Love before Knowledge

We are now at the beginning of October. I have always celebrated this week when we honour those special saints Thérèse and Francis of Assisi. They specialised in living the way of unconditional love. They knew spiritual things, as St Paul put it, ‘in a spiritual way’. With Teilhard de Chardin, they regarded love as the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious personal and cosmic force. Teilhard’s wish was that humanity would perceive the reality of the universe, and that of every human soul, shining in the spirit and through the flesh. Carlo Carretto tries to find examples of pure love. ‘When a parent gazes into the eyes of their child, they will, if they look carefully, see the mystery of the infinite, of the unfathomable, of the ungraspable. For an instant we have shared in God’s creative joy, we have touched the infinite.’51 So much divine unconditional love in the eyes of a small child!

The life and love of the human heart is not about knowledge. ‘Information is not transformation,’ Thomas Merton reminds us. It took years to understand this, wrote Richard Rohr, that love precedes knowledge. During these long nights as I struggle with the ultimate meaning of my inner demons and outer diminishments, of my failure to understand God’s presence in what is happening to me, I’m sure that what I seek is beyond thought, reason, and intelligence. It is found, I’m discovering, and only vaguely, in another place. ‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known myself.’ (1 Cor 13: 12)

When the saints say that we belong to God by way of participation rather than knowledge or religious behaviour, by experience rather than obedience, I try to see my dark and bright situations, my shocking upset, in terms of God’s own light and darkness. Through it all I remembered the words of Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan, ‘God is Love, Lover and Beloved’. Most Western mystics exemplified contemplation, as did Jesus, much more than they directly spoke about it. It is caught rather than taught. Many Catholic Christians have long forgotten this fundamental truth, and that is why reclaiming good theology and its practice is now so important. And so I turn to meditation or contemplation as my saviour, my true vision, my sacramental second-sight. It is where all the deepest differences and paradoxes, where thinking and feeling are held together.

As I awake to another troubled day I remember that great suffering and great love can nourish within us the same mind, which is in ‘Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2: 5-11). In fact Rohr would say that at this moment, the incarnate Christ himself is thinking in us, through us – and as us. It is because Incarnation means that now the essence of God is revealed in our humanity, the divine heart beating in time and tune in our human one, the true face of God in our very deepest selves. Because the revelation of Incarnation is of an indwelling God, the core of our deepest self, we often fail to recognise God’s loving and intimate presence precisely because the Mystery is living so close to us. We are still looking for a non-existent God ‘out there’.

Faith in God is not just about believing in doctrines or spiritual ideas. It is to have confidence in love itself, in reality itself, in what actually happens to us as the evolution of life unfolds, bringing intolerable pain and much joy. This is the meaning of the Incarnation according to Rohr. God is in everything, revealed in all things even through the tragic and sad, as the revolutionary doctrine of the cross reveals. I spend so much time these long days trying to figure out whether I should pray for the lifting of this cross from my shoulders, or pray to accept what life brings, which is the unfolding of God’s evolving and loving plan for me. What is, is love, so much so that even my current experience of fear, loss, death is being used for purposes of transformation into love. How then can I pray to God to have all of this grace-bearing experience of the cross miraculously removed from me when it is God’s own unfolding self that brings this heavily disguised gift of salvation? Created as we are in God’s image, who and what we truly are is love, each of us revealing it in our own particular way; in cancer and in health.

(Dancing to my Death p169-170)