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is love, specifically Christian love,
but not in a way that excludes other forms of love,
but, as we'll be proposing, as fulfilling of them
if they're authentically human love.
And it's quite a topic, it's quite overwhelming.
So we'll just be offering some suggested reflections
and insights that come from scripture or the mystics
or the theologians or poets or something.
And at the end of each one of these encounters,
we'll be having discussion to open up to your insights
and questions and completings of what is said here.
But it's, I think, a topic that we explore a lifetime,
and it's where we begin with our,
the parental love we receive from mom and dad,
and it's hopefully where we end our journey
on this earth with the loved ones around us,
either physically or the whole spirit of their presence.
And it purports to be the answer to our deepest questions
about what it's all about.
We have to have these questions
because we didn't decide that we would be human beings,
that we'd be born in this century
and of that family, et cetera.
We're thrown into the situation,
as the existentialist philosophers and theologians say,
so we don't come with the answers to it all.
So it's a quest, what is it all about?
And the answer of Christianity
and others of the great religions
and also poets and theologians,
in some sense or other, in the deepest sense,
it is about this agape love.
That's where we come from, that's how we should journey,
that's where we're going.
So I find this extremely relieving
that we can bring it all together,
we can get to the heart of the matter.
And then the trick is just to be there,
to abide there, as 1 John says.
But to know, in some sense, what we're trying to do,
what we've received and what we will receive,
that's, I think, that's a great consolation.
There's so many people who really don't have a clue,
so many people who are convinced
that it isn't all about Christian love.
So I think it's a grace to have this commitment
of faith and hope and love.
So Jesus says, for instance,
you know the famous threefold commandment,
this is the fullness of the law and the prophets.
That is, all of Jewish revelation is in this love God
with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,
and love your neighbor as yourself.
So we'll be exploring this more carefully.
But in these three dimensions of the love commitment,
that's it, says Jesus.
You do that and you'll live.
You do that and you'll attain the fullness of God.
So that's something.
And then, of course, in Paul,
the greatest of these is love,
of these being the highest Christian virtues and gifts.
The greatest of them is love.
If I have all the rest but don't have love, I'm nothing.
But love somehow fulfills all the rest.
And then you'll remember 1 John says simply,
whoever abides in love abides in God and God in them
because God is love.
So there's that amazing equation, God is love.
Raymond Brown says that's probably the most famous
and most popular verses in Scripture.
And Augustine has a lovely phrase where he says,
if we lost all the rest,
but had only that verse of Scripture,
we could somehow reconstruct all the rest
from just that verse.
That's it, that is the heart of the matter.
And not a heart of darkness, evidently,
but a heart truly of light, a life-giving heart.
And so we can quote all kinds of mystics,
as we will in these meetings,
but also many of the poets and writers
say something of the same sort.
Maybe it's not precisely about the fullness
of Christian agape they're talking about,
but they're talking about some analogy.
This is how they sum it up.
So Rilke says,
for one human being to love another human being,
this is the ultimate task, the final test and proof,
the work for which all other work is merely preparation.
So he's talking specifically about love among humans,
but it's interesting that he should put that
as what everything else is preparation for.
And there's this lovely quote of Emily Dickinson.
All I know of love is that love is all there is.
And I think a serious tomist would agree with that.
In the final analysis, if God is love,
everything else is preparation for love,
fulfilled in love, or illusion, or non-existence, finally.
So either that's true or it's not.
If it is true, then somehow to get our life centered there,
that's what Christian spirituality wants to be all about.
That's what interpersonal relations want to be all about.
That's what liturgy wants to be all about.
Private prayer, my relation with myself, whatever,
my relation with creation,
somehow it all wants to get back to there.
And so the only challenge is to walk the talk.
But it's not so easy, of course.
I think as we get into this theme
and get into reflecting about our own experience of love,
we discover that in some ways it's the hardest thing of all.
It's easy to go through the motions,
but to truly love the other, to truly love ourselves,
to truly love God, extremely difficult.
So that's the narrow way that leads to the kingdom.
That is perfection.
I remember Dean Jones at Grace Cathedral,
he had this workshop where he asked everyone
to very much focus on that they were loved by God
for just about 20 seconds, into focus there.
And he said, we probably can't keep there
much longer than that.
We're so convinced that we can't be loved by God,
that God doesn't really love us,
that to hold ourselves consciously and committedly there
is a real act of faith, really.
But to come back there, that's really one way
we can express the gospel, the good news,
is God does love us.
God so loved the world, God sent,
so may be God's son, et cetera.
But it's hard work just to love self,
certainly to love the other.
It's the hardest task of all, Rilke goes on to say,
and certainly to love God.
And then one of our special problems,
I think, in our contemporary world is this term love
has been kind of so overused
and for such a range of ambiguous applications
that it's almost a word we'd rather not use.
It's kind of tainted.
And so we could either drop it
and use all kinds of synonyms, compassion and mercy
and unconditional, what, acceptance, et cetera,
or at least in our Christian assemblies,
we can try to redeem the word,
or we can use the exquisitely Greek form of it, agape,
or other variations like philia, friendship, love,
or something, but there is that problem.
It's used also in trivial ways.
I just love chocolate.
Now, this isn't the kind of love that is God, obviously.
Here, we've descended to quite a mean level.
And then, obviously, you can have all kinds
of tawdry, salacious applications.
How's your love life, et cetera, et cetera.
They didn't even know each other, but they made love.
How do you make love, Rilke?
You can't make agape.
You can't receive agape and then share this agape.
It's this incredible primordial source
and force and energy of it all.
But we've got to be aware that there'll be a lot
of lingo about love that will also not have much to do
with Christianity at all.
So, we want to try to sort all that out.
Then, it's simply the clean, let us say,
the wholesome, the fully human ways of expressing love.
We have so many different dimensions,
modalities, phases of love.
Again, we begin as little tiny babies
with this awareness of mommy's love and daddy's love.
Well, daddy's love is somehow different
from mommy's love.
Then, we get to know maybe the love of grandmother,
and that's different still,
and maybe a brother and sister, and that's different.
Then, somehow, we move into a deep
and authentic self-love, perhaps.
We've got to explore what that means.
And then, love of friends, love of enemy.
What is that all about?
And then, romantic love, authentic romantic love,
spousal love, and then, we, perhaps, as parents.
All these are quite different.
To love as a little tiny, needy baby
is quite different than to love
as a self-giving mother, for instance.
Why do we use the same word, et cetera?
So, all kinds of things to think about.
So, this could be a basic exercise of this weekend,
and I think, really, of our lifetime,
to reflect back over all these different phases
and dimensions of love in our own life.
When it's gone well, when it's not gone well,
what can we think about that?
How can we pray about that?
How does all that illumine and challenge us today?
So, to keep churning on this.
But one of the theories we'll suggest
is that, really, human development
in its unfolding different stages and phases and passages,
one of the ways, perhaps the deepest way to understand it,
is in a series of human loves
that become more and more illumined
and fulfilled by grace and by Christian love.
But it doesn't always work.
Sometimes, we have some real setbacks, et cetera.
Well, to acknowledge that and to ponder,
what can I learn from that?
And all the suffering involved in love.
If we truly love another, or ourselves, or God,
we're setting ourselves up for very intense suffering.
It'll be a meaningful and a purifying
and enhancing suffering, but it'll certainly be suffering.
So, to have the courage to get in touch
with all that this weekend.
We had a psychologist, Fyne Benedictine,
who teaches at the Menninger.
He said, basically, each of us has a love map,
and that can be understood at many levels.
But one of the fuller ways to understand it
is our own history, our own salvation history.
Again, in terms of the experiences we've had of love
and the experiences we haven't had of love,
and how to keep working on that.
So, I would hope that the meditations I offer
are just a minimum part of this weekend,
and that your own work and reflection and prayer
will be the main part of it.
At this point now, we might go through that little exercise.
It's traditional in this kind of moment,
and that's for us briefly to introduce each other,
one to another, so that we will be, in some sense,
community and journeying with each other.
So, if each one of us might just introduce ourselves,
maybe just a word or two about what brought us,
what are our expectations,
and what is our understanding of love,
or whatever you wanna say around this thing.
So, I'm Robert Hale, and a monk here, a priest,
and prior, but looking back, it seems to me
that these experiences of love in my own life
have been the most powerful forces,
and would have gotten me through, kind of,
and would have given me hope and horizon,
first of all, of mom and dad and brother,
but then of friends through the early years,
and then in college, in philosophy major,
trying to come up with what's it all about,
and it seemed to me that somehow this is the ultimate answer,
and so, to work on that,
and so, that's an area I've been exploring,
and also trying to live here, celibately.
Why would you want to be a celibate
if you think love isn't the heart of it?
Well, that's an interesting variation,
but hopefully one can live authentically love
in a place like this.
So, this is just a brief introduction.
Maybe we can go around here.
My name is Susanna North,
and I've been here a couple of times,
but my experience, I've been married for 16 years,
and it's been a real difficult marriage,
and we have recently been going through a reconciliation,
and I thought I understood a lot of things
about loving and being loved,
and what I'm finding at age 49
is that I'm starting to learn all over again,
and I think the biggest thing for me
is learning forgiveness,
forgiveness for my own failures,
and forgiveness of my spouse,
and there are people in our lives
that I feel we are blessed with that are almost like gifts,
and then there's relationships
where the real meat of the work happens,
and they aren't always easy relationships.
They're difficult.
It's really where we come face-to-face
with our own rocky, hard spots,
and it's easy not to let any water pass under the bridge,
and blame everything on someone else,
but I'm really learning a lot
about loving all over again since I got here.
Thank you.
I'm Cal Tucker.
I've been here a couple times before.
I've been treated once,
and I'm here with an open mind,
but I'm aware of many profound changes
going on in my life,
in my relationship,
which I think has been a loving and growing one
with my students and my high school teacher,
but I'm now contemplating retirement,
and shifting my concern for them.
My relationship to men friends has changed a lot
in recent years.
I'm now 57,
and since about 52,
the foundations have shaken in many ways for me.
A lot of the death of parents,
which reveals to me incompleteness in my life.
My relationship to my wife has undergone a profound change,
because she's changing in many ways, and so am I.
So I'm here to clarify,
and to help me to redefine
this overused word,
or word with innumerable definitions.
Why don't we turn this off?
I think I forgot to, here.
So, at least I've heard lots of echoes and similarities
in just our basic, mysterious humanity,
but also lots of differences.
And for some people, the early years were wonderfully warm,
and formative in love,
and for others, maybe there was abuse there,
and even destructive forces,
and one person who moves,
and it's difficult, another person who moves,
and it's a very rewarding experience, et cetera.
Each one of us is so different,
according to our own history,
and backgrounds, and people we've worked with.
And so that, in presenting a theme like this,
one has to be very careful, I think,
because we might take maternal love
as the basic prototype of what life is all about,
and what God is all about,
but if someone has had an extremely abusive mother,
that becomes problematic.
I knew a man who was a candidate to be a monk here,
and he didn't persevere,
but he'd had the most dysfunctional,
to use that pop word, family,
specifically regarding his mother,
who had been into drugs, and into prostitution,
and often in jail,
and he was obviously such a wounded person.
So when we sometimes, in our California Liberation,
would talk about the maternal,
and how this illumines and fulfills the paternal,
one could see the pain on his face.
On the other hand, we know of, obviously,
guys for whom the father has been extremely abusive,
et cetera, so that that's not the way to go.
A picture like this could, for some,
just sum up the whole gospel, et cetera,
the prodigal son story,
but if you've had an abusive father,
that won't be too helpful,
and so with brothers and friends,
someone in my family told me,
don't ever get too involved in friendship.
They'll betray you sooner or later,
and this really hurt me,
because my experience of friendship
had been quite different,
but I thought, my God,
what has been the sad suffering of this person?
So we're all different in this regard,
so, and we all have different understandings
of what all these things are about,
especially insofar as they're kind of models
and prefigurings of the ultimate love.
So what I'll try to do,
as a kind of a pastoral tactic here,
is kind of throw out all kinds of things,
and maybe something will be useful for you,
and maybe something quite different
will be useful for you,
so it won't be precisely a systematic, organic thing,
but like the sower that casts all kinds of seed,
and very widely,
and I'd say, if something just doesn't work for you,
just acknowledge that.
You might take note of it.
That could be interesting.
Why doesn't it work?
But if something does work, kind of go with that.
We can also very much learn
from what just doesn't work for us.
One of our monks whose experience
with the father has been so negative.
He's been working for years on forgiving his father.
Forgiveness has been mentioned here.
Hard, hard task.
When he succeeds at that,
it's a much greater achievement than when I succeed,
because my father was basically very loving,
and gentle, and all the way, et cetera,
but so this is the approach that I'll use,
and of course, in my particular talks,
there'll be lots of words, and concepts,
and theories, et cetera,
but love is pre-rational and trans-rational,
so somehow, just putting this picture here,
it wants to try to get us beyond
just thinking about love,
because it's not in the thoughts.
One can have wonderful thoughts about love,
and not being a loving person,
or not being able to receive love,
so somehow, as the Eastern Orthodox say,
we've got to descend from the head into the heart,
and on the other hand, as Chesterton says,
nothing is more practical than a good theory,
so love is not so fragile, and kind of effervescent,
that if we rigorously explore it,
it'll just kind of crumble
like a fragile butterfly, or something,
but it's robust enough to sustain a rigorous exploration,
and pondering, and discussion, and debate, even,
of what on earth is this love,
so we don't want to exclude that,
we don't want to go into the irrational,
but I think we want to acknowledge
that when we've done all our talking, and thinking, et cetera,
we're just at the beginning of it all,
so I would hope in these days
that you would be open to all the
kind of solicitations, and invitations,
and revelations of love.
It might come from nature here,
theologians talk about natural revelation,
and that natural revelation that is the ocean,
and the hills, and the sky,
and somehow, this is the way our loving God
also wants to jostle us with the immensity,
and the depth, and incredible variety of God's love,
but the mysterious aspects,
why does God create mosquitoes, and skunks,
and we have mountain lions here,
we've got bunny rabbits,
there's quite a difference between a bunny rabbit,
and a mountain lion, what did God have in mind?
How does this all come back to our theme of agape, et cetera,
and memories, and poetry, and whatever helps
to claim this central, and first, and last value,
and reality, and being?
So I thought we might just say a few words about this,
it'll probably be redundant of what you,
those of you who have read Henri Nouwen's book
have already come across,
I have to say I haven't read it,
so part of this is my own,
part of this is talking with our own artist,
Arthur Poulin, about the painting, it's his,
but it's obviously a very tender picture,
someone who'd never heard of the Christian message
would see an older man, and a younger man,
and some kind of tender embrace,
we would know it as Jesus' story
about a father and a son,
the history of it is that this is one of the last paintings
of Rembrandt, he had thought his life had been a disaster
because of his own lack of fidelity to his conscience,
to the Christian gospel, et cetera,
so he's very much in that picture,
in the penitent young man, so it's about him,
it's about presumably each one of us somehow,
so it's very much about our talking today,
so some of you might want to just spend time
in front of that to get into what is this love,
sometimes profound art gets deeper into the thing
than lots of words and theories, et cetera.
The art critics note the two extraordinary hands
of the loving father are so different,
the more you study it, this is very robust,
strong, and it's hard not to think of a male hand here,
and this is quite different,
and one finger is more delicate,
so at least some scholars see in this tenderness
of the parent there both a maternal love
and a paternal, and on the back,
almost a kind of a blessing, a benediction,
if you've ever been to a consecration or ordination,
it's on the head, but it's this kind of laying on of hands,
and on the back of this young man
who's born such a load of his own baby,
and then the young man is without hair,
he's bald, and as it turns out,
that's apparently, Arthur says,
that's what they did to convicts
of New England's country at that time,
they shaved them, and sometimes also steal them,
insane assignments, you shave to get the lice out, et cetera.
Another thing is the child, I mean, the newborn babe,
the prodigal son is born again in this love,
as the father said, this our son was dead,
and is alive again, was lost, and is found.
And this intense red, it's the red of blood,
the red of martyrdom, deep suffering that's involved,
the red of the Holy Spirit.
So it's a painting about Rembrandt,
it's a painting about every one of us,
it's paternal love, helial love,
God's love, presumably, God is loving our love.
Theologically, many of the ancient fathers and mothers
saw in the prodigal son Jesus,
Jesus who journeyed to a far country,
and there was made sin for us,
and then through suffering, death, and resurrection,
and ascension, is able to journey back
to the house of the father.
So Jesus is the prodigal, and in and with Jesus, all of us.
So again, that can strike at a deep intuitive level,
sometimes we're on theories, et cetera.
I would suggest to your pondering this,
and it might work particularly well for some,
and again, not for others, we also, right out the door,
have that huge icon of mother and child,
Mary and Jesus, Vladimir, inspired by the Vladimir.
This is by one of our Kamaldolese nuns,
Sister Anna, who studied with the Russian master,
but there's all kinds of things happening there also.
Mary as church, Mary as the feminine dimension
of the divine, et cetera.
Jesus as, obviously, our savior,
but also as each and every one of us.
And that brings in the whole feminine.
So you might ponder that in these days, all the dynamic,
and then Mary is kind of looking out at us,
inviting us to come into the painting,
to receive Christ tenderly and lovingly as she does.
But there's a kind of a sorrow in her face,
and she knows what that'll mean,
that humankind will also crucify her son.
So there's, as I say, that can also be a long meditation.
And then as you enter into the door of the church,
right in front of you is another icon
inspired by the famous Rublieff trinity.
And the immediate subject is the three angels
that visit Abraham and Sarah.
But the fathers and mothers thought
that that's a prefiguring of the Holy Trinity
that visits us.
Well, those figures are kind of androgynous.
So we do have the feminine and the masculine,
and the older and the younger,
and then the mysterious kind of trans, male or female.
In these three figures, there's a lot of dynamic.
It's centered on the cup, on Eucharist.
And the scholars debate who's the son
and who's the father and who's the spirit in that trinity.
It goes beyond those ways of articulating the persons.
So that's another resource.
And as I say, anything in the area of poetry or music
in these days, but in the ongoing films,
there's some powerful films that explore this theme
in its various dimensions.
And so, just so we can claim all of these resources.
So this is just to kind of begin our pondering meditation.
Do think about your own journey in love
and where you are at this point and where you want to go.
Do think, suppose you were to have to give
a retreat like this, how would you organize it?
What would you focus on and what problems?
What do we mean by love?
What is it that embraces all these different dimensions
and what helps us distinguish the authentic Christian
and human love from the very ambiguous
and dangerous counterfeits, et cetera.
And in the meantime, let's just journey on
and we might conclude with a prayer of St. Anselm
and then maybe just depart quietly.
This is from St. Anselm's Meditation on the Redemption.
Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge.
Let me know by love what I know by understanding.
Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of love.
I am wholly yours by creation.
Make me all yours, too, in love.