For some time now, I have noticed myself under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I know that because I have begun to recognize the Holy Spirit speaking to me through others. I have given up about approaching the Spirit with my requests. Now, I just sit there and wait. Almost immediately, thoughts come to my mind, based on my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5).
I know that Christ came not only to tell us about the love of God has for us, but also to make us adopted sons and daughters of the Father. What does any of this mean to someone who is foraging through the dark forests and travailing the barren deserts of today’s landscape of hatred and vengeance that seems to overtake the love and peace of Christ just like kudzu? It is in the titanic battle between the World and the Spirit that the art of contemplative spirituality makes the most sense to me. I woke up to contemplative penetration into the meaning of love quite late in my life, actually with my entry into the disciplines of St. Benedict, the Cistercian Order (Trappists), and my resting place, Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery. http://www.trappist.net. I am beginning to discover what Erich Fromm meant by his statement that we don’t automatically learn how to love by being born. Rather, it is an art to be acquired, a set of skills that must be mastered. It takes a lifetime of trying to master this Art of Contemplative Practice. Personally, I am blessed to have come across the Rule of St. Benedict and the subsequent adaptation of these principles (Chapter 4 of the Rule) by Cistercian monks and nuns through the centuries to finding my niche as a Lay Cistercian. What follows is a series of reflections and observations about the Art of Contemplative Spirituality based on The Art of Loving. This is actually the how to live the art of having in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Love is the key element that binds all reality (physical, mental, and spiritual) together into one.
MY REFLECTION: WHAT IS LOVE?
One of the most elusive challenges to face humans is that of love. Along with the sexual drive, which we all share with all animals and plants, it is a mystery for many. A mystery, because we just think we know what it is and there is a deeper side to it we have never discovered. A mystery, because we think we can possess it and define it once and for all and we realize that we don’t know that much about it at all. Poets and novelists print thousands of pieces dissecting and proving every orifice of love, yet they still struggle with possessing it in its entirety.
Erich Fromm, the author of the book, The Art of Loving, has been someone that has influenced how I look at love, and also the art of contemplative spirituality. Here is a quote from the art of which he speaks.
“The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. What are the necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one — my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art — the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry — and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.”
Love is not only knowing, which is most definitely is, it is also doing. Fromm states that:
“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.” In my short lifetime of trying, yet consistently failing, to love with all my mind and heart, I find this statement to be inspired. He also gives the requirements for authentic love. “The mature response to the problem of existence is love.” “Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Love is not a spontaneous feeling, a thing that you fall into, but is something that requires thought, knowledge, care, giving, and respect (my emphasis). And it is something that is rare and difficult to find in capitalism, which commodifies human activity. ”
In this question about fierce love, the very reason we need to include love at all is to go to the heart of what it means to be human rather than an Anteater. You won’t understand Scripture unless you know it is all about love (Remember Questions One and Two above?)
LOVE IS LIKE A VALENTINE CARD
Love has two dimensions, that of the mind (knowledge and logic) and that of the heart (emotion and feeling). Remember when you were in Third Grade and everyone exchanged Valentine Day cards? What did you do, when you went home that day? Did you put them in a special spot in your drawer where you could pull them out and look at them frequently? Did you think of the person who gave you the card with affection? Did you feel a sense of warmth and pleasure? Love is one of the ways humans are different from other living things. It is a form of communication between two persons, heart to heart, thinking of others, wanting to help others. It can be with two humans or groups of humans. It can be between single persons, homosexuals, heterosexuals, groups of peoples, with families and relatives. Love is a human phenomenon. Love does not exist between animals, or between and animals and humans, although we can love our pet. Animals can’t love back. So, what is this love? It is one of the thresholds through which all of us must pass.
Mature love is so much more than a Valentine’s Day card. Here are Erich Fromm’s five criteria for authentic loving with some thoughts about both dimensions of the head and the heart.
If you say you love someone, but don’t do anything to show it, there may not be love there at all but just your representation of what it means in your own mind. Similarly, if you receive Faith from God but hide it under a bushel basket and don’t do anything with it, there may not be Faith there at all but just your representation that you have made yourself into God.
Write your thoughts for each of Eric Fromm’s five characteristics of authentic love.
These reflections are excerpted from my book, The Place Where No One Wants to Look: A Lay Cistercian reflects on six questions everyone must ask and answer.