Of course, we all know the injunction: spiritual (‘good’) people should love their neighbours, even their enemies.
I’ve done those practices where you send loving kindness to those you love, and then those you are pretty neutral to, and then those you dislike. I was never much good at those practices, and never really convinced they were going to work, at least for me.
Where my love was willing to go, and where my enmity was willing not to go, seemed very powerfully set, and not very susceptible to my attempts at conscious control.
Still, I recognised the importance of the problem – and that, for my spiritual health, it needed a solution. So, I’ve wrestled for years with the power of anger and aggression within me, and with my capacity to be wounded by aggression (of all kinds) coming at me, and where love fits in to all this. What on earth to do?
A few weeks ago, in the Hall at Swarthmore, in a two-hour Quaker meeting for worship, something new emerged, something that felt important, like it might be a solution, or at least a next step along the road to a solution…
I was practising being closer to the mind of Jesus, where the light and love of God comes in and out of the wounds in my being; I was with other people who were sitting with issues of God’s love, and the presence of Jesus; the Hall is a place soaked in centuries of worshipful contemplation; etc etc.
I saw again (I’d known this but forgotten) how we need to separate the views that people hold from the person that holds them. We can disagree with every view that someone expresses, and still value them as a person, still love them. After all, we are all unique. It’s not possible for us to be the same. It’s easy to find points on which we disagree. There are zillions of ways in which we disagree. I disagree with myself. I disagree profoundly with Pete from 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, on some matters. My views shift and change. Whose views do not? (As the old joke has it: If you can’t change your mind, are you sure you’ve still got one?)
So, what emerged? I apologise in advance for what I am about to say: it’s always going to be less than the God I experienced.
I saw all of us as expressions, as manifestations in physical and subtle form, of God, of God’s love. I saw that when we speak, then a mixture of thought and energy and feeling emerges from us in a particular pattern, and hangs around for a while, then fades away.
I saw that both we as individuals, and the particular expressions we might make, are perfect manifestations of God’s love in the world.
And that those perfect manifestations of God’s love are easy for me to love. There is no difficulty, no effort, in loving God, in loving whatever particular ways God might manifest. So even those who try to hurt me with what they express (my ‘enemies’), I love them, and what they do, as manifestations of God.
This is not the same kind of love as I feel for my children, or my wife. This is what has confused me in the past, I realise, when I thought I was supposed to feel that kind of love for all. It seems there’s a different, more ‘disinterested’ but still powerful, kind of love available. As is the way, experience lends flesh to the theory, often in surprising and unexpected ways.