Cosmic Lovemaking

A COSMIC, SPIRITUAL VIEW OF MAKING LOVE

    If God is love, the universe is grounded in love and exists by and for love. Love is the purpose of the universe.

    It was out of wanting to share love that God created the universe in such a way that matter intrinsically evolves towards spirit, and Earth went from rocks and water to human beings. Things have gone from pre-personal to personal and are heading towards the super-personal where all are filled with God and love God in return.

    Humans are at the center of this personalization process, not some accidental branch on the tree of evolution. And the process was furthered when Jesus said the greatest commandments are to “Love God with all your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy, and love others as well as you love yourself” (Luke 10:27 as translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message).

    Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun, wrote in a chapter titled “Love, Sex and the Cosmos” that sex is basically spiritual. The sacred life-force that drives the evolution of the universe moves us from within with unitive desire. We all want union as intimately as possible with another human being. Sexual intercourse was meant by God to be the apex of the personalization of the cosmos, an integral part of our personal fulfillment with a beloved soulmate we can share life and love with.

    Going even further, sexual intercourse could be thought of as the primordial sacrament, since God’s first words to humans were “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) and without sex there would be no human race, religion, church or sacraments. 

    Given the sacredness of sexuality, how did we end up with a widespread culture of sexual abuse and rape, as the “Me Too” movement testifies?

     One explanation was given by Martin Buber, the great Jewish theologian, who wrote in his spiritual classic I and Thou that there are two basic ways of relating to everything: I-Thou and I-It. The I-Thou way sees everything as a sacred “Thou” full of the presence of God, including humans, animals and all of nature. 

    However, in a technological consumer culture we tend to relate to everything as an It, that is, as a soulless object to be used for our own self-centered purposes. 

    A young woman once said “I decided to get married because I am fed-up with the ‘hook-up’ culture where you are expected to have sex on the first date. I want true intimacy not fake ‘intimacy,’ a code word our culture uses for sexual intercourse. It is easy to bare your body and have sex; it is hard to bare your soul and make love.”

    Not everyone can have sexual intercourse, but anyone can make love in the sense of opening up your soul and sharing who you really are with others. Single people, the elderly and even vowed celibates can make love in this sense. William Johnston, a Jesuit writer on Christian mysticism, described in his autobiography Mystical Journey how he and Amy Lim, a Japanese nun, had a decades-long intimate but non-sexual relationship when he taught spirituality and theology in Japan.

    To learn more about making love in the spiritual sense, I would recommend Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening which describes a Buddhist way of intimacy as a “tandem inner journey towards spiritual realization.” Or read Pope John Paul II’s personalist “theology of the body” as popularized by Christopher West.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com 

INTERFAITH PANDEMIC LESSONS

INTERFAITH LESSONS FROM A PANDEMIC

    In Falling Upward Richard Rohr talks about the “spirituality of subtraction,” the value of letting go. The first half of life is about gaining: an education, job, home, marriage, and children. The second half is about subtraction: the kids move out, we downsize our housing, retire, start to lose our health, friends or spouses die, etc. 

    In a spirituality of subtraction, we learn four main spiritual values: humility, gratitude, simplicity/poverty and solidarity/community. A number of spiritual leaders from various traditions have noted that a crisis can speed up this process. 

    Humility. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated in a talk in our city a year ago, that we all tend to be “cultural snobs,” that is, we think our culture is superior to all others. There may have been famines, wars and plagues throughout history, but this couldn’t possibly happen to us because we are so scientifically superior. 

    The point was to not get too self-assured. My priest in Winnipeg, Fr. Firmin Michiels, similarly told the congregation “Don’t pray for success, pray for strength when everything falls apart.” This is a frequent theme in every religion. “When people say ‘peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). COVID-19 has subtracted the illusion of our cultural-scientific omnipotence.

    Gratitude. Omar Ricci, an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, gave a talk titled “Thank God for the coronavirus.” Not that God caused the virus, but we should thank God for this reminder we are not in control and always depend on God. Thank God for this reminder to be grateful for all things, particularly things we take for granted like groceries and good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile and “we had best appreciate the miracle of life God has given us.”

    A rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic community in Bozeman, Montana, noted that “Jews have always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God.” In light of the respiratory problems caused by COVID-19, “it’s become very real.”

    The Buddhist attitude of gratitude towards any crisis has been summed up in four words by the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh “No mud, no lotus.”

    Simplicity/Poverty. In Hinduism, the goal at the end of life is to become a “sannyasin,” a holy man or woman who renounces all the trappings of society and chooses to be reduced to nothing but his or her relationship with God. 

    All this stripping away is mirrored in Christianity in people who take religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus himself emptied and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

    The spirituality of subtraction is about emptying the ego of self-centered pride so that God can fill you. In general, a good day for the ego (a day of gain) is a bad day for the soul, and a bad day for the ego (loss) is a good day for the soul. Subtraction is meant by God to edge the ego out, reversing Wayne Dyer’s definition of “ego:” “edging God out.”

    Solidarity/Community. Churches are experiencing what they have always given intellectual assent to – that the church is not buildings but the “ecclesia” – the community. They are reaching out online far beyond their normal congregations. Adam Ericksen, a United Church of Christ minister in Milwaukie, Oregon has noted that “the role of the church in this moment is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

    Beyond churches, mosques and synagogues, God’s work is going on everywhere, in every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves: health care and grocery workers and everyone sacrificing themselves in inconvenient self-isolation in order to keep others healthy.

    This time of subtraction will hopefully continue to be a time of great spiritual growth.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage preparation specialist and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com

Love, Sex and True Intimacy

If God is love, the universe is grounded in love and exists by and for love. Love is the purpose of the universe.

    It was out of wanting to share love that God created the universe in such a way that matter intrinsically heads towards spirit. Through evolution creatures became more and more capable of love. Four billion years ago, Earth was rocks and water. Now there are human beings. Things have gone from pre-personal to personal and are heading towards the super-personal where all are filled with God and love God in return.

    This fits with Jesus saying the greatest commandments are to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as you love yourself” (Luke 10:27). Or as Eugene Peterson has it in The Message: “Love God with all your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy, and love others as well as you love yourself.”

    Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun, wrote in The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love in a chapter titled “Love, Sex and the Cosmos” that sex is basically spiritual. It is the sacred life-force that drives the universe moving us from within with unitive desire. We all want union as intimately as possible with another human being. Sexual intercourse is the zenith of the personalization process of the universe, meant by God to be part of the way we find personal fulfillment.

    Making love, in a broader sense, is the primordial “sacrament” that is the primordial “visible sign of God’s invisible love.” Making love underlies the seven church sacraments: baptism, reconciliation, communion, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and healing the sick. By “making love” I am not referring here to “sexual intercourse,” although intercourse could also be considered the primordial sacrament as God’s first words to humans were “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Without intercourse there would be no human race, religion, church or sacraments. 

    Given all this, how did we end up with a widespread culture of sexual abuse and rape, as the “Me Too” movement testifies?

     One explanation is that, as Martin Buber, the great Jewish theologian, wrote in his spiritual classic I and Thou, there are two basic ways of relating to everything: I-Thou and I-It. The I-Thou way sees everything as full of the presence of God. Everything is a sacred Thou, including humans, animals and all of nature.

    However, in a technological consumer culture we tend to relate to everything as an It, that is as a thing to be used for our own self-centered purposes. We tend to use nature and humans as if they were things divorced from us.

    A young woman once said “I am getting married because I got fed-up with the ‘hook-up’ culture where you are expected to have impersonal sex on the first date. It is easy to bare your body and have sex; it is hard to bare your soul and make love. I want true intimacy not fake ‘intimacy,’ a code word our culture uses for sexual intercourse.”

    Sexual intercourse is for the few, but anyone can make love in the sense I am using it here, that is, opening up your soul and sharing who you really are with others. Vowed celibates and single people can make love in this sense. William Johnston, a Jesuit and leading writer on Christian mysticism, describes in his autobiography Mystical Journey how he and Amy Lim, a Japanese nun, had a decades-long intimate but non-sexual relationship when he lived and taught spirituality and theology in Japan.

    For more information on how to make love in the spiritual sense, I would recommend Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening which describes a Buddhist way of intimacy as a “tandem inner journey towards spiritual realization.” Or read Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” as popularized by Christopher West.

    At this Valentines/Family Day time of year, may we all learn to make love, that is, love one another as well as we love our self, opening our soul to our partners, family and friends and thus continue the universal personalization process initiated by God.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com 

RETHINKING GOD AND EVIL SPIRITS

The older I get the harder I find it to say what our “ineffable” (unsayable) God is like. A long time ago I dropped the “God is an old man in the sky waiting to punish me if I do wrong” narrative. That god is really Zeus not the God of the Bible. All that the old man image needs is some lightning bolts.

Christians often say that “God is love” and indeed it says that throughout the scriptures. Lately I have been thinking that God is not just love, God is also wisdom, patience, forgiveness, trust, etc. In fact, the Dalai Lama said “My religion is kindness.” God is all virtues.

So, whenever someone is engaging in virtues or “spirits” like gentleness, peacemaking, compassion, justice, fortitude and goodness, God is manifesting through them. God is incarnate (embodied) in them. God is all these good spirits. This liberates God from being restricted to any one church or religion. Anyone engaging in these virtues/spirits, whether they are a believer in God or not, has God working in them, whether they acknowledge God or not.

As a believer, I can therefore comfortably relate to atheists or anyone who exhibits these spirits, basically to “all people of good will.”

On the other hand I am starting to think of evil spirits not as beings in red tights with horns and pitchforks (I never thought of them that way but I did not know how to say what they are either) but rather as spirits of lust, anger, gluttony, pride, deceit, greed, fear and so on. Anyone engaging in these vices has an evil spirit working in them.

God is manifest or incarnate in the world in anyone who has the good spirits/virtues working in them. And evil spirits are manifest/incarnated in anyone who has chosen to let the evil spirits listed above to go to work in them. So devils/evil spirits might manifest themselves as a greedy banker, corrupt politician or lawyer, schoolyard bully, etc. There are indeed evil spirits among us, just as God is among us.

HOW THINGS WORK

HOW GOD, THE UNIVERSE, AND YOUR LIFE WORKS

    Order, disorder, reorder. You can detect this universal pattern on a macro, micro, and personal level.

    If there was only order, there would never be any change, creativity and growth. If there was only disorder, things would be total chaos. 

    The universe goes through periods of order, followed by disorder, and then reorders everything at a new level over vast time periods. There was God (order) before the Big Bang (disorder) and then giant stars eventually formed (reorder). This new order had limited chemical elements, but the giant stars exploded (disorder) and seeded the universe with all the elements of the periodic table in new smaller, more stable stars (reorder). 

    God created natural laws and then let nature obey those laws. Rather than controlling everything, God wanted to see all the creative new things nature would produce on its own: butterflies, jaguars, whales, etc.

    Theologically, this theory is called “deism” which, although appealing, is  problematic because God is reduced to a kind of detached observer of the universe. The opposite problem, if God is too dictatorial, reduces God to ‘tyrantism.” Then destructive volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, and floods become acts of (a cruel) God.

    The same problem occurs at the human level. If God is not involved, God does not care, and if God is too controlling, we become robots. If there is no human freedom, there is no love. The solution is for God to allow us to be free and also for God to be involved in the form of persuasive love. That desire for greater fulfillment all humans have is God’s persuasive love constantly calling us to new levels of integration.

    According to “process theology,” nature as a whole moves inexorably towards greater consciousness and love because God constantly lures it to new levels of fulfillment.

    Most of the time nature is orderly, but some of the time, in obeying its own laws, nature creates disorder. Sometimes forests burn down but new plants and animals emerge. A giant meteor collided with Earth, ending the dinosaurs but allowing mammals such as humans to eventually exist. 

    Religions also go through order, disorder, and reordering. Conservatives can get stuck at the first stage – they want too much order and fear change and creativity. Religious liberals can get trapped in deconstructing religion and not be able to put their faith back together again, so they end up in chaos or virtual atheism. However, there are always people who seek to reorder their religion at a higher level. Examples in Christianity are Thomas Berry, Marcus Borg, and Brian McLaren.

    In your own life you might experience order for a while. You seem to have it all together and then disorder happens through divorce, illness or unemployment. If you are resilient and follow God’s inner calling, you may be able to reorder your life and make sense of it in a new way. 

    Disorder and suffering are caused by the freedom of nature and humans, not by God. God only allows them so new growth may occur. For example, you might learn to appreciate being single or happily remarry, learn better health care or to cope with your disability, or find more fulfilling work. 

    Hopefully, whatever happens, you can reorder your life with more compassion, gratitude and wisdom. This is God’s desire for you as God’s persuasive love calls forth the best that is in you in each new year.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com

3 Big Ideas for June 12, 2019

  1. When you experience the universe’s immeasurable zest for life, longing to create, ineffable beauty, and listen to her story, you inevitably fall in love with her – a love that demands caring action.
  2. Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a Benedictine monk, founded Shantivanam Ashram (Forest of Peace Ashram) as he thought western Christianity was too masculine since it was built on Greek and Roman Empire models of existence. He thought it needed to discover the intuitive, contemplative, feminine spirituality of India and China: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Western youth who visited Shantivanam then took contemplation back to the west in the 1960s. This “eastern invasion” was a spiritual counterpart to the “British invasion” (rock music) and was the beginning of people becoming “spiritual but not religious” – if you could experience God directly thru meditation, why did you need organized religion?
  3. The Catholic Inquisition was just trying to protect the Church from heresy, tried people by rational means, and punished no one – they left that to the state authorities. Stalinist and Nazi terrorism used irrational means to kill more people without trial in a few years than the Inquisition did in four hundred years. In general, secular culture sees the sins of the Church but is blind to its own sins.

3 Big Ideas for May 9, 2019

  1. The cornerstone of spirituality is that God, in a plan of sheer goodness, created humans to share in God’s own blessed life. Love is therefore the principal energy in the universe, and the direction of evolution is towards greater wholeness and consciousness, toward greater love.
  2. Contemplation of God is not ecstasy, trance, enthusiasm, or mystic frenzy. These things are not the work of thedeep self.” They are the flooding into consciousness of the dionysian emotions of the “id” from the subconscious. Spiritual practice is also not about accomplishing, winning, or losing. It is about stopping struggling and relaxing with reality, accepting reality as it is, not making it the enemy.
  3. Henri Nouwen is the Kierkegaard of our generation because like Kierkegaard he has taught us Christian existentialism: how to pray while not knowing how to pray, to rest while being restless, to be at peace while being tempted, to feel safe while still being anxious, to be surrounded by light while still in darkness, to love while still doubting.