“When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female…the shall you enter the Kingdom!” Thomas, 22
Although this is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it is just two days to Valentine’s Day. So Let talk a little about love today. Love is such a buzz word we use and want so much. But what does it mean? And how can we get it?
Isn’t love supposed to mean such feelings as freedom, peace, joy, a longing to be always with another? Isn’t love full of patience, perspective, and endurance? In the Bible there is a wonderful definition of love in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians; “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends!” (1 Corinthians 13)
The Greek word used here for “love” is “agape” which means “full and complete.” We get our word “agape” for example, “His mouth wide open, his mouth was agape!” One of the old Latin words beside “amo” was “libere” from which our word “liberty” or free comes. To be truly in love is then to feel “full and free!” Not bad for feelings.
But love is in trouble in this world. In our country divorce rates have shot up to record levels, averaging now around 53%. Increasingly couples are living together with a religious or even civil ceremony. The highest divorce rates, ironically, are in the southeastern part of our country in what is called “The Bible Belt.” Large, interdenominational churches actually have the highest divorce rates. Presbyterians actually have among the lowest rates, maybe because there are so few of us and then most of what left is quite old. Also oddly is the study showing the highest divorce rates occur among the professions of “Marriage Counselors” and “Psychiatrists.” Interesting.
In order for us to love another, however, we must first “fall in love with our Self.” It’s hard to be around a person who is continually unhappy and miserable. It saps our energy and if possible, we try to avoid them or make sure we have some place to renew. So the first step to a deeper love relationship is to grow deeper in loving yourself. The great commandment goes, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as your self.” (Matthew 22:37-39) So who then is this self? It’s the True You, the Christ Self.
Louise L. Hay, who recently celebrated her 85th birthday, writes that you know you are getting closer to loving your Self when you can look into the mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I love you, just the way you are!” (http://www.healyourlife.com/blogs/louise-hay-blog/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall) Good advice and practice.
I am not talking about the body with all its talents and beauty, however. The Self we are thinking about is not the normal idea of being the body, personality and individual gifts. The Self here in the East is called the “Atman,” or in early Christianity, the “Christ Self.” Some refer to it as the “one who’s asking the questions.”
Seekers often go to great spiritual teachers and ask, “How can I obtain peace and happiness with lasting love?” And the teacher often replies, “Discover who is asking the question and that is your answer!” (http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/index.html) It is a way of saying that our True Self is not our bodies nor even our minds but the decision-maker within our minds. It is the Decision-maker who is able to decide to choose between identity with the body and world or in seeing it as an entity outside of him or herself.
I often say we never identify with our bodies in the first person. They are always seen from the viewpoint of an observer. Thus we talk about our bodies from the third person perspective; “my body, my thinking, my hand, my leg, my heart.”
The ancient mystics and many in the early church saw this inner Self as complete. But in our decision to come here we separated the Inner Self into male and female characteristics. It is evident in the Genesis myth of creation where Adam, meaning “earth creature”, was complete. But then this earth creature felt lonely and so all the world is made for him. Yet the earth creature remained lonely so God made him a helpmate, putting him into a deep sleep, and turning a rib into a woman. The myth can be interpreted as the earth creature splitting himself into male and female. The unity was paradise until they gave in to the temptation to eat of the forbidden fruit and thus discovered themselves in a duality of opposites. Then they made clothes for themselves to cover up the guilt of separation. And ever since, men and women have struggled with guilt and loneliness. We continually seek to find unity in the other but it never seems like quite enough.
In the understanding of our deepest Self as part of the complete Creator God, this oneness can again be experienced. It is experienced in those times when we feel complete, in what some describe as a “unitive experience.” We probably all had them at one time or another. Regardless of circumstances around us with all of our problems, we still have those moments of near ecstasy when everything seems to be perfect! It is in these moments, however fleeting, the mystics describe the meeting of our Eternal Self.
How then can we know this Self and experience more of this Unity? It is by understanding, or gnosis, of ourselves as being something beyond the body in this time-limited space dimension. And then practice meditation of this Self by being still, seeking to focus on our breath and as the Psalmist says, “to know God.” (Ps. 46:10) If we practice this discipline each day as a reminder, I think are assured of having periodical experiences of the “original paradise.”
In the second century letter, “The Gospel of Philip,” the Christian writer Valentinus writes of this experience as “Union in the Bridal Chamber!” Valentinus, who many believe to be the one in what we based “Valentine’s Day,” described this Bridal chamber as a sacrament, or what he called a “Mystery.” We do not have exact records how this was observed but it seems to be an experience for people to have a deep meditation experience of feeling completeness in the God Self. Perhaps it involved dancing, drumming, and being still in darkness, but it worked. In the sense of oneness, it felt orgasmic, such as a sexual experience.
Carl Jung quotes St. Augustine of Hippo, 4th Century church theologian, describing in most mystical writings the cross as a marriage-bed, and Christ as a bridegroom consummating his nuptials. Steven Marshall writes of Jesus, “Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his chamber, going out with a presage of his nuptials into the field of the world. He came to the marriage bed of the cross, and there in mounting it, he consummated his marriage. And when he perceived the sighs of the creature, he lovingly gave himself up to the torment in place of his bride, and joined himself to the matrona (heavenly marriage) forever!” ( http://www.gnosis.org/ecclesia/homily_Valentinus.htm) He dies completely to the ego, his time/space self, experiencing the eternal Oneness of Spirit.
Have you ever experienced anything like this in your meditations or life? Such awareness leads some men and women to lead lives of celibacy in the truest sense. They experience such deep peace and sense of completion that physical marriage is not craved or needed. Once the Dalai Lama’s disciples were giving a talk in Boston and during a question and answer session a young woman asked they how they could be monks without some kind of physical sexual expression. The oldest monk answered saying, “When you are coming all the time, it doesn’t really make any difference!” (Gary Renard in “The Disappearance of the Universe,” chapter titled, “Better than Sex!”)
The other important method of experiencing this Higher Self is to practice love and forgiveness of all humanity. The writer of 1 John says, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (4:11-13) Then he adds, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have see, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (4:20)
This idea of loving and forgiving one another is a central theme of the book “A Course in Miracles”. As long as one identifies with the ego body, there remains fear and competition of others, even those within the same house or group. How we treat spouses, children, neighbors, and even our enemies reveals the level of love and its unifying experience in our lives. How can this be?
Our physical love is always dependent upon another body and such love is always ephemeral. We become attached to physical objects and our idea structures. Bodies and ideas change. Sometimes a couple even decides to separate over differences in lifestyle which are very opposite but such a separation can be done with love and respect for each other. Fr. Anthony de Mello would portray such a couple separating: “I no longer want to live with you but I will always love and respect you as God’s creation.” (Conference at Lemoyne College, Syracuse, NY, July 1986) Unfortunately, this isn’t the practice for most.
Such experiences of a deeper love take often years of discipline and remembrance. It takes teachers and companions along the way to victory. “The ark is entered ‘two by two” the Course in Miracles says.
Last Friday Naomi and I watched the recent movie, Hachi, the moving story of an abandoned Japanese dog. Based on a true story, the dog is put into a cage from a Buddhist Temple in Japan and placed on a train. It ends up crawling out of a broken cage and soon was claimed by a gifted music teacher played by actor Richard Gere. Not wanting the dog at first, the musician soon adopts Hachi and the two develop one of those “Master/Dog” relationships. Not living far from the train station where the Master rides to work, Hachi soon walks his Master to the station and then returns for him each late afternoon. Three years into the relationship, the Master musician dies suddenly of a heart attack. Hachi, however continues his daily walk and vigil for his Master. He even finds a place nearby in the train yard to sleep, fed by one of the station vendors. Hachi continues this vigil for over ten years when one day Hachi is discovered dead lying on the stone where he waited so many years and hours. It’s a moving story, portraying in myth the journey of ourselves. Deciding to leave the Heavenly Temple of our Creator, we find ourselves left alone in the lowly earth stations of life. We finally fine our Master, perhaps a teacher or leader who inspires us and we devotedly listen and follow. Then the Master is gone, no longer seen, but we continue in our prayers and disciplines to wait and trust in a return, a Reunion once again with our Beloved. I recommend you get this movie and watch it. It will move your hearts with love and a renewed sense of loyalty in waiting and attending yourself to Oneness with the Master.
So what then is the basis for a “Valentine’s Day” beyond your wildest dreams? Having a sense and experience of spiritual oneness with the transcendent, unseen, other dimension of reality! Understand It as central as the “True You.” Meditate and remember it each day, each hour, and each minute. And practice kindness, forgiveness, and love to all you meet. See each encounter with another as a holy opportunity, a “holy encounter” to advance in your awareness. And if you happen to fail, as we each do from time to time, just forgive yourself again and again for failing to see beyond the illusions of life. But keep practicing!
Talk manuscript prepared to share at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, February 12, 2012, by Rev. David G. Persons, Honorably Retired.