Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Love of God

This Morning's Window Opens onto Snow & Sun

   To add texture and splendor to Love, open windows of anger, commands, and wonder. In the quotations leading into Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden, he includes one from Thoreau’s Journal: 
“I do not know where to find in any literature, whether ancient or modern, any adequate account of that nature with which I am acquainted. Mythology comes nearest to it of any.” 
In a somewhat similar puzzlement, I do not know where to find the meaning of “the love of God” (but teaching-stories whisper invitations). Of course, like Thoreau’s acquaintance with nature, it’s hardly a stranger; instead, when a treasure is long held close, sometimes new windows open.
     My previous post noted several spiritual verses giving this the highest priority: “love God more than all else.” The commentary on Rumi’s Mathnawi even pushes us to consider that the essence of any love is found in love of God: “When I say ‘love,’ I mean love of God” (Listen, p. 252). 
     Perhaps one window that’s opening has to do with anger. Love is more than not-angry; yet as appparent opposites often inform each other, perhaps a path to the love of God passes through anger. When someone we love gets taken from us, if we believe in an all-powerful deity, how can we avoid feeling hurt, betrayed, even angry. Of course, the book of Job offers guidance. C.S. Lewis rewrote it in dealing with the loss of Joy, the love of his life. Perhaps to love God requires going through the shadow of death. Harold Kushner’s ending to his second book on Job includes the embodied knowing of anger in the pathway to the love of God: 
“I like Job, respond…I repudiate my past accusations, my doubts, even my anger. I have experienced the reality of God. I know that I am not alone, and, vulnerable mortal that I am, I am comforted” (p. 202). 
Stephen Mitchell, recommended by Kushner for expressing the verses as a poet, translates Job 42:6: “Therefore I will be quiet/ comforted that I am dust” (p. 88, The Book of Job).
     As conveyed in Job’s struggle, the Love of God seems not to be encompassed by human understanding. So I’m not surprised that Job’s condition as “quiet/comforted” leaves me unsatisfied, still yearning for more. Love, it seems, is multi-textured, a “many-splendored thing.” The texturing built through the suffering side of passion cannot be denied, as developed so magnificently in Job; and granting that, other textures may also be admitted, even when they seem incompatible, even paradoxical to the human mind. To recognize the limitation in our thinking is not to diminish the exercise and development of it; instead, a deepened knowing of the love of God depends on reaching as far into a human’s cognition and consciousness as one can stretch.
     Perhaps another window, adding texture and splendor, to the Love of God searches the relationship with commandment. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he transmitted that God is impassioned, “showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex 20:6 JPS translation; “mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” KJ version; “showing loyalty to the thousandth/ of those that love me,/ of those that keep my commandments” Everett Fox translation).  
     As I’m looking through this window today, I’m wondering about the word “because.” When is the love relationship affirmed because a person obeys the command? Dad to child: “You do it because I tell you to!” While this tone may be necessary at certain times and force some levels of development, there must be more.
     My searching into this is not to question the necessity of submitting to God’s authority; instead, it’s to wonder about getting a sharpened perspective on the way it fits with living in a path of attraction. One of the many gifts of Rumi’s Mathnawi comes in the compelling push to clear the window/mirror. In order to clean away the rust that mars the surface of human perception, what could be better than the direction given by an Authority that has infinite knowledge and far superior love!
     Of other windows that open to this many-splendored thing, one already named but easily skipped past must be wonder. When a person wishes to trace the “trailing clouds of glory,” a portal might be along the singular lines of one’s unique fingerprint. Perhaps the love of God shows up in the enactment of the personal gift, the talent, and that’s key to living in the path of attraction. To track the fingerprint sometimes comes in clues as small and sweet as “I wonder…”
     While the wonder may be as huge as Job’s, it also plays in delicate, almost invisible lines, like the one I followed from a “nonsense tale” into a long journey leading to “spiritual verses,” "teaching-stories," and biblical narrative.  I feel Wordsworth's trailing clouds easily get lost in distraction, illusion, and deception. Guidance from God’s commands may have to clear the lens over one’s eyes in order to gain the heart’s vision. And for that I find stories invaluable, wonder tales. Robert Alter says that the Art of Biblical Narrative is for “a momentous revolution in consciousness” (p. 155).
“The biblical tale might usefully be regarded as a narrative experiment in the possibilities of moral, spiritual, and historical knowledge, undertaken through a process of studied contrasts between the variously limited knowledge of the human characters and the divine omniscience quietly but firmly represented by the narrator. From time to time, a human figure is granted special knowledge or foreknowledge, but only through God’s discretionary help. . . by the course through which some are made to pass from dangerous ignorance to necessary knowledge of self and other, and of God’s way.” (pp. 157-9)