Monday, November 15, 2010

How Different the World Appears When Beheld in Love

One of St. Francis of Assisi's most basic, yet profound, prayers was that he see himself for who he was and that he see God for who God is (as much as is possible). This prayer points to what is perhaps most constitutive of the act of love: "beholding" and being "beheld" in a mode of reverence, awe, respect, esteem, positive regard, and, above all, with an abiding sense of the profound, impenetrable mystery that lies at the heart of the world, the heart of each of our lives, and the divine heart of the Triune God.

When one "sees" one's self, others, and the world through the lens of a "contemplative" love that is able and willing to "behold" in the above way, the world takes on a fresh, bright, and at times "resiliently" hopeful appearance that can very definitely animate our awareness of the glory of God in our midst. The reason why I highlight the importance of being "willing" to see through the contemplative lens of love is because being open to the beauty of life simultaneously opens us to the tragedy which is also such a part of the world: the distress, the despair, the acute and massive suffering (especially among the most vulnerable and innocent) and the injustice running rampant. However, the importance of accepting both "sides of the coin" of "beholding" the world through the lens of contemplative love is that it impresses upon our minds and hearts that God is present not only in moments of glory but is especially attentive to moments of travail.

Today's first reading from Mass comes from the beginning of the Book of Revelation. This book was written in a time of great travail and persecution of the fledgling Christian movement by the Roman Empire. The opening of the book is comprised of a number of salutations and exhortations to the various Churches undergoing persecution. Today's reading is the salutation to the Church at Ephesus. The words addressed to this community from the Lord are on the whole very affirming: the Church apparently is persevering under the weight of a great deal of stress from within and persecution from without. But the Church is exhorted to return to "the first love" that it had for God. It would seem that the members of the Church of Ephesus are, in a sense "falling out of love with God"!

Would you find it a bit of a stretch or surprising if I suggested that we are called to "be in love with God?" This notion has very ancient Old Testament roots: the poet who authored psalm 69 wrote the provocative words, "as a deer longs for running streams, so my soul yearns for you, my God." The Song of Songs is even more replete with stunning images that suggest God is a lover who never ceases to pursue us! The key to entering, reentering, and deepening our love for God is to begin "lowering" our "defenses" and allowing ourselves and the mystery of our lives to be "beheld" in loving awe and reverence by God. Practically speaking, this can happen by spending time with persons and friends who know something of the mystery of life and the mystery of who we are and can be genuinely attentive to it. Another method is to pray with scripture (such as psalm 69 or The Song of Songs) in an imaginative way, entering into the scene and imagining that we are the one's thirsting for God or that God is pursuing us! When we begin this process we are opened more and more to how different the world appears, in all it's glory and all it's travail, when beheld in love! Pat, TOR