the word “compassion” a whole new meaning. Here I will share some personal experiences that helped me to discover its special meaning, and its significance for the spiritual life.

Aesthetic Experiences. Some years ago I visited Paris. The highlight of this trip was a visit to the Louvre, the home of Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa and other masterpieces of art and sculpture. As I stood there gazing at the Mona Lisa, I became deeply aware of my fatigue, jet lag and the limited amount of time I could spare. Suddenly, I got the inspiration to ask myself: “Given my disposition, how can I enter into the beauty of this masterpiece?” In response, a profound inspiration flashed through my mind: “You must be fully present, in a caring and attentive way so as to receive the presence and beauty of this masterpiece.” In other words, I had to give as gift my presence, my mind, my heart, my whole person to this painting in order to receive its gift. It worked!

I called this exercise “compassion”, literally, feeling deeply with. I applied this practice to other forms of art such as sculpture, music, ballet, and, of course, to the beauty of nature. This exercise has greatly enhanced my aesthetic experiences.

Relational Experiences. My practice of compassion to the arts led me to yet another discovery. I have a retarded son who continues to say his childlike evening prayers, even though we have taught him more adult prayers. I found it difficult to stop what I was doing to listen to him. One day, I was inspired to ask myself: “Could my practice of compassion to the arts and nature change my experience with my son if I compassion-ately listened to his childlike prayers?” As I allowed myself to become fully present in a caring and attentive way to my son, I discovered that he had a gift to give me—his simplicity in his relationship to God. Further, I discovered that compassion was the basis of radical love─loving others despite their negative qualities and my negative feelings.

Spiritual Experiences. The above experiences led me naturally to apply the practice of compassion to my so-called “spiritual” experiences. I began to go to Mass early so I could prepare myself through the practice of compassion for celebration. As a result, the Mass ritual and words have become more meaningful. And when I began the exercise of centering prayer, I was greatly helped by my practice of compassion. For now I was being fully present, in a caring and attentive way to the Spirit within me. Here the practice of compassion becomes prayer─without the words. It becomes love of God.

I see a commonality between these three different experiences of compassionate living. First, all three─aesthetic, relational and spiritual─demand that we encounter the other in a peak experience, employing our mind, heart, gut and will. We must experience our full personhood in play. We must be fully engaged with the other.

Second, all three demand that we fully gift ourselves to the other, whether the other be the arts, other people, or God. Self-gift is key.

Third, all three require that the Spirit empower us to offer ourselves as self-gift. For as Theologian Gregory Baum reminds us: “Human existence is so deeply wounded and threatened by sin that the passage from fear to trust, from hostility to love, from ignorance to self-knowledge, from passivity to creativity, from self-centeredness to concern for others, are never purely natural events, determined by our own resources. They are always gifts.” Always begin: “Holy Spirit, enable me to live compassionately.”

The Spirit permeates all of our life and enables us to experience our high points. The spiritual life is all about being present to the Divine Presence. Compassionate living is at the heart of a Spirit-centered spirituality. Make the practice of compassion a habit!

Praying the Gospels

In previous articles, we explored how our deeper understanding of the Resurrection and of the Jesus Process changed everything—the way we pray, the way we participate in the liturgy of the Mass. Now let us examine how the Risen Jesus changes how we read the Gospels, how we preach the gospels, and how we practice faith-sharing based on the Gospels.

When it comes to the Gospels, the tendency is to focus solely on the historical Jesus’ every word and action. But if we go no further, we lock Jesus into history and he becomes only an inspiring figure, whose words we use to moralize to improve our own or others’ conduct. But by so doing, we encounter only one dimension of Jesus. Thus, he does not become the catalyst of the Jesus Process whereby he leads us to the Risen Jesus and to the Spirit’s empowerment of us.

We must read the Gospels three dimensionally. We must move the focus of the Gospels ultimately to all the dimensions of Jesus—the historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus and the Jesus who gives us the Spirit. Otherwise, we miss the power of the Gospels to transform us into persons who carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation. Fr. John Walsh, M.M. says that we have to look at the Gospels as unfinished: we have to write the latest chapters. It is as if the Gospels are contained in a loose-leaf binder. However, to do so we must grow deeper in the awareness that we have been empowered by the Risen Jesus.

The Risen Jesus has empowered us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation by giving us the same powers Jesus exercised in his earthly life. The key questions we have to ask ourselves are: How does the Scripture passage, which we are reflecting on, reveal the powers that the Risen Jesus has given us?  How do the Gospels empower us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation?

Take the Gospel story of the woman “who had suffered from severe bleeding for 12 years. She had spent all she had on doctors, but no one had been able to cure her. She came up in the crowd behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and her bleeding stopped at once. Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’” Despite the denials of everyone, Jesus insisted, “Someone touched me, for I knew it when power went out of me.” Today, we have to be the hem of Jesus’ garment. If people in need touch us, they touch Jesus. His power will go out from us—if we have faith, if we have taken possession of Jesus’ powers given to us by the Risen Jesus.

How do we carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us? How do we write the next chapters in the Gospels? We must exercise the powers given by the Risen Jesus to be sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness. The Gospels are all about these powers.

Does our reading of the Gospels awaken our faith in our powers to be sacraments to others? Fr. Ronald Rolheiser writes in The Holy Longing: “We can forgive each other’s sins; not we, but the power of Christ within us.”

Does a sermon on the Gospels inspire us to bind sinners to Jesus through our love for them? Fr. Rolheiser states: “If a child or a brother or a sister or a loved one of yours strays from the church in terms of faith practice and morality, as long as you continue to love that person, and hold him or her in union and forgiveness, he or she is touching the hem of the garment….and is forgiven by God.”

Does the compassionate life of Jesus that the Gospels relate raise our awareness that the Risen Jesus has given us the powers to be compassion and communion to others? Do our Gospel readings empower us to be channels of faith, hope and love for others as Jesus called forth faith, hope and love in others during his earthly life.

Practice Jesus’ Ongoing Incarnation

Through his Resurrection, the Risen Christ unleashed three major spiritual realities. He transformed the whole life of the historical Jesus into a sacramental power source present here and now. He poured forth the power of his Spirit who acts as our constant guide and mentor. And he incorporated the Body of Christ, continuing his Incarnation in us and thus empowering us with his presence and powers, both as members and as a community. How do we manifest the Risen Christ within us? Practice Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us by exercising his powers in our actions and relationships to others.

Be Sacraments to Others. As members of Christ’s Body, we are empowered to carry on the work of Jesus. We continue the work of the sacraments. Whatever the sacraments do, we do for one another. We forgive, we heal, we bind others to Christ through our love. In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser states that when we continue to love and forgive the sins of others and, insofar as they receive that love and forgiveness from us, they are receiving love and forgiveness from God. Why? Because we are part of the Body of Christ and they are touching us. “What Jesus did we too can do; in fact, that is precisely what we are asked to do,” he writes. Be sacraments!  

Be Compassion to Others. In Jesus Before Christianity, Fr. Albert Nolan describing the taboos against social mixing between the clearly defined classes within Jewish society in Jesus’ times states: “The scandal Jesus caused in that society by mixing socially with sinners can hardly be imagined by most people in the modern world today. It meant that he accepted them and approved of them and that he actually wanted to be ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” Jesus gifted society’s outcasts with his presence and affirmed their giftedness. He exercised compassion in the sense of making himself fully present to them, with all his mind and with all his heart in order to receive their presence and their giftedness. For Jesus, all persons were gifts; there were no cellophane people. In solidarity with the Father, Jesus saw others as the Father saw them—unfinished creations of the Father, diamonds in the rough. Be compassion to others!

 Be Communion to Others. When we live compassionately for others to its fullest degree, we become communion to others. As compassion is being spiritually present to others, communion is being physically present to others. In his book, Our Journey Home, Jean Vanier gives us an insight into the meaning of communion. He says that communion is being bodily present to others. Body language—gestures, tone of voice, the look in our eyes, a handshake or a hug—is the fundamental instrument of communion. In the way we look and listen, we can reveal to someone his or her importance and unique giftedness. Be communion to others!

Be Channels of Faith. Fr. Nolan points out that Jesus was unlike the holy men of his times who worked healings. They relied upon their own holiness, their own esteem in the eyes of God; Jesus relied upon the power of faith of others. Jesus said to the persons he cured: “Your faith has healed you.” Nolan states: “He is saying in effect that it is not he who has healed the sick person….Jesus’ own faith, his own unshakable convictions, awakened this faith in them. Faith was an attitude that people caught from Jesus through their contact with him, almost as if it were a kind of infection….Jesus was an initiator of faith. Be channels of faith for others. Let your faith awaken faith and hope in others!

Where is the playing field for practicing Jesus’ ongoing incarnation in us? In our everyday lives, everyday dialogues, everyday relationships. And in carrying out Jesus’ mission to free people of every form of oppression—social, political, institutional.

Obstacle to Solidarity

In Incarnational Spirituality, we celebrate solidarity with others because we are all members of the Body of Christ. While this is a spiritual reality, we cannot say that we experience it deeply or often. The great obstacle to living this solidarity is the basic flaw in human nature of alienation, the result of Original Sin.

Some Christian writers have interpreted Original Sin as the sin of pride, while for others it was disobedience. St. Francis of Assisi gave another explanation. Our first parents were created in the image and likeliness of God. The devil’s offer to make them on the same level as God was like selling them the Brooklyn Bridge. A terrible deception. St. Francis interpreted Original Sin as our first parents being grasping, wanting to possess what they did not already have. This lust for possession was the Original Sin that resulted in alienation from God, self and others─with some interesting consequences.

Alienating Possessiveness. Have you noticed how thin-skinned we are? We are easily offended by people being different from us. If they think differently from us, we are offended. If they act differently from us, we are offended. If the way they dress is different from us, we are offended. The French may say, “Vive la Difference!” when it comes to the differences between men and women, but countless books are written about men being from Mars and women from Venus. And the marriage statistics demonstrate that the difference in gender is hard to cope with.

It seems that we possess very strongly what is peculiar to ourselves—our style of thinking and acting. We possess our personal qualities so strongly that we feel endangered by others being different from us. Fear sets in that we may lose what we possess. St. Francis put his finger on it—lust for possession. In reality, a lust for psychic possession. Our deep-seated alienation toward others is awakened by their differences.

What does this fear do for our relationships? When St. Francis met the leper, he was able to embrace him. When we encounter people who exhibit differences from us, they become lepers to us, and unlike Francis, we are unable to embrace them.

Unifying Poverty. St. Francis countered against human lust for possession by emphasizing poverty. Yes, material poverty, but also spiritual poverty. In the Gospels, we read: Blessed are the poor in spirit. When we deeply experience the insight that all that we possess has been given to us by a loving and gracious God, we can begin to take steps toward spiritual poverty. Ultimately, our deep-seated alienation is a rejection of our creaturehood and a refusal of gratitude to the Creator. Living deeply a life of gratitude to the Divine Giver will help us grow in spiritual poverty and become more open to others and their differences.

The spiritual exercise of practicing compassion is another help to growth in spiritual poverty. Here we attempt to become fully present to another, in a caring and attentive way, so as to receive the presence and the unique gift of the other. Through this exercise, we give ourselves away as a gift to others, making ourselves spiritually poor. For the moment we shed our psychic possessiveness. We deliberately set aside our alienation toward another with the expectancy of discovering the giftedness of the other. In the process, we suspend judgment of the other and we see the other in a different light.

The ultimate growth experiences in spiritual poverty come from the progressive surrender to the Spirit’s possession of us. Our lust for possessiveness can only be remedied by Spirit-possession. We demonstrate our Spirit-possession by our total dependency on the Spirit. Only the Spirit of love can dispossess us of our psychic possessiveness and free us for compassionate relationships with others.

Jesus’ Tutor

In the Conspiracy of God, author John C. Haughey, SJ states that we must pay attention to the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ developing self-understanding: “A Jesus who is imaged as having made it without the Spirit generates a piety in which the Spirit is superfluous for all practical purposes.”

Growth in Understanding. As human beings, we grow in understanding by moving from ignorance to knowledge, from doubt to certainty, from indecisiveness to decision. We work our way through trial and error, analysis and insight. That was the process of our brother Jesus. “The great misfortune of the Christology bequeathed to us is its portrayal of a figure who effortlessly knew; from the beginning of his Incarnation he had nothing to learn, just much to teach,” writes Haughey. “Jesus learned the way every human being learns except that his principal teacher was the Spirit.”

Yes, Jesus’ tutor was the Spirit, the God of Mystery who mysteriously brings human beings to their fullness. The Spirit led Jesus to look upon all creation with a deep sense of mystery. Rather than being a know-it-all, Jesus looked upon all reality with a great sense of mystery and wonder. Paradoxically, embracing mystery helped Jesus, and helps us, grow in understanding and wisdom. Let the Spirit be our tutor!

Growth through Judaism. The Spirit used the same means available to every Jew to teach Jesus. If we demean the faith of the Jewish people, we ignore the fact that Jesus was the product of what the Spirit had been doing inIsrael for centuries. The Spirit taught Jesus by means of the Jewish law, the Prophets and the prayers of the Chosen People that he heard regularly in the synagogue of Nazareth and that he heard at his mother’s knees. Ultimately, it was through his realization that the Jews were the Chosen People that he realized that he was the Chosen One, the new Moses who would save his people.

No doubt, Jesus viewed his Jewish faith with the same worldview he perceived all reality. Rather than getting mired in the details of Jewish Scripture, he experienced profoundly the mystery and the wonder of God entering into the life of the Jewish people to save them, and selecting them as his Chosen People. He did not look at the basics of his Jewish faith as answers that closed the door to further inquiry, but rather as answers that spoke mystery, and as such, that invited continuing and deepening reflection. Is there a lesson here? When we embrace mystery in our faith, we open ourselves to the Spirit.

The Spirit used Mary to bring out Jesus’ worldview of mystery and wonder. She had experienced the mystery and wonder of the divine entering into her life. She pondered the mystery of Jewish Scriptures in her heart and shared them with Jesus.

Growth through Relationships. The Spirit used the relationships that developed between Jesus and others to teach him his identity. Before Jesus could experience the full presence of the Father as Father, Haughey writes, he had to have the capacity for relation-ship. Jesus’ worldview of mystery and wonder affected his attitude toward others and helped him develop his own immense capacity “to be wholly present to others as oneself and fully receptive to the otherness of others…. In time, he perceived that the Other into whose presence he was more and more intimately being led, was his Father….Each true relationship expands one’s capacity to stand in openness to God as wholly Other.”

Haughey’s concept of true relationship is linked to the Cursillo virtue of compassion for others (No. 5 in this series). Its practice expands our capacity to stand in openness to God as wholly Other. Viewing the people in our relationships as mysteries with the Spirit deeply involved in their becoming themselves, we can unleash our compassion for them and at the same time grow in our ability to relate to God, the Mysterious Other.