In Christian mysticism, we acknowledge that God is ultimately a mystery while affirming it is also possible to know many things about God. In Part 1, for example, it was suggested that it is possible to know God is non-dual, and that God is transcendent in a way that includes immanence rather than opposes it. Within that scope, our tradition speaks of many attributes of God that we can know, such as creativity, wisdom, understanding, mercy, justice, beauty, and so on. But there is one word that stands above all others as the supreme attribute through which we can most fully know God, the one that encompasses all others, and that word is “love.” Our scriptures even boldly declare that God is love. If we are to take such scriptures literally (in this case I do), and if God is non-dually transcendent, then love must also be non-dually transcendent. But this is a very intellectual and abstract way of coming to a position on the nature of love, and if there is truth to it then we should find it reflected in our actual lives.
The ways we experience and express love span the entire range of the human psyche and its functions: intuition, thought, emotion, sensation, and action. Love has both conscious and unconscious dimensions, and it is found both “above” in the most sublime realms of illumination and transformation and “below” in the darkest depths of instinct and inertia. Love as an agent of human reproduction encompasses the union of two, their separation, and the birth of a third. Love can be either passive or active, and it is expressed by the gentle hand of tender caresses as well as the strict hand of punitive discipline. Love is known in the hottest throes of passionate lovemaking and the coolest musings of philosophy (literally the “love of wisdom”). The love of self at the expense of loving others, no matter how selfish, shortsighted, and confused it might be, is still a form of love. When we explore the ubiquity of love deeply, we can find its spark lurking within even the most unconscionable desire. Even hate, fear, and apathy, each of which might sometimes appear to be the opposite of love, are still conditions we can experience within the context of a love that isn’t merely limited to feelings of affection, confidence, and care. It is also poignant to me that we actually speak of forms of love, such that our language itself reveals at least a vague apprehension of a single love that transcends the different ways we experience, express, and conceptualize love. Even the Greeks, who were the source of much of our language about love, didn’t always hold clear and consistent distinctions among the various forms of love they discerned, including agape, eros, philia, sturge and xenia. Plato’s Symposium is a fascinating discussion just of eros, and the views of the participants span a very broad range of experience, expression and meaning. (It’s also interesting to me that “love” is one of those English words that is both a noun and a verb. An entire sentence can be formed using no other word but “love”, such as “Love love, love.” This statement means “I urge you to love love itself, my beloved.” Perhaps this is another word game, but I digress.)
In all of these ways we find evidence that love is not bound to dualistic oppositions though it is known in and through them. Furthermore, the unconscious dimensions of love contribute to our inability to completely grasp the meaning of love. Yes, we can know many things about love, and we can clearly see that it not only crosses all boundaries of human experience, but we also cannot deny that the whole truth of love is mysterious. So it is that we can arrive at an understanding of love’s transcendence apart from any metaphysical speculations or extraordinary spiritual experiences.
If we take seriously the equation that God is love, the mystical assertion of the non-duality of God, and the conclusion that ordinary human experience itself reveals the non-dual transcendence of love, then we must consider the possibility that all human experiences of love, from the most spiritual to the most mundane, participate to some degree in a transcendent love that is divine, that is God (and is therefore worthy of being written as “Love” with a capital L). Indeed, this way of thinking has led many people to conclude that everything is an experience or expression of Love.
But here is the rub: To describe everything as an experience or expression of Love verges on a statement with as little everyday usefulness to many people as saying everything is an experience or expression of energy. It might be true, but what difference does it make? Does it imply that all experiences and expressions of Love are equal and worthy of no distinction in our lives? These questions lead us directly into the practical dimensions of loving in this world, which we’ll address in Part 3.