Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sold On Love

By Jacob Crisp

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." - Jimi Hendrix

I was sold on Love before I was sold on Christianity. It seems that among the Abrahamic faiths, that the teaching is mostly centered in Love. But in practice we can see conflict. I have often wondered how we as a planet are to reconcile these three traditions. With the current state of U.S. conflicts in the Middle East it seems to me that at the heart of the issue, it’s mainly a religious conflict, at least it’s marketed as one. I cannot seem to wrap my mind around it. It's like brothers fighting over an estate that their father has left behind, a war of the "true religion". I don’t buy it. I think that if we trace each tradition to essentials, we find love and tolerance at its heart. Where the face of God is truly revealed, its character flourishes.

In Christianity the teaching is obvious; love your enemy, love your neighbor as thyself, etc. “Well who's my neighbor they asked?”, Jesus tells the Jews that their neighbor is the ethnic group that they find so reviling at that time in history, the Samaritans. Even the one that doesn’t believe like you do, or worship the way that you do, is in fact your neighbor, and should be loved. Does anyone else see the unitive message in this teaching?

What about, “whatever you do unto the LEAST of these you do unto me”? Whatever you do to the least in humanity you do it to me, because we are all connected, and what you do them you do to me, and what you do to me, you do to you, because I am with you, in you, through you, above you, and below you.

"We must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love". Saint Vincent de Paul sums up something that modern Christianity seems to miss, that we are all children of God, and that Being, whatever you choose to call it, loves powerfully.

"We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others". St. Clare of Assisi also points out that we must become our own individual loving consciousness through following Jesus, not to become Jesus, but to become like Jesus, in the way that he always showed divine love and compassion.

In the Islamic tradition, I believe, one has to dig around a bit more, and read behind the text to get a better understanding and to find love. It seems that the prophet Muhammad realized that without any internal contemplation or devotion that love doesn't surface. We find in the Qur'an the following; “Allah will not give mercy to anyone, except those who give mercy to other creatures”. Here the goal is to have mercy on all of God's creatures, more importantly today, on all of God's creation. However, anyone sincerely on a spiritual journey knows that mercy is bred from compassion, and compassion from love.

In the mystic tradition of Islam, the Sufi have long been a force of love, compassion, peace and tolerance in their respective tradition. Most notable of all Sufi is Rumi. Rumi has this to say about love: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”. In his experience, our essence is love, and we only need to purge the negativity from our being in order to embrace this love. If love is our inherent nature, then God has placed that love within us. Allah is often called "most loving", with this in mind we can see that at the spiritual heart of the Islamic faith a radical love is being called forth, or manifested.

In Judaism, we have the wisdom scriptures, or the ecclesiastical writings. This covers the book of Wisdom, Proverbs, Psalms, the Song of Solomon, etc. We also see the character of the divine shining forth in other passages like this passage in the book of Jerimiah: "I have loved you with an everlasting love". It seems that God has this intense love for the Jewish people, in fact it is an eternal love. "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you but [reverently] to fear the Lord your God, [that is] to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your [mind and] heart and with your entire being". In this passage from Deuteronomy we are told that love for our creator is to fill our entire being, to infuse all of our actions, words and deeds. It seems we are being told to live in a state of continuous love for our creator.

When we love God with this transcendent love, we find that we cannot help but love the Creation which God deems "good" in the Genesis story. We also know that by serving others, we serve God. By helping those in society who are estranged, broken, sick, and ostracized, we are in fact helping God. Panentheism is not an abstract concept to the Jewish tradition. We read that heaven is God's throne, and earth His footstool. This implies that God is throughout creation loving intimately. So we find in Judaism a profound love at its center, from which everything else is summed up. Rabbi Hillel has this to say: “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — [and now] go study”. Don't do anything hateful, rather do everything with love.

The ego cannot love unconditionally, but through our purification, and drawing nearer to God, it seems that the Divine begins to work in us, and through us. Grace comes into to play, we are given the grace by God, in order to fulfill these powerfully moving commandments. We are given grace so that we might be set free of the ego, of the self, so that God can begin to work out our higher purpose that we were made for: radical love.

The traditions, and their exponents, as well as their historic practices, all declare that in fact there is truth in the sacred teachings, namely that we can in fact begin to move toward a life centered in the powerful, "everlasting love". This has to be the basis if we are to see any kind of peace in our current religious conflicts. Theology must be left at the front door, and the practices of compassion, love, and tolerance are to be fully implemented in dialogue if we are to actually have a conversation. We must not speak of how we have defined God, but how we experience God, and how the Divine defines us. Meister Eckhart says: “Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language”. This profound statement shows that at the heart of spiritual traditions, the commonalities of those who have experienced God in a personal, real way actually say extremely similar things. There is a Hindu teaching that says: “the truth is one, but the wise call it many names”. It’s time for shared experiences rather than warring theologies.
Everyone one is entitled to his or her own beliefs about the nature of the Divine, however if we do not have the experience of God working in our lives, and working through us for others, then our theology is nothing. "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing". This scripture from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in its thirteenth chapter sums up the basis of my thoughts: without love I have nothing. I believe this is true for everyone, we are a nothing planet, in a nothing solar system, in nothing society, in nothing religions, if we don’t have love. It truly is the force that governs our spirits and binds meaning to our existence.

Jacob is a student of religions and philosophy, both scholastically and independently. Having found the heart of Christianity through the lens of Yogic spirituality, he chooses to call himself a Christian-Hindu, although he prefers not to have labels. He finds that his roots stay in the Christian tradition while he reaches to other traditions and practices, to help him further explore the depth of his faith and his spirit. He believes that the Divine has given us several paths toward itself, and self-realization, so that we might work together. He explores the idea of inter-spirituality, not only intellectually, but practically as well.

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