Thursday, March 6, 2014

Love and Understanding

Today I thought I'd ponder Meister Eckhart's sermon 30, from the complete mystical works.

Those who put the matter roughly say that love has precedence, but those who speak most precisely say expressly - and it is true - that the kernel of eternal life lies in understanding more than in love. You should know why. Our finest masters - and there are not many of them - say that understanding and intellect go straight up to God. But love turns to the loved object and takes there what is good, whereas intellect takes hold of what makes it good. (Page 185.)

 How are we to reconcile this statement?

Although love is absolute, and the essence of all things, this means little to me if I do not understand it. In fact, my understanding of this is limited; and the inner kernel, the part within which grows in the love of God, only grows through an increase in understanding.

Perhaps this helps us to understand the difference between dwelling in the bliss of God's eternal love and understanding our relationship to it.

Meister Eckhart reminds us, love turns to the loved object.  Because we are creatures, that is, created things, and dwell within the material realm, we can hardly avoid turning our love towards an object. We love this or that thing—and thus love is a love of things, even our love of God falls into this trouble—even our love of love itself becomes confused. or, conversely, love becomes a thing unto itself which we dwell in, and we are suffused with love, never questioning it.

I fully understand why one might want to dissolve oneself in divine bliss and love; yet something more is definitely required. And that is an understanding of love.

Loving for love's sake and love itself are good; they are the greatest good. But to dwell within them and not see this is to be blind, even though one is in paradise. The understanding and the intellect are what see; and this seeing is what creates the relationship between man and God. The old story about  Mohammed is that someone asked Rumi who was greater, the man who dwelt eternally in the presence of God's bliss and love,  who was always with God, or Mohammed.

Rumi supposedly said that Mohammed was the greater of the two, because he always knew that no matter how far one went, one had to go further. There is, in other words, no end to the amount of inner work that has to be done on the path to God; and places of eternal bliss where one can rest are short of the mark.

 Love and wisdom  are inseparable qualities.  Wisdom is loving; and loving is wise. If we had to characterize these universal forces in the crude material terms available to us, we might say that love is the power that creates the universe, but wisdom is the intelligence that knows a universe of love needs to be created. And this is more or less what Meister Eckhart meant when he said,  intellect takes hold of what makes it good.

 When I first read this passage, I differed in some particulars with the master. What he says is exactly correct, I think, on further consideration; yet what he does not remind us of – he does so elsewhere — is that love and wisdom are, as I said before, inseparable. Although, as Ibn al Arabi so amply demonstrated, the octave of the universe divides itself into hierarchies, with wisdom (divine intellect) at the apex, the hierarchies are in a certain sense artificial, because all divine qualities are reciprocal and ultimately of equal value.

 What Eckhart is actually saying when he says that understanding has precedence is that it comes first; it precedes love in time; not that it's on a higher level. We might say, in other words, that wisdom emanates love; but we can only say this in so far as the divine word of God manifests within time, because it is only within time that there is any precedence. This is, in any event, a chicken/egg thing.

 When we speak of something as eternal (eternal life; without beginning and without end) it exists outside of time.

So existence outside of time begins not with love, but with understanding.

 This makes some sense to me, because without my understanding, I could not see love for what it is.


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