I intentionally contemplated on love for a season some years ago. My meditation was on the simple word, love. I expected God to give me visions and revelations that would enlighten me. But all I got, sitting after sitting, was God’s indwelling presence. And in time, I noticed that love and compassion had grown greater and greater in my heart.
A life if love is something beyond the imitation of Christ. To imitate is about doing. It is to willfully change your behavior so that you do things like Jesus. But a life of love is all about being. It is being who you are in Christ. It is being a person who has grasped the love of God so completely that God’s love radiates from within you and out to the world. Such a person exudes so much grace and peace that their mere presence is attractive.
The first tenet in the monastic Rule of Saint Basil is love, that is, love of God and the love of neighbor. Basil is saying, in effect, that a life set aside for God begins with love. Our movement toward love is accelerated when one realizes God’s love for us. Then, with time, we discover that such love is beyond our comprehension. Consider this revelation from Julian of Norwich: “God’s love for humanity is so vast that he makes no distinction between the blessed Christ and the least soul among us.”
We grow spiritually as we advance toward becoming love. One of the most radical things Jesus ever said about love is, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” I must admit, that verse baffled me for years. How can any human be perfect? My problem was that I was reading the verse out of context. Before Jesus got to that verse, he pointed out that his father in heaven provides sunshine and rain to grow the crops of farmers who are good and evil alike. Now my teaching on that verse is to be a blessing to everyone who sees you.
God is love and we become love more and more as we shed the worldly accessories that hide our inward God image. The journey to becoming love may be slow and at times painful. Thomas À Kempis describes our goal well, “One must give up all that they love for their Beloved, for Jesus will be loved alone, more than all other things.”
As we grow in love, we become aware of God’s presence in all creation. This is found in contemplation of nature. After all, how can you experience God who is unseen before you learn how to experience God in creation which you can see. For that reason, sages across the millennia have encouraged the novice to begin by contemplating creation. They also teach us that God is active in all things, sustaining them because of love.
When I was with a group of spiritual directors who met for contemplation, one of the participants was in tears trying to understand how she could explain God’s love to her LGBT congregation. In contemplation, I saw the birds that delight me in my back yard, blue jays, chickadees, doves, flickers and more. I asked God, “Why are you showing me birds?” God whispered, “You love every bird because you accept each of them for their unique beauty.” The struggling guide broke into tears of joy when I shared my revelation with the group. “That’s like Jesus,” she declared. It was a soul lesson of love for all of us.
We advance toward becoming love as we dare to venture outside of our own self-focus and begin to appreciate others for who they are. We love others as Jesus loves us. Such love begins with acceptance and leads to affirmation of the other. We feel compassion for others well up in our hearts. In the life of love, a person effortlessly manifests the love of Christ to others.
Jesus told a story about Lazarus, a beggar, and a rich man. Lazarus sat outside the rich man’s gate every day, waiting in vain for the rich man to offer him a scrap of food. When the beggar dies, angels carried him away to sit on the lap of Abraham. When the rich man died, he was sent to Hades where he was tormented.
Poor people in those days customarily sat outside the gate of a wealthy household waiting for food and alms. It was accepted that a rich homeowner would help any poor person sitting at their gate. In fact, excavations at Pompeii reveal stone benches at the gates of a wealthy residence.
In the life of love, when you see a beggar on the street, your first impulse is to look upon them with compassion. Then with discernment, so that you know how to respond. Whether your hand is open with alms or closed as you have discerned, offer them encouragement with compassion. Even looking into their eyes with a smile affirms them as a person of value.
THE WAY of LOVE
The contemplative way leads to the life of love. Neuroscience tells us that the focus of mind demanded in contemplation develops the area of the frontal lobe responsible for compassion. That area of the brain grows larger across years of practicing contemplation. After all, God created the human brain in a way that we can perceive divine knowledge and wisdom. Contemplation is good for all aspects of our spirituality. It is especially beneficial for growing in love and compassion.
Who benefits when you practice contemplation daily, but you don’t carry that same divine presence into your community? Be diligent in practicing contemplation and aware of God’s imminent presence in stillness. Also, be mindful of the peace and compassion imparted to you by our loving God. Be intentional about recalling God’s loving presence in silence, taking it with you into your community.
As for Christlikeness, a life of love is the best vision I can share to help you manifest the presence of Christ in this world. Love heals. Love changes the world. Let your heart be eager to share kindness to everyone you encounter. I am amazed by how often people I meet, even casually, remember me by name simply because I said something kind or encouraging to them. Your loving kindness is healing and encouraging.
Christlikeness is a life of love. Such a life manifests the love of God into your community wherever you go. The only state of being I can think of that is greater than Christlikeness is union with God. Let love give meaning to your identity. Ponder that. Julian of Norwich asked, “What was the meaning of Christ”. Her answer from God, “Know it well: love was his meaning. Who revealed this to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why did he reveal it to you? For love. Stay with this and you will know more of the same.”