Love’s Undercurrent

Failing to feel is not something I’m accustomed to. You can catch me crying at the beauty of the world, laughing with overwhelming joy, weeping because of the kindness of strangers, smiling because I simply see the sky, shedding a tear over missing my nephews… The point is, letting myself feel is the way I know myself and the world more deeply.

But, the truth is, it’s frequently more for me. Often times, my commentary gets in the way of my actual feeling. My announcement that a stranger was kind can (doesn’t mean it necessarily does) diminish my deep embrace with the infinite undercurrent of love within the moment. Sometimes emotions get in the way of experience, encounter, and a genuine embrace. Sometimes my smile at the mountains is more important than my proclamation of love for them. Sometimes my silence with a thought is more potent than writing it down. Sometimes, my unknown tears are from a place that doesn’t need to be explained.

Many of us face complicated days—memories abound, thoughts stop us in our tracks, histories take over present moments, and we still try to drudge through it all to emerge loving towards ourselves and our fellow human. There’s nothing wrong with exploring feelings with words, it’s human nature to reach for a sense of understanding within language. But, sometimes, the most boundless moments demand our silence. Sometimes the piles of language we create give us even more to sift through.

There are emotions we believe we innately know. For instance, many of us have a kind of faith in love. We’ve felt it heal, hold, cleanse, grow. We know love, or at least like to think we do. We’ve also felt it go amiss, and seen it tilted on its side until it becomes both unrecognizable and no longer life-giving. When I consider the indistinguishable relationship between love and freedom, I realize how often naming the nameless or clothing the bodiless can leave all disguised. Layered upon by language and definitions, the encounter is lost, the unspoken nature of the wholeness is penetrated by words. While love’s undercurrent demands to be felt, love still can be subtle while not being defined, and certainly never aggressively explained.

It is solely in the mystery where love lives, despite the fact that humans have spent their existence naming it. Perhaps love is both a letting go and an opening up, an ever-widening circle capable of holding more and more of the lover and the beloved, in our vast array of human relationships. All too often it’s easier to let go and that can be done in a toxic nature, especially when we find ourselves protecting the ego. On the other hand, we may find ourselves letting go simply because the suffering cannot be held an longer. But without letting go and opening up, there’s room to grow. The rigidity of solely letting go becomes nothing but an end point.

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Love grows where there’s room for it.

A desperate clinging is the precise opposite of a unfurled “knowing” (not to say there is such a thing). Clinging dissolves freedom, which dissolves a core aspect of faith, hope, and love. Theologian Paul Tillich writes, “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” In other words an emptiness or language-less space of freedom must exist before something can begin to fit, make sense, give life.

We are all hurting people. And our openness cannot be mistaken for wholeness. Wholeness does not exist without openness, while openness doesn’t necessarily mean wholeness. In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker J. Palmer writes, “But choosing wholeness, which sounds like a good thing, turns out to be risky business, making us vulnerable in ways we would prefer to avoid.” Because choosing wholeness takes us on an inward journey—a place of revisiting ourselves, our scars, our woundedness, our darknesses. This inward stroll through the interior museum is not for the faint of heart, but it is for the one seeking wholeness. For wholeness with openness, is a life that abounds in both freedom and love. It is a life whose unattached faith and hope cannot help but delight in the unknown.

“Things take the time they take,” writes poet Mary Oliver.

Hurrying mystery, disables it.

Prodding wonder, forces it to hide.

Coercing awe, makes it dissolve.

“Naming the nameless can leave all unrecognizable,” a monk of Snowmass Monastery once said to me.

And in his 1964 essay to poets, Thomas Merton writes,

“We are content if the flower comes first and the fruit afterwards, in due time.  Such is the poetic spirit. Let us obey life, and the Spirit of Life that calls us to be poets, and we shall harvest many new fruits for which the world hungers – fruits of hope that have never been seen before.  With these fruits we shall calm the resentments and the rage of man. Let us be proud that we are not witch doctors, only ordinary men. Let us be proud that we are not experts in anything. Let us be proud of the words that are given to us for nothing; not to teach anyone, not to confute anyone, not to prove anyone absurd, but to point beyond all objects into the silence where nothing can be said. We are not persuaders. We are the children of the Unknown. We are the ministers of silence that is needed to cure all victims of absurdity who lie dying of a contrived joy.  Let us then recognize ourselves for who we are: dervishes mad with secret therapeutic love which cannot be bought or sold, and which the politician fears more than violent revolution, for violence changes nothing.  But love changes everything. We are stronger than the bomb…”

Love grows where there’s room for it.

I, for one, will keep doing my best to make room, which is a lifelong engagement. For love is the most worthwhile gift on earth.

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Holy Cross Abbey • Berryhill, VA

The first blatant difference I noticed coming into Berryhill was the weather. It was the my first run in with the lovely winter, and I’m happy to report I was not only safe, but I also gazed in wonder like a child at the delicate snowfall (perhaps it helped that it still wasn’t as cold as Iowa).

I came to Holy Cross Abbey on a very busy weekend – there was a full guesthouse and the expectation of even more guests the following day as there was a funeral taking place. All guests were welcome to attend, so I respectfully attended the funeral proceedings.

Many assume there is pure rigidity in the monastic life. This is one of the things I beg to differ on. I have found and felt more freedom in the lives of these monks and nuns than I have found inflexibility. It’s important to note that any one of these monks or nuns can leave at any time – no one is being held captive or hindered from doing so. This is what makes these places so remarkable – each person chooses to be a part of their community, each monk or nun chooses to go to prayer, chooses to do their job, chooses to pray or not pray, chooses to live in harmony or not with their brothers or sisters, etc. Absolutely nothing in the monastic life is forced, for if that were the case, it would very clearly take away from the beauty of the community, the place, their adoration of God.

One of the main of many topics that came up here was the topic of freedom in commitment. I was able to discuss this concept with a monk who described coming to and going through thresholds in his life offering a grand sense of freedom. He talked about how he came to a point where he knew that if he dug deep into what was before him, he would find something valuable.

For some, this may be where fight/flight/freeze comes into play – for others, this may be where gut instinct kicks in – and for others, this may be where there is no stutter step or tango with a question (ahhh, wouldn’t that be nice). One of the things this makes me think of is the wall, I kept thinking ‘what do I do when I hit the wall?’ Some strictly refer to the wall as that point during participation in endurance sports where fatigue and exhaustion have the potential to take over (mind you, there’s some serious science here we’re not discussing regarding glycogen depletion). However, I’m discussing the wall as more of a metaphoric stance on when difficulties and/or challenges arise. I think it’s possible that our society has made it easier and easier to avoid, disregard, evade, be indifferent to, or even completely run from these things. I also think it’s a lot easier for me to blame society and have some avoidant conversation about what’s wrong with our world, than it is for me to look inward and question not ‘what’s wrong with me,’ but instead ‘what is this asking of me?’ or ‘what can I say about myself right now?’ More than that, I’ve found that the ‘walls’ in my life are often the points of breakthrough – whether they be via the course of heartache or elation. These ‘walls’ shape who I am and give me the opportunity to be more of who I am, be more true to who I am.

I recognize this is no new concept and all of us face these experiences regularly, for some maybe even daily. I’m just trying to face these walls in a new light – that they’re not about what’s wrong with the world or someone else, but rather an opportunity to create me AND have an increasing say in who I am/who I want to be – whether that be taking an adventurous turn down an unknown road (despite my being tired) to explore, or quitting my job to pursue a passion. I think it’s also important to note that when faced with the same ‘wall’ I may choose something different – possibly because I’ve changed, possibly because last time felt ‘wrong,’ or maybe for another reason. I don’t think this necessarily changes the core of someone, instead, I think it demonstrates growth and/or fluidity in one’s self discovery.

“Freedom of choice is not, itself, the perfection of liberty. But it helps us take our first step toward freedom or slavery, spontaneity or compulsion. The free man is the one whose choices have given him the power to stand on his own feet and determine his own life according to the higher light and spirit that are in him. The slave, in the spiritual order, is the man whose choices have destroyed all spontaneity in him and have delivered him over, bound hand and foot, to his own compulsions, idiosyncrasies and illusions, so that he never does what he really wants to do, but only what he has to do.” Thomas Merton, The New Man