Stone, Confucian Temple, Shanghai
Photo by the author
Shanghai, Oct. 26
Love is conceived of in thought, born in sensation, and matures in feeling.
This can happen in a natural way, attached to the material; and that's the way most of us receive and understand it. It is what alchemists would have called coarse material. It needs to be refined in the fire of our own observation and suffering before we can discover any gold in it. That's the point at which we begin to experience love in a spiritual way.
That love is an energy that creates a different rate of vibration in us. Unless and until I come into relationship with that, I am forever conceiving of love in thought. Now, it's certainly true that I can conceive of spiritual love in thought; but that operates at a very low rate of vibration and more often than not becomes attached to all of the ways of love that exist in the slower world of natural and material things. Once that happens, it's subject to attachment, or identification, as Gurdjieff called it.
In any event, organic sensation of being is the beginning, the foundation, the creation of love, and God does make this beginning possible for us through relationship with the Holy Spirit. I find that an unusual amount of suffering and, in the end, an absolute surrender, is necessary in order to open so that this can be received on any regular basis. But the regular receiving of these particles of love, or sorrow, isn’t enough. I have to develop an unerring wish in myself, an unflagging determination, to surrender again and again, because a single surrender is only ever of the moment. Sacrifice must, in a spiritual sense, become eternal — that is, the sacrifice within myself, the suffering within myself, must begin to live outside of time and outside of the material, and present itself over and over again in the unbearable light of this love, which keeps reaching out to me despite my opacity.
Yesterday, I had a fairly practical demonstration of how my attachment to the ordinary world works in this regard. A taxi driver near Taiking road stopped, but then refused to take me to my chosen destination, and all kinds of unloving anger immediately arose in me. Every part I had that was not connected to the sensation of love and the practice that is needed to focus on that, instead of my selfishness, militated and revolted to think up various curses for this man. Other parts, which are more intelligent and have more experience, saw this at once and opposed it; but it shows how easily I am instantly knocked on my ass, even when there is ample help from within available.
As I have pointed out, I don't know how to love properly. Now, if enough of the Holy Spirit is available, I am invulnerable to such inner nonsense; but that's not so often the case. And again, I rely on that, at least as far as the results go. By myself, I am helpless.
The only thing that I can do within the context of my own life is not to try to love, but to try to suffer how I don’t. The energy, the organic sensation, of love and the presence of God helps in that suffering, which is where it arrives and sustains the spiritual being. But the sustenance of the spiritual being does not, for me, come with the joy and happiness and so on — which still are not foreign things, to be sure. The sustenance, the food that feeds the soul, comes from suffering, because that is the part of the effort that I can undertake.
It strikes me with great astonishment, over and over again, every day, how absolutely substantial and material this energy and the requirements it puts on me are. I suppose perhaps the point is and has always been how helpless I am; and I suppose that I must turn myself again and again back towards his questions, because there is no other direction for me to face in if I wish to face towards God.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.