The Pathos Of Christian Mysticism
The heart of Christian mysticism is compassion. Jesus does not talk of God as ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Adonai’ – but as ‘Abba’ – or ‘Papa’. Some of us may have been abused by an earthly ‘Papa’ and may find it easier to relate to God as our heavenly ‘Mama’ rather than our heavenly ‘Papa’. But whatever our term of endearment might be, Jesus invites us all to relate to God, not as an apathetic deity but as a sympathetic parent, passionately committed to the welfare of the human family, protective and supportive and compassionate.
If all humans relate to God as our parent, that makes us all brothers and sisters. With the intrinsic connections that siblings have with one another. And few of us have understood the implications of these connections like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. According to Tutu, ‘God’s dream is that all of us will realize that we are family – that we are made for togetherness. In God’s family, there are no outsiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist – all belong’. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that ‘God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any one religion. People are shocked when I say that George Bush and Saddam Hussein are brothers – but God says, “All are my children.” It is shocking. But it is true.’
All inclusive love – even for our enemies – is not only very shocking, but also very scary for us. ‘When we live in fear’, Evangelical Spiritual Director, David Benner, says, ‘we effectively insulate ourselves from life itself – because sorrow, illness, injury and death are unavoidable ingredients in life. Fearful people live within restrictive boundaries. They tend to be quite cautious and conservative. They also tend to be highly vigilant, ever guarding against moving out of the bounds within which they feel most comfortable. People who live in fear feel compelled to remain in control. They attempt to control themselves and they attempt to control their world. Often, despite their best intentions, this spills over into efforts to control others. The fearful person may appear deeply loving, but fear always interferes with the impulse to love. Fear blocks responsiveness to others. Energy invested in maintaining safety always depletes energy available for others.’[i]
John says that only the ‘perfect love’ of God can cast out all of the fears that dominate our lives.[ii] ‘While human love can never bear the weight of our need for divine love, it can teach us about divine love. Human love can communicate divine love. Experiences of human love make the idea of God’s love believable. The relative constancy of the love of family and friends makes the absolute faithfulness of divine love at least conceivable.’ However, there is ‘no substitute for learning what love really is by coming back to the source. God’s love is the original that shows up the limitations of all copies. Only God’s love is capable of making us into great lovers [iii]
Psychotherapist, Wayne Muller, says ‘it is not the fact of being loved that is life changing. It is the experience of allowing (ourselves) to be loved’. [iv] This experiential knowing of ourselves, as deeply loved by God, deepens our thoughts with new data about our world, and deepens our feelings with new attitudes towards our world. In the light of our knowledge of God’s love we can trust God, take risks and embrace the world that we live in courageously and compassionately.
We may be frightened, and be tempted to ‘hide behind locked doors’. But Jesus comes to us as he did to his frightened disciples shortly after his crucifixion. ‘On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together, hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid. And Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you! Be not afraid!” The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. And again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” And then he said to them, “Receive my spirit. As the Father has sent me, so send I you.”[v]
It would seem that Jesus knows where to find us at times like these. He seeks us out wherever we are ‘hiding, behind our locked doors.’ I don’t know how he does it, but somehow or other he manages to walk through the walls we have built around about us, and he speaks to us. Saying “Be not afraid.” A saying that is repeated over three hundred times in the scriptures. “Be not afraid.” He says to us again and again. “God is love. And being held safe in the ever-lasting, never-failing arms of the perfect love of God means you have no reason to be afraid. Peace be with you. Receive my spirit. As the Father has sent me, so send I you. “
Being a disciple is to live in sympathy with the ’pathos’ of God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God’s heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to learn to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe. It means developing our capacity to intuitively sense what causes love pleasure, and what causes love pain, and doing everything we can to enhance the pleasure, and to diminish the pain. According to Jesus, God is agonised whenever we forget to remember to love one another, and neglect our responsibility to do justice to one another; but God is overjoyed whenever love becomes reality in our lives, and we seek to do justice to one another, in spirit and in truth.
Suggestion for Reflection and Action
Meditate on the ‘Love of God revealed in Jesus’ in Romans 8:35-39.
‘Meditation is like spiritual daydreaming. Rather than analyse a passage, simply soak in it. There is no need to do anything with the words you read. Let them do something to you. Let the words wash over your heart.’[vi]
‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
Once you realise that you are immersed in ‘the river of God’s providential love,’ as it is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, you can learn to ‘float in it’. To float you don’t have to do anything – but let go. ‘Floating is putting your full weight on the water trusting you will always be supported.’ [vii]The confidence you need to have in order to let go – and float in the river of God’s love – comes from ‘letting God’s love wash over you’, ‘from soaking in the scriptural assurances of such love’, ‘not simply trying to believe them’.[viii]
Excerpts from Dave Andrews’ Out And Out: Way-Out Community Work Melbourne: Mosaic, 2012
[i] David Benner Surrender to Love p40
[ii] 1 John 4.18
[iii] David Benner Surrender to Love p84-5
[iv] Wayne Muller Legacy Of The Heart Simon & Schuster New York 1992p27
[v] John 20. 19-20
[vi] David Benner Surrender To Love p32-33
[vii] David Benner Surrender To Love p61-63
[viii] David Benner Surrender To Love p79