In Part 2 we reflected on the non-dual transcendence of the one Love that is God, and the possibility that everything is therefore in some way an experience or expression of Love. But now we turn to ponder the practical significance of these views, as we should do with all philosophical and spiritual insights and propositions, no matter how intuitively, intellectually, or emotionally certain we may be of their truth.
What difference might it make in our lives to live with faith, if not knowledge, that everything is Love? If we carefully consider this question, we may become aware of how muddy and murky our perceptions and conceptions of Love have been, how much we have habitually judged things as either being loving or not, or perhaps how we have semi-consciously ranked things on some vague scale of more or less loving. So, if nothing else, serious regard for Love as ever-present in, even essential to, the existence of all things and acts may help us be more mindful and immediately present in our experiences and expressions of love. This mindfulness can repeatedly confront us with our own assumptions, preferences, and expectations of Love, our own biases and prejudices about Love and its many forms. Thus, when we find ourselves reacting to an experience as though it is somehow opposed to Love, this practice begs us to look beyond the surface and deeply into the desires, motives, intentions, hopes, and fears that have shaped our judgments of it, and perhaps those that have played more external roles in the experience. Most of us know what it’s like to see the mask of hostility on the face of a loved one, initially respond to it with our own defensive hostility, and then later discover the love that was there, even if it was only the other person’s self-love fearfully hiding behind that mask. Love never left; we just failed to recognize it in our knee-jerk reactions of self-protection, of our own self-love. To some of us it may even be apparent that all hostility and violence in the world is the result of creatures, all acting in their own self-love, competing with each other for survival, comfort, and propagation of their species. In any case, one effect of such a practice is that it can aid us in living with greater openness to understanding others and ourselves, and thus into greater compassion and action for the wellbeing of each and all.
You probably noticed that the last statement strongly implies that a love characterized by understanding, compassion and serving mutual wellbeing is more desirable than one characterized by unchecked selfishness, defensiveness and hostility. This view seems to be something that most of humanity has always agreed with. Still it is clear that we humans experience and express love in different ways, and that each of us tends to consider some expressions of Love more desirable than others. We often use words like “true” or “pure” to speak of the most desirable or admirable forms of Love. But if everything is a manifestation of the One Love, are such distinctions just illusions we should try to banish from our minds? If all is God, then how can we justify preferring one thing over another, let alone one form of Love over another? Wouldn’t whatever we find ugly and unhealthy be just as pleasing and acceptable to God as anything else, and, if it is, shouldn’t it be so to us as well?
To begin responding to these questions, let’s recall that non-duality does not exclude duality, but transcends and subsumes it. Thus a non-dual spirituality does not necessarily put one in the position of denying any meaning or value in dualistic experiences and expressions of Love. So we should not be surprised to find the mystics of every religion and tradition have asserted the desirability and importance of various virtues to the most whole human expressions of Love. Where, then, does a Christian look for a guide to living a love that most fully and completely reflects the transcendence of Love in our ordinary dualistic experience?
Let’s consider what we know or believe about how God, or Love, has expressed Itself through this dualistic creation. First, there is the act of creation as presented in Genesis 1 & 2. Love somehow makes it possible for duality to manifest and reproduce itself within Love’s unity. Acting within that duality to create humanity, our tradition asserts that Love makes us in Love’s image, breathes life into us with Love’s own Spirit, and thereby endows us with intelligence and free will, so that we might choose what to do in this creation. So we can see that Love is creative and giving of itself and wills for its offspring to be of the same nature.
As Christians, we consider Love’s greatest gift to humanity to be the life of Jesus Christ, whom we take to be our chief exemplar of what it means to live the fullness of Love as much as humanly possible. In one of Jesus’ most significant moments of preaching, the Sermon on the Mount, he extolled a number of virtues, such as those in the Beatitudes, and provided his own version of the law of Love for our dualistic world:
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Jesus speaks very clearly in this moment about how human love can come closest to Divine Love. There is also clarity on another occasion when, speaking for God, for Love Itself, he says:
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. … whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus also teaches that there is no greater love than laying one’s life down for others, which he then did in reflection of Love’s grace continually giving Itself to us. Love apparently has no limitations with being Self-sacrificing, perhaps because in Its transcendence Love knows that ultimately there is nothing lost; Love knows Itself in all things.
Love, as taught and practiced by Jesus, is what all Christians, whether or not we consider ourselves mystics, are called to do. Nowhere in scripture is the ideal of Christian love more poetically extolled than in 1 Corinthians 13. In the Greek text of this chapter, in the law of Love given in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Great Commandments given by Jesus, the term used for love is agape, or intentional, careful, gracious, self-sacrificing love that is understood to transcend all knowledge, works, faith, and hope. Agape is also used in 1st John to say God is Love. Jesus and the New Testament authors obviously considered agape to be the form of Love in ordinary human experience that comes closest to the fullness of Love Itself. It may thus be considered the form of love in which all others – such as philia, eros, sturge, and xenia – are most beautifully experienced and expressed.
Finally, let’s reflect on how all of this might be more meaningful specifically in the context of mysticism. Many of us tend to think of mysticism as being a more or less solitary practice in which one turns inward to more fully commune with God. This is certainly a profound way to love God, yet if God is Love Itself then every experience and expression of love is, to some degree, communion with God. To mindfully practice love in our everyday lives is therefore a mystical practice with just as much significance as, if not more than, our solitary practices. Such a practice makes our mysticism a more complete response to the call of Christ to love God with all we are and others as ourselves, and thus toward a more complete expression of Love’s non-dual transcendence. To give and receive Love is mystical experience, if we would only realize it.