minoxidil side effects

Do Not Cling

 

The greatest love scene in the Gospels between a man and a woman is the most profound revelation of who the historical Jesus is NOW for us and what our relationship is with him.   Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, author of The Wisdom Jesus, calls the bond between Mary Magdalene and Jesus “love, pure and simple.” The Risen Jesus appeals to this love bond to reveal the new possibilities of mystical love, mystical union with Jesus to Mary Magdalene—and to us. A revelation that the Church has ignored for over 2,000 years.

The scene is early Easter morning (John 20:11-18). Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb and sees that the stone has been removed from the entrance. Refusing to accept the word of the angels that Jesus has risen, she implores a man whom she takes for the gardener to tell her where he has put him and she would go and get him. Jesus answers her: “Mary!” She turned to him and said “Rabboni.”

“Easter Sunday begins with the energy of this encounter; it reverberates with two hearts reunited, her yearning met in his response. At the epicenter of what Christians call ‘the Easter kerygma’ (the proclamation of the good news of the resurrection) is a powerful moment of pure love,” states Rev. Bourgeault.

But where is the revelation? In the Risen Jesus’ words: “Do not cling to me.” Puzzling words to Biblical scholars. But understandable to lovers. The Risen Jesus was revealing to Mary that their relationship had changed, and by extension, that our relationship with the historical Jesus had changed. No longer could she enjoy relationship with the physical presence of Jesus who had ceased to exist. She, and we, would enjoy something much better, something much deeper, a mystical union.

New Jesus. Let us hear in our imaginations what the Risen Jesus was telling Mary. “Mary, I am no longer the Jesus whom you knew. The Jesus you sat before and listened to in rapt attention. The Jesus you hugged. The Jesus whose company you warmly desired. Yes, I am that person but I am much more than that person. Do not cling to the historical Jesus!

“Be consoled, Mary. Jesus’ life experiences live on in me. They will be forever available to you. Your love will unite us. Just remember and relive the times we were together, embracing them with all your heart, and we will be reunited. My Spirit of Love will make our union happen. You need only call upon me, the Risen Jesus, and I will breathe into you that same Spirit who drove Jesus all his life. And that Spirit will guide you, unite you with Jesus.”

Jesus Unbounded. What the Risen Jesus was telling Mary, and us, is that the historical Jesus is now unbounded. The possibilities for relationship with Jesus are unbounded. The possibilities for loving union with Jesus are now unbounded. Jesus is no longer bound by the limitations of time and geography. The historical Jesus has been freed from history. Jesus has been transported into the present moment for us so that we can relate intimately to Jesus here and now in our lifetimes. It is as if we can meet Jesus for the first time in history, walking the roads of Galilee and Judea, and Jesus turning his face toward us and asking us: “What do you want of me?”

Not only has the resurrection unbound Jesus for greater mystical love and union with us, it transforms the history of an itinerant preacher into a here and now power source for us. The Risen Jesus has transformed all Jesus’ life experiences into sacramentals for us. Sacramentals that are not only symbols of a spiritual reality but also the means of conveying the spiritual energy to follow the way of his teaching. If we call upon the Risen Jesus, he will empower us to carry on Jesus’ life of bringing people peace, healing and forgiveness. Jesus’ Spirit of Love will be our empowerment.

Jesus Process. The flesh and bones historical Jesus no longer exists. There is a new reality. A new Jesus. The new Jesus is in fact a dynamic process. Today, when we encounter Jesus in the Gospels, we must be aware that Jesus is much more than the historical Jesus. Jesus is now the medium for us of the Risen Christ and the Spirit of Love. The Risen Jesus now contains Jesus’ lived experience and has transformed it into a power source, present here and now in the 21st Century. Out of this power source, the Risen Jesus gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to transform ourselves and the world around us.

Let us see how the Jesus Process works. Take the Gospel reading that describes Jesus going up into the mountain to pray. When we are ready to pray, we can connect in our minds and hearts with Jesus in prayer. The Risen Christ has transformed Jesus’ prayer life with the Father into a power source, out of which the Spirit empowers us to pray. Let our prayer begin with the historical Jesus, but move on to beseech the Risen Jesus to breathe the Spirit upon us to gift us with Jesus’ power to pray.

Note: the historical Jesus is forever the medium of encounter with this powerful spiritual reality. Besides being the catalyst of the Jesus Process, the historical Jesus is our “powerful psychological anchor” in the words of St. Theresa of Avila, in our efforts to encounter the Trinity of Love. The historical Jesus is the image of God. He is the mirror of the invisible. Just don’t cling to him. Be ready for mystical love and union with him.

Conclusion. Fear of human sexuality has driven the Church to ignore human love as the model for spirituality, despite the fact that the Risen Jesus chose that model as the point of departure for Christianity on that Easter morning. The result? The Church has clung to the historical Jesus, making him a moral teacher and depriving him of his powers. Little is spoken of the Risen Jesus and the Spirit. It is preaching an unspiritual spirituality!

Here is how Rev. Bourgeault sums up Jesus’ and Mary’s Easter Sunday encounter: “Clearly a very deep mystical bond between the two of them, stronger than physical life and death, becomes profoundly engendering to the whole subsequent unfolding of Christianity. In a sense—and without wanting to make unfair distinctions—one must honestly say that the Christian path was not founded by the male disciples, although they are given the credit for it. It grew heart and soul out of the pure love and trust between a man and a woman who had, in a deep way, transcended their male- and female-ness to become living spirits.”

In a sense, we are all Mary Magdalenes on that Easter Sunday morning. The Risen Jesus is saying to us: “Do not cling.” He is inviting us all to a deep relationship with Jesus in all his dimensions—the New Jesus, the Unbounded Jesus, the Jesus Process—the medium for us of the Risen Jesus and the Spirit of Love.

We have Jesus’ promise of this deeper life with him: “When I go, you will not be left orphaned; I will come back to you. In a little while, the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live. When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you.” (John 14: 18-20

Mystery of Love

 

Forty years ago I left the Marriage Encounter weekend with two deep desires. The first desire was to grow my relationship with my wife. The weekend had taught me the need for communication to nourish our marriage and the techniques to do so. The second desire was to pursue a greater love of God, for on that weekend I had experienced God as Love at the center of reality and my life. From the convergence of those two desires, an intuition took root: If I could grasp the nature of marital love, that insight would guide me to greater love of God.

What moved my deep-seated intuition 40 years ago to today’s insight was reading “Will and Spirit” by Dr. Gerald G. May. The author was an expert in both human psychology and in spirituality. His analysis of both these subjects prompted me to make two discoveries. One, that the manifestations of love for both marital and divine love are basically the SAME; and two, that the manifestations are in reality a PROCESS—a transformative one at that.

As human beings, we have a mysterious, fundamental human longing for unconditional love. It manifests itself in different ways. In both marital and divine love, we experience narcissistic love, erotic love, compassionate love and agapic love.

Narcissistic Love. Hardly a true form of love, narcissistic love manifests itself in marital love when we are self-centered. Or when we seek to bolster our self-image. Or when we are more interested in receiving than in giving, more focused on self-preservation and aggrandizement than on the welfare of our spouse.

That is its manifestation in marital love. But can our love of God be narcissistic? Yes, when we adopt a coping strategy in our relationship with God. When we look to God only as the One who saves us from the problems and sufferings of life. This kind of mentality is hardly spirituality. Yet, religious institutions encourage it. The good news is that there is a redeeming quality in narcissistic love.

Erotic Love. As our empowering life force, erotic love is pleasure, is passion, is sexual that moves us to union with our spouse—and to the fullness of human life. In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says that we are born with fire in our bellies—eros—that drives us to love, beauty and creativity, or to destructiveness. Ultimately, it is what we do with that energy that matters.

What about our love of God? Can it be erotic? Should it be erotic? As erotic beings, we can’t love our spouses in one way and God in a different way. We have one mind-heart set for love. NOT a secular set to love our spouse, and a spiritual set to love God. Ultimately, spirituality seeks union with God—and with others. We must bring our erotic energy to bear on our spiritual life—in our prayer life and in our relations with others. Otherwise, our spiritual life will dry up.

The primary example of our need for erotic love is in our Eucharistic Celebrations. Jesus revolutionized public worship by creating a Love Meal intended to form the Beloved Community. Indeed, Jesus’ Love Meal is either an erotic experience or it is an experience that doesn’t nourish our relationship with God or our sisters and brothers. Unfortunately, the Church has turned Jesus’ Love Meal into a church service. We must make it happen for ourselves.

When does erotic love lead us astray? When we adopt a strategy of seeking emotional highs or irrational exuberance in our relationships with God and others. When we look at spiritual experiences as escapes from reality or allow the so-called “spiritual” to blind us to the problems and sufferings of others. Or when we are selective in our choices of persons to whom we relate.

Compassionate Love. In marital love, compassionate love is a committed, noncontrived giving of time, energy, attention and wealth to further the welfare and improve the life of our spouse. It flourishes when we have moved beyond the phase of seeing our spouse as the “intimate enemy” who must be controlled or manipulated to conform to our personalities. That breakthrough leads us to compassionate love of our spouse.

A similar breakthrough in our relationship with God opens us up when we have gone beyond strictly a need mentality or an escapist mentality. We must even eliminate a happiness mentality which conditions our relationship with God based on the proposition: if one lives one’s life correctly one will be happy. Not so. We experience negative feelings which rise from our human condition. Further, life provides us with many painful situations.

Like the marital life, the spiritual life requires us to experience purgation of those mentalities that prevent growth in love, hope and faith in God. The good news is that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, is an aggressive Lover who enlightens us and consoles us on our spiritual journey. Compassionate love of God blossoms in us when we discover that the Spirit of Love is at work in our lives and we foster that relationship.

Agapic Love. The previous manifestations of love—narcissistic, erotic, compassionate—are all conditional forms of love. Circumstances and personal whim can influence them. To a degree, our wills can control them. Self-serving motivations can enter into their expressions. But agapic love is ultimate, unconditional love. As such, it suffers from none of these defects. The only choice humans have in relation to agapic love, Dr. May writes, is whether or not to recognize its presence. We can neither magnify nor destroy it. That suggests to me that agapic love is pure gift, the gift of the Spirit of Love.

In both our marital and divine relationships, we can and should be open to reach the heights of agapic love. Dr. May gives us an insight into agapic love by contrasting it with erotic love. He states: “The world falls away in the ecstasy of erotic love. The ecstasy of agapic love is characterized by an awesome joining with all the rest of the world, becoming a part of it. In an erotic ‘high,’ the world disappears in love. In the spiritual ‘high,’ the world appears in love.” When marital love or divine love has brought us to moments of loving all beings and creation, we know that the Spirit has gifted us with agapic love.

Love’s Process. The above analysis suggests that manifestations of both human and divine love are basically the SAME. It also suggests a new perception of this mysterious phenomenon called “love.” First, the various manifestations of love are not stages at which we arrive at and must spend time. Ideally, love is a PROCESS—a flow from the narcissistic to the erotic, to the compassionate and to the agapic (if we are gifted). Second, seen in this light, love becomes our commitment to our spouse and God to surrender to love’s WHOLE process. That commitment and intentionality are our deepest expressions of marital and divine love.

We may begin with narcissistic love for both our spouse and God but we must strive for deeper love. What we can’t allow ourselves to do is to get “stuck” at any point in the love process. For example, we can’t allow ourselves to remain at the narcissistic, for that would be destructive of both human and divine relationships. Both our human and divine loves manifest the sensational—the highs of life. But we can’t allow ourselves to get stuck there. That would only block growth in our relationships. Further, couples must be capable of transcending their own relationships to reach out to others: that is the way the Spirit of Love operates—inviting us to compassionate and agapic love.

Love’s Transforming Power. Plutarch, the first-century Roman historian, recognized love’s process in his marriage and its transformative power. 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.”

Likewise, in the spiritual life the Spirit’s gifts of consolations (emotional highs) are joyful experiences on our spiritual journey to greater love, hope and faith. But the joy is not an end in itself. The gifts of consolations are invitations to transformation and spiritual growth.

What is the secret to love’s transforming power? Love generates psychic fire that is the agent of transformation—the fire of the Spirit of Love. However, that psychic fire is inflamed in committed unions. Committed unions—marital and divine loves—are the crucibles of love. Given that environment, love melts down our alienation from God, others and our spouses. That is why our divine union, such as in the Eucharist, and marital union are potentially so powerfully transformative.

Love’s Prelude. Since marital love and divine love are so similar, we can draw insights from either one and apply it to the other. From my pursuit of a deeper spiritual life, I have learned that it is what I do BEFORE a spiritual exercise that is most important. Here is what the spiritual life has taught me about love’s prelude for marital love and how I have applied it

One, we must approach both marital and divine union—conscious of their inherent mystery. As mystery, we are powerless to be the masters of our own experiences and must rely on the Spirit of Love. Before prayer or Eucharistic Celebrations, I remind myself that I have been programmed for relationship with an Infinite Being, an Infinite Lover, but I am powerless to live such a relationship without the Spirit’s help. Before marital union, I remind myself that my capacity to love is so deep within me that I am powerless to awaken it without the Spirit’s gift. Mystery, and the wonder that mystery evokes, helps prepare me for both divine and marital union.

Second, recognizing the mystery we are engaging in and our powerlessness in both divine and marital love helps us to experience self-emptying. We must strip ourselves of our masks (clothes are part of our masks), behind which we hide to enhance our false self. We must experience psychic nakedness. Then, we can put ourselves at the disposal of the beloved (human and divine), gifting ourselves, yielding ourselves, surrendering ourselves to the beloved’s invitation to union. We surrender into union.

Third, focusing on the transformative nature of both marital and divine love opens us up further to the mystery of our engagement. It is kind of like the leap of faith. We know that we are entering into a mysterious encounter and we believe that it will be transformative—how we don’t know. For divine union, I know from experience that making transformation of a personal defect my goal at Eucharistic Celebrations opens me up to the Spirit’s action and deepens my potential for union. For marital union, being aware of this union as being mysteriously transformative, helps us to experience more deeply our powerlessness and psychic nakedness that invite the Spirit of Love to gift us with unitive and agapic experiences.

Love’s Mystery. Love’s mystery begins with ourselves. Fr. Teilhard de Chardin has written that we are not human beings living a spiritual life. Rather, we are spiritual beings living a human life. Love’s mystery begins with our mysterious human nature.

This wisdom has been ignored when we have probed the mystery of marital love. Too much emphasis has been placed on biology and pop psychology to reveal the nature of marital love. Perhaps too the Church has taken possession of our understanding of divine love. As the result, for too long marital love and divine love have been isolated from one another. In reality, they enlighten and energize one another.

The Spirit of Love has used Dr. May’s book, Will and Spirit, to enable me to bring marital love and divine love together. My intuition 40 years ago was right. Grasping the nature of marital love guides us to greater love of God. But what has surprised me is how pursuit of a deeper love of God has revealed insights into marital love and has in fact reinforced that experience.

In the final analysis, the mystery of love is the mystery of the Spirit of Love. The Spirit pervades all of our life. The Spirit is the agent of all human creativity, all human inspirations, all human love’s aspirations.

When we attempt to relate to God, we find his infinity beyond our reach. The Spirit of Love makes encounter possible. Likewise, when we attempt to express marital love, we find our capacity to love is beyond our reach. The Spirit of Love makes it possible. Sure signs of the Spirit’s action can be seen when our marital and divine loves are transformative and transcending—driving us to go beyond our loves to love all beings and all creation. Indeed, the mystery of love is the mystery of the Spirit of Love.

Spirit’s Sculpture

StTeresa (2)A picture is worth a thousand words. The great 17th Century artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, did it one dimension better. He did it in stone. Bernini captured the essence of the spiritual life with his sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. Here he dramatically depicts the spiritual life as our relationship with the Spirit who aggressively pursues us.

This sculpture is displayed in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Bernini has an angel stand in for the Spirit. An angel with a smile. The angel has penetrated the heart of St. Theresa with an arrow. The arrow is the Spirit’s invitation to growth.  She is in ecstasy. Surrender to the Spirit’s invitations is joyful. Absolute surrender is absolutely joyful!

Steeped in Jesuit spirituality, Bernini would have been aware that the Spirit dialogues with us, not through words but through our feelings. The Spirit uses the gift of consolations (emotional highs) to invite us to greater love, hope and faith. Not only for St. Theresa, but for all of us. We can project ourselves into the dynamic action of this sculpture.

Bernini is unconventional. He avoids the traditional image of the dove for the Spirit. Who can relate to a dove?  So he focuses on the Spirit’s action. Bernini has given us a way to visualize our relationship with the Spirit and fire up our spirituality.

Spirit at Work. Let us visualize the Spirit directing his arrows of invitations to our hearts for greater love, hope and faith. The Spirit’s arrow of faith is the Spirit inviting us to discover his presence where our bodily eyes cannot see him, and through his Word in our hearts to reach an intelligence that no human reasoning can provide, according to Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ.

The Spirit’s arrow of hope invites us to a certainty beyond what we can calculate. In earthly matters, Fr. Orsy states, “When I say ‘I hope’, I express an expectation that some future event will take a favorable turn for me. I may have a burning wish that it should be so, but I have no certainty.” By contrast, with divine hope the Spirit invites us to an awareness that we already possess the Kingdom of God in our hearts. “The final outcome is certain; its time and manifestation have not been revealed.”

The Spirit’s arrow of love invites us to learn the ways of love. Growth in love make us generous givers beyond any human measure. These three virtues are not just individual, unconnected virtues but the components of a dynamic spiritualization process. Faith generates knowledge. Hope provides the energy that love needs for its operation. For the most part, love is the driving force in this process.

Consolation at Work. If your reaction to this sculpture is: “That’s not my spiritual life, a life of ecstasy,” you have missed the point. You have to go beyond the sculpture’s setting to your own spiritual life. Bernini highlights the relationship between the Spirit and the individual soul of every man, every woman. We may never experience ecstasy, but we should be open to and eager for the Spirit’s gift of consolations.

The Spirit is smiling. He has gifts of consolation to give us. Spiritual consolation is experienced on two levels of our consciousness, according to Jules Toner, SJ. One, we experience our love, hope or faith increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness. Two, we recognize feelings of peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like—flowing from our spiritual experiences.

Most likely, you have experienced such moments in your spiritual life. You may not have attributed these joyous experiences and feelings to the Spirit, unless you are living a deep relationship with the Spirit. But the Spirit is making it happen.

Note: when we are the source of our consolations, they are not the work of the Spirit. Fr. Toner writes: “…feelings can be to a large extent or even wholly non-spiritual when the subjective ground is not living faith but only sensitivity to poetry, great thoughts, music, the charm of human persons.” Discernment is needed. Our awareness of what is taking place within us can help us convert our experience into a truly spiritual encounter.

Pursuing the Pursuer. Bernini’s sculpture is telling us that the Spirit is an erotic God. The Spirit aggressively pursues us. Each day let us pursue the Pursuer. Not for his consolations. That is the Spirit’s gift to give or not to give. But for deeper relationship with the Spirit.

Daily I recall Bernini’s sculpture in my imagination. I envision the smile of the angel, the face of St. Theresa. And I pray: “Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, direct your arrows toward my heart to awaken it to greater love, hope and faith.”

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.

 

Variety of Love Relationships

Married life is an excellent model for our relationship with God. For both relationships are centered in love. Both relationships take on many forms. In the marital relationship, couples are friends, lovers, mentors, helpers, economic partners, spiritual partners. And there is mystery pervading the relationship, the mystery of relating to one who is other than and different from oneself.

Likewise, our relationship with God can assume many different forms, one of which should include a deep sense of mystery. Perhaps, because the human heart has so many desires, we seek in the other or the Other a response to our variety of longings.

Further, for both marital and divine relationships, variety is not only a possibility; it is also the spice of life and a sure sign of a fully alive relationship. Also, for both there is the need for discernment to discover our hearts’ longings and the appropriate form of relationship for any given moment. In the marital relationship, discernment must take into account the heart wishes of both parties. In the spiritual relationship, we must not only pursue relationship with God, but we must always leave ourselves open for the Spirit’s prompts.

Some common ways of relating to God are: companionship, ongoing incarnation, communal presence, mentor, divine eros, romance, divine love center, compassionate presence, cosmic presence, ultimate beauty, and Mystery:

  • We relate to God as companion when we hang out with Jesus, who lives on in the Risen Christ, and experience his companionship as we enter into prayer or study or reach out to others in our efforts to bring them the Good News.
  • We relate to God as ongoing incarnation when we however briefly act beyond our capacities to be Jesus to others.
  • We relate to God as communal presence when we affirm the Risen Christ’s presence in community empowering us to growth through one another with the Spirit’s help.  
  • We relate to God as mentor and guide when we connect with the Spirit who conducts constantly a dialogue with us to let us know about what God wants of us. It is the Spirit too who helps us discern the movements of our hearts, whether they be holy or unholy, calculated only to hinder the work of the Spirit within us.
  • We relate to God as divine eros when we sense that the Spirit is directing arrows of love toward us to awaken us to the possibilities of love and to call us out of our tombs into new life like Lazarus.
  • We relate to God in a romantic way when we increasingly see the possibilities of divine love in the articles of our faith—Jesus’ birth, life, death, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of the Risen Christ. Or when we increasingly appreciate the abundance of God’s gift to us in creation. Or when we increasingly grow in faith and see God as our ultimate source of being and love and hope and enlightenment.
  • We relate to God as divine love center when we encounter God at the core of our being radiating out beams of love through our minds, hearts and wills so that we may see all through the eyes of love.
  • We relate to God as compassionate presence when we are fully present with a caring heart and attentive mind to “receive” God who is infinitely present in us and all creation with infinite love and infinite attention. And we gift ourselves to the Giver of all gifts.
  • We relate to God as cosmic presence when we encounter God’s presence and love radiating out through ourselves and all creation.
  • We relate to God as ultimate beauty when we encounter beauty in the arts, in nature, in other people and attribute that beauty to God.
  • We relate to God as Mystery when we surrender in absolute wonder and speechless awe to the One who transcends our knowing, who is beyond our understanding, as we do in centering prayer.

The possibilities of practicing relationship with God are endless. The very variety opens up for us countless points of encounter that can fill our day with God’s presence. The variety also gives balance to our relationship with God. The danger of focusing on one type of relationship is that we may make an idol of it. Worse, we may feel we own God, leaving us unprepared for the inevitable shocks of life.

Most importantly, practicing the variety of relationships with God drives us to engage in the Dance of the Divine Dance—Love radiating out, Love inviting and Love taking charge—three relationships flowing into one continuous movement of love, inspiration and action toward and for others.

 

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.

 

 

Seize the Sacred

Church-going can be dangerous for our spiritual lives. If it leads us to believe that sacredness exists only in church buildings, and dedicated clergy performing sacred rituals. For the Jews in Jesus’ time, God’s dwelling place was in the Temple in Jerusalem. Not so for us. The temple, the sacred, exists in all life, in all persons, in all creation and is available to all. The challenge is to be mindful of our own sacredness and that of others, including creation, and the sacredness of our everyday lives. Then, seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple Within Us. The Risen Jesus has made temples of all of us. This Divine Lover, the Source of all being, exists at the very core of our personhood, radiating love energies through the Holy Spirit to our minds, hearts and wills, so that we will see all through the eyes of love. In the prayer to the Holy Spirit, we pray: “Kindle within us the fire of Your love.” We have as our companion the Holy Spirit, Divine Eros, who showers us with invitations and inspirations. Further, the Risen Jesus carries on his Incarnation within us and lives on through us, gifting us with Jesus’ life energies, love force and powers. There is no question of our sacredness.

However, we must first become deeply aware and confident of our own sacredness or we will never be able to share it. Moreover, we must be confident that our sacredness is accessible, that we can reach down into the Divine Love Center at the core of our being and seize our sacredness so as to share it with others. It is through the practice of centering down that we can gain such confidence. By centering down we learn to connect with our Divine Love Center and unleash the divine love energies within us.                 .

By centering down, I mean practicing being fully present with all our hearts and minds in our encounters with God, people, creation and life experiences. Then seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple of Others. We can look upon our daily conversations with others as just part of our social relationships. But there is something deeper here. There is a sacredness in all of life including our everyday dialogues. Theologian Gregory Baum points out that the same Word in Scripture that summons, judges, reveals, and provokes decisions is the same Word in human dialogue that reveals to us who we are. Our conversations with others judge us, they summon us to grow, they demand a reply. The Spirit carries on our ongoing redemption in our everyday dialogues with others. However, we must be keenly aware that we are encountering the sacred. Then seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple of Creation. Fr. William Short, OFM states that God formed the world through the Word. Since the Word is the crowning glory of creation, “God makes light and darkness, trees, stones and fish, all the creatures, according to the Word as model, or blueprint or form.” Each being—living and nonliving—in some way resembles the model who is Christ. All creation was created for Christ and manifests Christ in some way. All creation is sacred.

Again, we must be keenly aware that we are encountering the sacred in creation. Approach creation contemplatively—being fully present with all our hearts and minds. We will find that creation has a gift to give us—the presence, beauty and wisdom of God. So seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple of Time.  God dwells in the fullness of time. But for us human beings, time is one moment after another. So the Holy Spirit encounters us where we are—in one moment at a time. The Spirit at the core of our being communicates his inspirations and invitations one moment at a time. The Spirit pervades all our moments of time. All moments are sacred. Spiritual writers call this spiritual reality the “sacrament of the present moment.”

A Roman poet wrote: “Carpe diem.” Translated literally, seize the day. More freely, seize the pleasures of the moment. He encouraged his readers to make the most of life, because there is nothing after life. While we disagree with his philosophy, his advice is good for the spiritual life. We find that the opportunity to seize the sacred usually comes in a wink of the eye. It may come simply in the moment when we decide to step outside our pew at Mass and give a lonely person across the aisle our blessing at the Kiss of Peace. We have seized our sacredness to share it with another. We have seized the sacred in the present moment!

 

 

Jesus’ Transformation

In the early 1900’s, the psychologist William James wrote “Variety of Religious Experiences”, the classic study of everyday “mystical” experiences. He recounts the transforming moments in people’s lives when they discovered deeply the presence of the divine in their lives and the impact such peak experiences had on them. They were found to be a relatively common experience among common people. Simply a surprising gift given without any concern for merit or learning.

Might not we suppose that Jesus, being the most human of human beings, must also have experienced such a peak experience that became a transforming moment in his life? I believe so. Therefore, I want to share the transforming moment in my life and attempt to draw parallel insights about Jesus.

In My Life. My transforming experience took place on a weekend retreat. I had brought to the retreat a lot of psychological baggage. On the first morning of the weekend, the presentation dwelt on our “persona”, the masks that we wear to hide our true selves so we can project a public self of self-esteem and confidence. During my meditation on this subject, I saw clearly the pockets of self-hate in my life as if they were on stage.

I became angry with myself that I had allowed so much self-hate to operate in my subconscious. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And suddenly I broke out into ecstatic joy. At that moment, I knew beyond doubt that love was at the heart of reality, Whom I called God, that all creation was lovable, that I was lovable. Instantly, my life vision was transformed—the way I saw myself, God, others, life, creation.

In Jesus’ Life. As Jesus studied the Scriptures to learn about God’s relationship with Israel and, more importantly, to learn about his mission and destiny, what must he have felt when he read the words of the prophet Isaiah 50:60 describing the obedience of the Lord’s servant? “I bared my back to those who beat me. I did not stop them when they insulted me, when they pulled out the hairs of my beard and spit in my face.”

Jesus was no dummy. He realized that those words applied to him and that he would become the suffering servant of God. Might Jesus have wondered to himself: “Is God a God of vengeance? Am I to be the victim of God’s wrath?”

I believe that it was only through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit that Jesus came to discover God as Compassion Who loved all beings and creation with unconditional love. What the Old Testament did not reveal to Jesus, his contemplative prayer did. It was at that point in Jesus’ life that he must have come to know beyond doubt that God was love, that all creation was lovable, and that he was the beloved Son of God. In that moment, Jesus experienced transformation.

More than ever before, in that special moment Jesus began to enjoy the unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience, the experience of God as a compassionate Father. Perhaps too it was at that moment of transformation that Jesus decided to quit the quiet, private life ofNazarethand embark on his public life and divine mission.

Transformation’s Effects. Transforming experiences are empowering, because they are a kind of a death/resurrection experience—moving one from self-hate to self-love, from self-ignorance to self-knowledge, from fear of God to deep faith in God as Jesus experienced.

Transforming experiences are vision changing experiences. When I returned from my transforming experience, I saw people as persons. My attitude toward women changed dramatically. They were persons, not sex objects. I was aware that all persons experience the pain of being human, as I had, and deserved my compassion. Likewise, Jesus too had experienced the pain of being human and his newly acquired solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all persons. The driving force behind his mission would become compassion for others: he would liberate them from all forms of oppression.

Transforming experiences open our eyes to creation. When I returned from my transforming experience, I was moved by a deep eros for creation. I wanted to touch the leaves of trees. I wanted to feel the essences of things, such as trying to feel the essence of water that was real but could not be grasped. I can easily imagine Jesus at night marveling at the moonbeams shimmering on the Sea of Galilee, or being filled with wonder at the mighty olive trees.

This erotic awareness of nature soon became an awareness of the gift dimension of creation and life. Through this discovery of the gift dimension of creation I experienced creation reverberating with God’s presence, love and attention. Creation gave me the gift of God’s presence. I felt that I was surrounded by God’s love in creation. Likewise, from human experience we can deduce that Jesus must have experienced the presence, the beauty and the wisdom of God in creation.

Transformation and Spiritual Life. What is the nature of transforming experiences?  When we discover that Love is at the heart of reality, we discover that Love Center that resides within us at the core of our personhood and Who radiates out the energies of love through the pathways of our minds, hearts and wills, and makes everything lovable to us—we are lovable, others are lovable, creation is lovable.

For a short but ecstatic period of time, I felt driven by my Love Center, Divine Eros. I believe that Jesus experienced this kind of transformation, only he was able to hold onto it and to live fully a life of love. However, I have come to believe that such transforming experiences are not just one-time episodes in our lives to be enjoyed for a brief time.  Rather, they can happen many times and each time they once again disclose to us the  depths of our spiritual reality and set a goal for our spiritual lives.

It is as if each day our love capacity falls to the default position of our self-centeredness, and we must raise ourselves to God-centeredness. Each day, we must recreate ourselves from the inside out; we must connect with our center, our Love Center. Each day we must rediscover our Love Center at the core of our personhoods and let it radiate out through our minds, hearts and wills. Each day we must re-experience our transformation.

 

 

Divine Eros

How do you address the Holy Spirit in your prayer life? I call upon the Spirit as my Higher Power, my inner guide, my mentor. But upon examination, I find terms of love are missing. My perception of the Spirit? The One who gets things done. When I need guidance as to what God wants of me, I turn to the Spirit. Or if I need courage to evangelize, I call upon the Spirit.

Of course, I am aware that in the Prayer to the Holy Spirit, we ask that the Spirit: “Kindle in us the fire of Your love.” I am aware too that theologians describe the life of the Trinity as the Spirit flowing from the mutual love of the Father and the Son.  Obviously, the Spirit has a lot to do with love, even the fire of love. But that perception has not penetrated my spiritual life. How do we explain this?

For the longest time, I suspect, we have attributed the actions of the Spirit to the term “grace”, the unmerited assistance given persons by God for their conversion and sanctification. In this view, there is a Higher Power who makes things happen, for which we are grateful, but not quite the Lover in our minds.

Further, the Spirit has been AWOL (absent without leave) for almost 2,000 years of Christian spirituality, until the Charismatic Movement rediscovered the Spirit for us in the Sixties. No doubt, the Spirit’s absence created a certain awkwardness of language. Instead of perceiving the Spirit as the source of loving assistance, we have lived our spiritual lives with the abstract concept of grace. Our spiritual love life needs rekindling.

Fr. Jules J. Toner, SJ states that faith is the radical work of the Spirit, and charity is the principal and crowning work of the Spirit. Let me suggest that we can come closer to an appreciation of the Spirit’s work if we recall Eros from Greek mythology. Eros is the son of the goddess of love who excites erotic love in gods and persons with his arrows. In our times, he gets a lot of publicity around Valentine’s Day.

For us, the Spirit is Divine Eros. The Spirit’s arrows are loving invitations to us to grow in faith in God, in the Historical/Risen Jesus and in the Spirit as well. These loving invitations are the calls of a Lover, calling us to expand our capacity for love. It is the Spirit who awakens our hearts to the possibilities of love each day. It is the Spirit who calls us each day out of our tombs to experience new life like Lazarus. It is the Spirit who invites us daily to live a life vision based on the primacy of love, the radical life vision that Jesus manifested for us.

The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts through gifts of consolation. Through these gifts we experience our living faith increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness. Through the Spirit’s consolations, we recognize that something beautiful is happening to us as we experience peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like. When that happens, we know that we have been struck with the Spirit’s arrows. We know that Divine Eros, the Spirit of Love, is at work.

Of course, we cannot always expect such consolations, because they are the Spirit’s gifts. Let us be grateful when they come; in dry periods look forward with expectancy.

I believe that the Song of Songs in the Bible, which describes a torrid love relationship, is an allegory for the love relationship between the Spirit and ourselves. It is full of the language of desire and passion. Saints like Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross used this book to grow their spirituality. For the essence of the spiritual life is the heart’s surrender. Yet, we have no control over our hearts. We need to depend totally on the Spirit, Divine Eros, to direct arrows at our hearts to awaken them to greater love of God and others.

Perceiving the Spirit as Divine Eros radically changes our relationship with the Spirit and the tone of our spiritual life. Not that our perceptions of the Spirit as our Higher Power or mentor and guide are incorrect. They are correct, but they energize the faculties of our will and our mind, whereas the perception of the Spirit as Divine Eros energizes our heart which is really surrender of our total person to the Spirit—heart, mind and will.

If Cursillistas could discover the Spirit as Divine Eros, the Cursillo Movement would be revolutionized. If the Church proclaimed the Spirit as Divine Eros, it would be as if the Risen Jesus launched the Spirit of Love into the world for the very first time.

 

 

Growing Faith

Because the gift of faith provides us with our Christian Vision, it is the engine that drives our living the spiritual growth process and our growth in relationship to Christ. One would think that high priority would be given to growing in faith, especially when the business of religion is all about mystery─the mystery of who God is, the mystery of what God has done for us.

Doesn’t just the opposite happen? Faith becomes some kind of a buffer against spiritual mysteries. If some dogma is a matter of faith, we don’t have to think about it seriously. Or worse, we speak about dogmas, as if we fully understand them. This mindset leads us to pray without meaning or heart. The end result is that we tend to take the mystery out of the mysteries in the spiritual life. Yet, in other phases of our lives, mystery is the source of wonder, romance and creativity.

Wonderful Faith. Prayer is a profound act of faith, and grows our faith. However, to bring energy to our spiritual life, we must acknowledge, accept and celebrate mystery in our prayer. We can do this by creating psychic distance between ourselves and dogmas so that we can rejoice in their mystery. For example: “Jesus, You are God incarnate. How incredible! HOW WONDERFUL!” Or, “Spirit of Jesus, You are my Higher Power Who guides and enlightens me. How preposterous! HOW WONDERFUL!”

Rather than ignore or run away from mystery, we must embrace it with all our mind, heart and will. By nature, we are controllers. We want to control everything. Mystery affronts our rationality. By rejoicing in mystery, we are acting against our nature. However, in this way, we unleash wonder, romance and creativity in our spiritual lives.

Reinforced Faith. Our faith gives us our Christian Vision. By raising our awareness of the Christian Vision as life’s ultimacy, we reinforce our faith. Prayer is both an expression of our Christian Vision and a plea for greater faith in that Vision. When we pray: “My God, be the center of my life”, we actualize our faith that God is the center of our lives and we pray for God-centeredness. Our faith is reinforced!

Prayer seeking to see God present in everyday life is an extension of the Christian Vision, and grows our faith. It can be simply expressed: “Lord, help me to believe that my life-events are Spirit-laden, that my crosses are the Spirit’s whispers, and that my deep, positive feelings and desires are the Spirit’s prompts to take action or to change my values. And help me to be open to the Spirit’s presence.”

Further, kerygmatic evangelization, radiating out our faith, hope and love, reinforces our faith in the Christian Vision by  proclaiming the Good News.

Also, we grow our faith by living a life of radical love, for the theological virtues are a dynamic process, each impacting the other. In Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, a wise man says of faith: “Love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you will be convinced of the existence of God.”

Superficial Faith. Our level of understanding of what we believe impacts the potential level of our faith. Unfortunately, spiritual truths do not carry labels indicating the appropriate level at which they ought to be considered. For example, one can understand the Incarnation as an historical event and that would be correct, but our understanding would be superficial. At a higher level, one understands the Incarnation as the ongoing process of the Risen Christ living within us. That understanding has the potential to deepen our faith in Christ dramatically, because it helps us to enter more deeply into our relationship with Christ. An inadequate understanding of spiritual truths results in an impoverished view of the Christian Vision, and thus, an impoverished faith.