Head of the reclining Buddha (back side)
Wat Pho, Bangkok
I'm not loving.
I've had many personal experiences of Divine Love, and in every instance when I encounter this force, I understand how absolutely inadequate I am—and, conversely, how absolutely unconditional Divine Love is in relation to my own.
Absent the experience, one might well think that the receiving of Divine Love is some kind of ecstatic privilege; yet it’s nothing of the kind. It comes only as a teacher to illuminate one's own weakness and help one to cultivate an actual humility in relationship to one's inability to love properly. It is, in an odd way, a punishment; yet it is the kind of punishment that a loving parent sends a child in order to right its attitude and point it towards a better life.
It's senseless and pointless to talk about God as though God were cruel, because there is no cruelty in such punishment. Every parent knows that a child needs punishment, on occasion, to guide it towards the right behavior. And—in the same way that those in purgatory understand their punishment is just— when Divine Love is sent and I understand how inadequate my own love is in relationship to it, I understand that Divine Love, as loving and unconditional as it is, serves as a remonstration of my own inadequacy and a reminder of how impossible it is for me to love the way that God Loves.
In receiving Divine Love, I know my place. I feel what Gurdjieff called organic shame. And I see how helpless I am to manifest anything like the Love that God feels for us. I'm reminded of this every morning when I sit in front of my icon of Christ and pray, at the end of each section of my prayer, "help me to honor and obey.” At those times I always open my eyes and focus on the book held by Christ, which says, "Love one another as I have Loved you.”
I think at those times of how Christ loved all humans, even as they nailed him to the cross, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know what not what they do.”
I understand that I should practice this kind of forgiveness as well, even though it is an impossibly high standard for me. I can't come to this understanding of love and the need for absolute forgiveness without examining every impression in me, mercilessly and repeatedly, taking in the taste of all the life I have lived and all the people I have loved... and hated... to try and understand this vast range of impressions and how they weave together into understanding — or might weave together into understanding, if only Grace would help me do so.
It's in surrender to the depth of this experience and in gratitude to the Grace which informs it — the life I have been given — that something real may happen in me. If anything approaching a real impulse of Love arises in me, it always takes place in the face of my anger, in the face of my reaction, and tells me that I must submit and Love and accept—even though everything ordinary in me screams and outrage that I ought to hate, and plot revenge for myself.
I see that there is so much in me that wants to behave that way; and deliverance will only come from a higher place.
The only real decency in my life lies in my efforts at forgiveness, which are sporadic. I only reach that place when my humility is sufficient; and I can only acquire that humility through this Loving punishment I go through.
These have been difficult lessons to learn; and there is nothing in the idle popular sayings about the life of the soul to help me in this. It's a deep path that is lived only over a lifetime of suffering and without any slogans to support it; there are no guarantees.
There is only payment.
Payment is never sufficient; I see that after 61 years, I still haven't paid the last coin on this.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.