Question: How do we know if our thinking and doing is coming from the ground of love? I can feel this ground in silence but it is harder in the busyness of daily life.
Ilia: Our questions this week focus on the meaning of love: How do we know if our thinking and doing is coming from the ground of love? Is there any connection between love and the black hole that was recently seen? To address these questions I think it is best if we can begin with the meaning of the word “love.” We know love implicitly because we feel love as a deepening of well-being in relation to an other—whether a friend, partner, spouse or God. Love brings a sense of joy, peace, wholeness and belonging. Without love we experience emptiness, loneliness or abandonment, a deep thirst, so to speak, as if in a vast dry desert. Love can be defined as the good within me that attends to the good in you. By “good” I mean that which is wholesome, positive, life-giving being. Because I experience these qualities in a particular way within me and in a different way in you, and because what I experience in you is different from me, I am attracted to you precisely because you help complete what is lacking in me. Hence I love you as the other as part of myself, because you help complete myself. Love draws together and unites, and in uniting, one to the other, it differentiates. I am more myself together in union with another than when I am alone or cut off from others. In this way, love fills the deepest center of my heart because the need to belong to another ultimately expresses my need for God. In the words of St. Augustine: “You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
If I was truly my own maker I would have no existential need for anyone else and thus no need for love. I am created by God, however, and thus I have an intrinsically relational self that can only find its fulfillment in God and where God lives—in my heart and in the hearts of every person I meet. But the fulfillment of love does not come easy because my ego is often contracted and closed in on itself and thus I must continuously strive to grow into God. Bernard of Clairvaux saw conversion as the path to love and spoke of the four stages of love. On the first level, he said, we love ourselves; on the second level we love God for ourselves; on third level we love ourselves for the sake of God; and on the fourth level we love God for the sake of the God. He wrote: “God is the reason for loving God and the way to love God is to love without measure.” On this highest level of love, we love completely with no thought of self, since the self lives entirely in, with and for God. This highest stage of love is selfless love because in giving myself completely to God and to the other in whom God lives I find my joy. Bonaventure spoke of highest level of selfless love as a “death” in so far as the ego disappears and God becomes the living center of the heart.
Teilhard de Chardin spoke of love as the core energy of the universe, the primal blood flow of the universe. By this he meant that there are two fundamental energies in the cosmos: the energy of attraction (withoutness) and the energy of transcendence (withinness). Love, he said, is an energy of attraction and an energy of transcendence. As entities attract and unite, something new is created. Because of these energies, the universe orients itself toward intelligent, conscious, self-reflective life.
For Teilhard love is a passionate force at the heart of the Big Bang universe, the fire that breathes life into matter and unifies elements center to center; love is a “cosmological force.” He wrote: “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces . . . the physical structure of the universe is love.” Love-energy is the history of the universe, present from the Big Bang onwards, though indistinguishable from molecular forces. “But even among the molecules,” he wrote, “love was the building power that worked against entropy, and under its attraction the elements groped their way towards union.” Love draws together and unites; in uniting, it differentiates. Love energy is intrinsically relational and undergirds relationality in the universe. Union is the end toward which each being directs itself. Love is the affinity of being with being in a personal, centered way, a unity toward more being that marks all cosmic life. If there was no internal propensity to unite, even at a rudimentary level, Teilhard said, indeed in the molecule itself—it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, in a hominized form. Cosmic life is intrinsically communal. The universe is thoroughly relational and in the framework of love.
Love therefore is an absolute fundamental force of attraction in the universe that overcomes all inertia, entropy, breakdown and dissipation; a unitive energy that can draw life out of a black hole which is a region of spacetime exhibiting gravitational acceleration so strong that nothing—no particles or even electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from it – except perhaps the absolute power of love—which is God Omega. For this reason Teilhard sees cosmic evolution as a process of amorization, love energy is building up in the universe through center to center attraction, because God is rising up in the universe, eventually arriving at a level of self-conscious love, the human level where we must choose to love. For as we grow into love, we grow into freedom and thus we ultimately must make a choice to love or to reject love. For God to live, we must choose to love. Teilhard wrote:
Love alone is capable of completing our beings in themselves as it unites them, for the good reason that love alone takes them and joins them by their very depths. . . . All around us at every moment does love not accomplish that magic act. . . of personalizing as it totalizes? And if it does this on a daily basis on a reduced scale, why could it not someday repeat it in the dimensions of the Earth?
It is love therefore that draws this world onward toward greater personal unity in which God is revealed. But we must constantly work against the power of the ego to contract in on itself, isolating us from the unitive power of love—which is why the grace of God is essential (attending to the Omega center within) if we are to transcend our partial loves toward a greater wholeness. Only one who is absolute being in love can draw us beyond contracted selves towards the fullness of love–and this is God Omega who is within and ahead.
The levels of personal love and cosmic love are brought together in the work of Jean Vanier the founder of the L’Arche community for the mentally disabled and, as many have noted, a living saint in our time. Vanier’s legacy of love begins on the level of personal conversion and reaches out to the wider cosmos of life, where every living creature is embraced in the beauty of personal existence. Vanier was trained as a philosopher but he found something was missing in the abstractions of the intellectual life. He took into his home two mentally disabled men which began a life journey of building a new human community and laying the groundwork for building a world community—by loving the other as part of myself. In his book Becoming Human he begins with the existential reality of loneliness:
I once visited a psychiatric hospital that was a kind of warehouse of human misery. Hundreds of children with severe disabilities were lying, neglected, on their cots. There was a deadly silence. Not one of them was crying. When they realize that nobody cares, that nobody will answer them, children no longer cry. It takes too much energy. We cry out only when there is hope that someone may hear us.
By accepting the weakest, most fragile and vulnerable members of society into community, Vanier developed a new understanding of love that can help us get beyond the shallowness of culture with its market ploys and constructed profiles on social media, blinding our capacity to love and our own lovability. How do we love in our midst? Several points from Vanier’s writings can help us love in the everyday moments, as we participate in the wider sphere of cosmic life. First, he writes, love is revelation:
To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention, and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention. We can express this revelation through our open and gentle presence, in the way we look at and listen to a person, the way we speak to and care for someone. . . . The belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is at the. . .heart of being human
Second, Vanier states, to love means to understand, to attend to the other, to listen and try to be with them without forcing a person to be someone or something s/he is not capable of being. Third, the process of understanding requires communication. When nothing is named, confusion grows and anguish follows. “To name something,” Vanier writes, “is to bring it out of chaos, out of confusion, and to render it understandable.” The fourth aspect of love, Vanier writes, is celebration. “It is not enough to reveal to people their value, to understand and care for them,” Vanier claims. “To love people is also to celebrate them” and, I must admit from my own experience, to visit a L’Arche community celebration is truly a wonderful experience of simplicity and joy. Finally, love means to empower, to give power to the other by giving the other a voice, a chance to be who they are, and to recognize that God is there in that person, loving that person unto the fullness of life. “It is not just a question of doing things for others,” Vanier writes, “but of helping them to do things for themselves, helping them to discover the meaning of their lives.”
If we are to reveal, to understand, to listen and attend, to celebrate, to be with others then love must ultimately live in an ongoing spirit of forgiveness, recognizing that each of us is a partial whole, a bit broken, somewhat in darkness, uncomfortable with our incomplete lives; and so we are all yearning to belong the One who can make us whole and fulfill the deepest longings of our heart. To forgive one other is to let go of past hurts in order to create a new future together, for love always lives on the horizon of the future.
Love, in a sense, is always moving out of a black hole of nothingness into the bright light of a future fullness. It is an ongoing creative process, an amorizing of relationships through the outward flow of goodness and the receptivity of being. We humans are not doing too well at it and we missing out on the core energy of our lives. But the stars learned to forgive long ago, so too did the mountains and the valleys, the sea giraffes, the lemon trees and the weeping willows. All of nature lives in the spirit of forgiveness because nature lives in the beauty of love. We must learn to love over and over again if we are to evolve into a unified planet, a wholeness of being, an earth community of compassion and peace. How shall we do so in this complex world? In the words of St. John of the Cross: “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.”
1-Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, 72
2-Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, 32.
3-Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, 72.
King, Mysticism of Knowing, 104-05.
4-Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber, p. 189
5-Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (House of Anansi Press, 2008), p. 9
6-Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 25.
7-Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 26
8-Vanier, Becoming Human, 27
Thank you for your thoughtful words and time Sr. Ilia. I’ve been uncomfortable with my incomplete life for my entire life and have never had the words to name that feeling. It explains a lot. Thank you.
The saying that love makes the world go round is so true!