The danger of the spiritual journey is self-absorption, thinking too much and too often about our progress, success or failure. This is our default form of awareness. We can hardly help seeing the world as a solar system revolving around me as the sun. On the occasions where we are redeemed from this and become other-centred, we often don’t know what happened. Later looking back to the happiness and peace it brought us, we don’t remember it was due to the fact that for a while we had involuntarily stopped being so damned self-centred.
It is easy to try to repeat the conditions that led us to such happiness – a person, a place, a delight – oblivious to the basic condition of selflessness that caused it. Happiness, when we remember it as a past event, is seen as a result of a cause. In fact, happiness is always present and it is the cause of the results. Lent allows us to see that the secret of happiness and the dynamic of the spiritual journey are one. This is such an obvious secret we should call it ‘mystery’ instead. As long as we think it is a ‘secret’ we will search for the code, the password, the key, the esoteric trick that will get it for us. When we see it as mystery we realise we have only to walk into it and not look back. Lent can be just this determined step through this portal of mystery.
Diadochus, who we consulted earlier in Lent, understood this in terms of loving others. Because ‘loving’ has so many meanings and overtones for us, let’s simply call it paying genuine (that is, selfless) attention to others. Diadochus says that when we experience the love of God in its richness we begin to love others with an awareness that arises directly from our spiritual dimension. Sometimes when people meditate for the first time, in a trusting and childlike way, with no demands or expectations, a trapdoor opens in them and they fall into an experience they have never known before and have no way to describe. They rarely call it love, because it is different from what we imagine love to be. But it is in fact the rich and enriching love of God at the centre and source of our being.
Touching – or being touched – by this, even for an instant, triggers an ongoing conversion. A major effect of this is felt throughout all our relationships. Diadochus says the new quality of attention we bring to our relationships is the love the scriptures speak of. Friendship, as we normally experience it, is quite fragile. Betrayals, disappointments, distrust or jealousy can shake or break the best of them. But, if this rich love has been awakened in us, we are better able to weather the storm and the relationship may survive. ‘When a person is spiritually awakened, even if something irritates him, the bond of love is not dissolved; rekindling himself with the warmth of the love of God, he quickly recovers himself and with great joy seeks his neighbour’s love, even though he has been gravely wronged or insulted.’
We saw yesterday that the spiritual art of living is not about will-power. Forgiving, healing and renewing relationships is also not about being superhumanly detached and saintly. It is the natural response for anyone who has drunk from the deeper spring of love within. We may describe this as an enhanced capacity to pay attention. It is in fact more: a greater capacity to love. Or, as Diadochus, says ‘the sweetness of God completely consumes the bitterness of the quarrel.’