Sunday, February 11, 2007

compassionate love

Throughout his discussion of contemplativeness, (“The Contemplative Heart”), James Finley returns again and again to the underlying theme of compassionate love:

We are continually failing, falling back into our ego needs and a private quest for inner peace and holiness. We want to become holy by rising above our ignorant and unaware selves. Finley advises us to engage contemplatively in the dilemma of how difficult it is to live contemplatively. Contemplativeness is about entering into brokenness, “entering the homelessness of the whole world being uniquely expressed in my experience of it.” (p. 39)

The big paradox is that when we are most broken and humbly embrace our lost-ness with compassionate love, we are closest to contemplative awareness – the compassionate love of God. Perhaps we are all too often like the good son who stays home and keeps all the rules - and remain clueless as to what compassionate love is all about.

A psychotherapist, Finley examines many of the ways that we lose the message of our own preciousness, and become shame-based:

“If this shame-based stance toward ourselves is not recognized and healed by compassionate love, our spiritual endeavors can become themselves shame-based attempts to establish as much distance as possible between ourselves and our own frailty and shortcomings. The seemingly lofty and holy self we imagine we are becoming feels secure in making an ascent that leaves far behind the fragile, childlike self that can barely walk on level ground, much less scale the steep inclines of spiritual perfection which we are seeking to master.

“Imagine that you have the following dream: You are climbing a high mountain. In the dream you know that the valley below is the place where you grew up and in which you experienced painful things and make all sorts of mistakes. It is this valley of painful memories and self-doubt that you are now trying to transcend and leave behind by reaching the summit on which you will be sublimely holy and one with God. Suddenly, the summit comes into view, and in that same instant the wind, coming up from the valley below, brings with it the sound of a child crying in distress. Just as suddenly you realize there is no real choice but to renounce the hard fought goal of reaching the summit to go back down the mountain to find and help the hurting child.

“Turning back, you descend down into the valley. Following the child’s cries as your guide, you are amazed to discover that you have been led (just as, deeper down, you knew you would be) to the homes you tried to leave behind in setting out to make your ascent to holiness! Sensing the ungraspable and momentous nature of the moment, you gently open the door and look inside. Sitting there, perhaps in a comer on the floor, is our own wounded child-self – that part of yourself that holds the feelings of powerlessness and shame that you tried so hard to leave behind. Respectfully approaching this hurting child, you sit next to it on the floor. Perhaps for a long time you say nothing, but simply sit there, grateful that you finally had the common sense to come back to this precious enigma of your own wounded child-self. Then a most amazing thing happens. You suddenly realize you are on the lofty summit of union with God! Suddenly, the Christ-event of God going forth to identify with the preciousness of us in our brokenness is realized in and as your compassionate love for the preciousness of yourself in your brokenness.” (“The Contemplative Heart”, James Finley, pp. 163-164)

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