The Difficult Love (3)

(Continuing on from the last couple of days . . . )

And, as we know, the Lord calls us to not just put up with the people around us, those who are difficult to love, but to love them as He loves them.  “To love one whom others despise is to demonstrate God’s love for that person, for one who is more precious than the whole world.  It is perhaps to save that person from self-hatred.” (Clément, p. 283)

The spiritual person hides the faults of others, as God protects the world, as Christ washes our sins in his blood, as the Mother of God stretches the veil of her tears over the human race. “It was said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, according to the writings, a god on earth, because in the way God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would hide the faults he saw as though he had not seen them, and the faults he heard about as though he had not heard of them.” (ibid., p. 284)

Isaac of Nineveh said: “Spread your cloak over anyone who falls into sin and shield him.  And if you cannot take his fault on yourself and accept punishment in his place, do not destroy his character.”

More on all this tomorrow, but think on this today: this is how Christ loves you.

The Difficult Love (2)

What really stopped me in my tracks while reading this chapter (see yesterday’s post) was this that he wrote:

For the person who has begun to tread the spiritual path, nothing is more important than the Gospel command: ‘Do not judge.’ Greed and vanity are passions that belong to those who are novices on the way or who have only just begun to advance along it.  But for the more advanced, the breakdown always comes from judgment pronounced on others. . . . according to spiritual teachers, the whole of virtue is comprised in the refusal to despise. (p. 281)

I guess, in reading this, I felt it was kind of a back-handed compliment.  I struggle with judgmental thinking so much.  Somehow that means I’m further along on the spiritual path?

Then he goes on to quote from John Climacus and a desert father:

John Climacus: : “The failures of beginners result almost always from greed. In those who are making progress the failures come also from too high an opinion of themselves.  In those nearing perfection they come solely from judging their neighbor.”

Abba Theodore of Pherme said, “There is no other virtue than that of not despising anyone.”

And back to Clement: “To justify ourselves by condemning others is our permanent tendency, in private as in public life.”

So is there hope for us who struggle with this?  Of course, but more on all of this tomorrow.

The Difficult Love (1)

So this morning I have been thinking about a chapter in the book, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (Fr. Olivier Clement), entitled “The Difficult Love” which I read a few years ago.  I ended up re-reading it a few times, and I would like to blog about it for a couple of days (at least).   The first sentence in the chapter gave me pause: “Spiritual progress has no other test in the end, nor any better expression, than our ability to love.”  And so went the rest of the chapter.  Interestingly enough, the chapter is situated in a section entitled: “Approaches to Contemplation.”  It is also the last chapter in the book, which says something in itself.  Clement laces the chapter with quotes from many and various ancient writers.  Here is a sampling:

Pseudo Macarius: “Those who have been judged worthy to become children of God and to be born from on high of the Holy Spirit. . .not infrequently weep and distress themselves for the whole human race; they pray for the ‘whole Adam’ with tears, inflamed as they are with spiritual love for all humanity.  At times also their spirit is kindled with such joy and such love that, if it were possible, they would take every human being into their heart without distinguishing between good and bad.  Sometimes too in humility of spirit they so humble themselves before every human being that they consider themselves to be the last and least important of all.  After which the Spirit makes them live afresh in ineffable joy.”

St. Isaac of Syria: “This shall be for you a luminous sign of the serenity of your soul: when, on examining yourself, you find yourself full of compassion for all humanity, and your heart is afflicted with pity for them, burning as though with fire, without making distinction between one person and another.”

Okay.  So far so good, but more on this tomorrow.  (If you don’t want to wait, I did give a talk on this in 2005 which is available here with a handout.)

The search for God

One of the books I’m reading, actually re-reading, this Advent, is a book of a nondescript name with an unattractive cover: The Roots of Christian Mysticism,  by Olivier Clement, one of the foremost Orthodox theologians of our day.  What I love about the book is the way Clement brings together quote after quote from ancient authors with his brilliant commentary interspersed.  This past week I have been re-reading the first three chapters.  The second is entitled “God, Hidden and Universal”.  Clement is trying to communicate how utterly inaccessible God in His essence is to us.  Of course, this concept–which, of course, we cannot fully grasp–is essential to understanding the inexpressible love of God for us in becoming man.  However, instead of quoting from his book :-), I am going to quote the late Fr. Richard John  Neuhaus (from First Things)  from another book, God With Us, an Advent-Christmas book put out by Paraclete Press.

We are all searching, and ultimately–whether we know it or not–we are searching for God.  Ultimately, we are searching for the Ultimate, and the Ultimate is God.  It is not easy, searching for God . . .  The fact is that we do not really know what we’re looking for or who we’re looking for.  Almost a thousand years ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury said, “God is that greater than which cannot be thought.”
      Think about it.  We can stretch our minds as high and deep and far as our minds can stretch, and at the point of the highest, deepest, farthest stretch of our minds, we have not “thought” God.  There is always a thought beyond which we cannot think.  “God is that greater than which cannot be thought.
      God is, literally, inconceivable.  And that is why God was conceived as a human being in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Because we cannot, even in thought, rise up to God, God stooped down to us in Jesus, who is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”

I will continue with this tomorrow.