A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog which you can access on my site entitled, Learning to Love. I liked the topic so much that I turned it into a book with almost the same title. Learning to Love: A Lay Cistercian reflects on the art of loving spiritually as Christ has loved us. When I was growing up (actually, I am still growing), the book that tickled my fancy was a popular one by Erich Fromm entitled the Art of Loving. His premise was that human love is not inherited but must be learned. He goes on to give what authentic love is and what is not authentic. He is one of the ten influential writers who have left their imprint on how I view reality. I had a problem with Fromm’s arguments, as I understood them, they did not go far enough to encapsulate the spiritual universe. You see, I am a three universe guy (physical, mental, and spiritual) not just a two universe one (physical and mental universes only). This is a paradigm I use to reflect on reality, also informed by what I hope I have become by learning about spirituality from the Cistercian Way, (silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community) as a professed Lay Cistercian of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia.
In one of my recent Lectio Divina meditations on Phil. 2:5, my mind was just sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter, waiting for Christ to come by for a chat, when the thought popped into my mind, if we must learn how to love, then Christ can also teach us what love is, fierce love. The Art of Spiritual Love is learning to love others as Christ loved us. What follows is an excerpt from my book of the same name detailing what I discovered about what it means for Christ to have first loved us so that we might love fiercely (spiritually) and not just love as the World identifies it. See what you think. One of the indicators of Christ’s love for us is longing to love.
LONGING TO LOVE
One of the lesser known aspects of love is longing. It is one of those words that elicits more of a passionate response to something rather than an intellectual one. Is it possible for Christ to long to love us? Christ was like us in all things. We have a hint of the love God had for us when we read that little understood story in Luke 2.
The Boy Jesus in the Temple
41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[l] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[m] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[n] and in divine and human favor.
What has always puzzled me about this story is not the story itself but the fact that Luke thought it was important enough to place it in the early life of Christ. Nothing goes into Scripture unless it has a meaning that, not putting it there, would hurt the readers. This would be the difference between heresy and truth.
Read Chapters 1 and 2 of Luke with this perspective. It described the birth of Christ and his birthright, then all of a sudden there is this story of a 12-year-old boy being lost. There is no Amber alert to notify of a lost child. If you are a mother or dad, you know what this means and especially how it feels, when you go to the Mall and lose your child for even a second. You panic, you frantically look around, straining to see your child somewhere, anywhere. The wife blames the husband for losing the child, the husband, infuriated, continues to look, this time split up from his spouse. Do you feel the emotions at work? You will not rest until your child is safe in your protective custody. It is off-the-scale emotion and exactly what Luke wants us to try to grasp. In the midst of this high drama, this maelstrom of human feelings is Jesus, cool, calm, and collected, teaching the elders. Do you notice something wrong about this whole scenario?
A couple of things are out-of-place. The boy is lost and when found, he is a young and inexperienced 12-year-old teaching old and worn veterans of the Torah and Jewish Customs. The reason Jesus is teaching others is another emotion at work in the midst of chaos. Jesus longs to begin the mission of His Father, a strong desire, a passion that is enough for him to risk the safety of leave his mother and father to fulfill a call inside him, an insatiable one, something so compelling that he risks leaving the security of his parents (Phil 2:5-12) to do the will of his Heavenly Father. The writer of this story wants us to feel the emotion of Mary and Joseph, but also the conflicting longing in the heart of Jesus to do the will of His Father. On first glance, Jesus seems to disobey his mom and dad. His answer seems flippant and not at all what a perfect Jesus would say to perfect parents. He tells them he must be in his Father’s house, but isn’t Joseph is his Father? What is going on?. Like a lightning bolt out of clear, blue sky, this did not make sense to Mary, Luke tells us she did not understand what he was saying but yet she treasured his words in her heart. The closure of the story or its point is that is that Jesus went home with his mom and dad was obedient to them. The story is an enigma inside a riddle. It does not fit within the context of a normal childhood, so why would the St. Luke think it important enough to tell this story? One thing I thought about was, the question from Mary and Joseph comes from humans, but the response from Jesus is from God. It is a lesson for Mary and Joseph as much as it is for us. He taught all of us that God’s ways are not human ways. The story is about intense Christ longing to be in his Father’s house and do the will of His father so much that he seemingly disobeys his natural birth parents to begin to fulfill the reason he became one of us. (Phil 2:5-12) This is the longing of one who loves himself to the exclusion of others, even though people around him might not quite understand fully what is going on. It is like the Mystery of Faith. We experience it but may take several years for the experience percolate through the filters of meaning.
You would think that the conclusion to this story, the crescendo leading up to the point that Jesus was speaking for His Heavenly Father would lead to a conversion of the old, devout Jewish scholars, or even an indication that his mother and father got the point. No one noticed the point, so it must have been a learning point for readers of Luke that Christ became obedient to his Father (God as well as his mom and dad) and postponed what was a triumphant and out-of-place event into one of doing God’s will. This reminded me of Jesus in Garden oo Gethsemane and the temptation to “let this cup pass from me”. This time, the response was also one of humility and obedience, ” not my will but yours be done.” Jesus increased in wisdom and favor as a result. Between the time of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple to the Garden of Gethsemane, God taught us how to love fiercely, with longing, but a longing containing the price for our redemption, death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-12)
As a Lay Cistercian, I realize that what I saw when I was younger about life and love was emotional, but lacked context and refinement. It wasn’t bad as much as incomplete, or, as I like to think of myself now, just plain dumb. I had the bones but no muscle, blood or organs. When I look at what God is trying to do to help us understand our humanity and how we can love God with all our heart all our mind and all our strength, I realize that it is by loving in the “here and now” and realizing meaning from the “there and then” that is the longing that I seek. Practicing love means just that, we are asked to also love our neighbor, not just now but…Forever. When any of us practices love, spiritual love, we grow in grace and favor before God and humans.
The reason I find Lay Cistercian so compelling is the emphasis on silence and solitude, on practicing love, on making all things new, on learning how to love in a School of Spiritual Love.
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology