ere’s what we know: human beings thrive in the presence of love. We grow more loving where love is present. Love is also health-giving, restorative, curative.
The primary spiritual challenge is not just to love but to allow love to be the foundation of our lives: the ground of our being, the place of forgiveness and gratitude, delight and awe, and ceaseless source of hope. When a religious teaching leaves out love, it ceases to be religious. Where a spiritual teaching sentimentalizes love, it ceases to be spiritual.
Is there a more beautiful teaching than this one?
“Beloved: let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love has not recognized God. For God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
The Sacred: An Opening to Love
For many, and I am certainly among them, the sacred is an opening to love and a meeting with love. A time of quiet reflection or prayer, offering a kindness or forgiveness, participation in a ritual, reading poetry or scripture, holding someone as they grieve, laughing with a child, listening with care to a colleague or a friend, allowing oneself to be awestruck in nature: these moments connect us deeply within and without. Perhaps we feel and experience the balm of such moments particularly strongly when they come unexpectedly or at times of confusion, pain, grief or sorrow. Sometimes those moments are not just loving and restorative but also palpably sacred. Life’s holiness is restored.
In our own lives, “little, lovely, silent acts of love,” whether we are giving or receiving them, are life-giving and even transformative. Transcending the categories of kindness, compassion and even beauty, these acts of love offer us glimpses of the sacred that are highly stabilizing. Whatever our outer circumstances they allow us to remember: “I am part of something wondrous. My life has value.”
So vitalizing are these insights into our need for love and into the nature of love that they also transcend the categories of religion. It is only in transcending those categories, in fact, that love can truly be honored and appreciated. Mystics throughout the centuries and from all cultures have been explicit about this. No one “owns” love. No one “owns” God, either — although many would scramble, fight and kill to make that claim. A mystical view would tell us that we don’t even “own” this life: all the more reason to treasure and love it.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Having a Relationship with God
Theologian Marcus Borg uses the terms “God,” or the sacred, or Spirit interchangeably. Out of his own faith tradition of Christianity he asks a question that could apply to all traditions — and to those for whom seeking is itself the path: “Is the Christian life centrally about believing, or is it about relationship?” And also: “Is it about believing in a God ‘out there’ or about a relationship with a God who is right here...?”
The directness of our relationship to love, and perhaps also to the sacred and to God, is one of the most exhilarating and liberating characteristics of twenty-first-century spiritual life. We don’t all need a middleman (as the poet Rilke disparagingly called priests) to flatten the path to God for us. We don’t all need dogma. We certainly don’t all need to be puffed up by claims of being somehow better than others in the eyes of God.
Ecstasy: Direct Contact with the Divine
What seekers do need and often yearn for is what writer Andrew Harvey describes in The Direct Path as a “direct and unmediated contact with the Divine, free of the divisiveness, body hatred, and bias toward transcendence that disfigures all the inherited patriarchal religions.” It makes new sense of the ancient “receptive” sacred practices like chanting, meditation and contemplation, and it accounts in large part for their contemporary renaissance.
It also makes sense of the emphasis in these pages on ethical living founded on inspiration, interconnectedness and love: seeing all beings through the eyes of the Beloved, finding the Beloved everywhere and allowing our behavior to reflect that transformational insight. As Harvey explains, this gives us a chance “...at last to inhabit time, the body, and the earth with ecstatic consciousness and a passionate and radical sense of responsibility toward all living things.”
Ecstasy and responsibility is the new spirituality: one changing our understanding of the other almost entirely. One quality pointing us toward heaven; the other connecting us more securely to this earth.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin,
a member of Penguin Group (USA). ©2011. www.us.PenguinGroup.com.
This article is excerpted with permission from the book:
Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our View of Ourselves and One Another
by Stephanie Dowrick.
Stephanie Dowrick shows that it is only in altering our perception -- seeing all of life as sacred -- that we will challenge the usual stories about who we are and what we are capable of being. In Seeking the Sacred, Stephanie invites us to go beyond cultural divisions and religious dogma and to discover what makes our lives sacred, satisfying, and meaningful. A compelling look at how we can transform the world by seeing the extraordinary everywhere we look, both without and within.
About the Author
Stephanie Dowrick, PhD, is noted for her highly encouraging, accessible writing on key issues affecting our personal and collective wellbeing. Her international best sellers include Choosing Happiness, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, Intimacy and Solitude, Creative Journal Writing, Seeking the Sacred and In the Company of Rilke. Formerly a publisher, and also a trained psychotherapist and literary critic, Dr Dowrick draws on the latest insights from the worlds of psychology and spiritual activism as well as timeless universal wisdom teachings. Her past achievements include founding the prestigious London publishing house, The Women’s Press, where she was Managing Director from 1977-1983. Visit her website at www.stephaniedowrick.com.