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 

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 

BEING EXALTED IN GOD’S EYES

Suffering and humility are what exalt a person most in the eyes of God.

Being willing to do whatever God wants, even if it involves our suffering, is a sure sign of someone who is completely surrendered to God’s will: “Thy will be done, not my will be done.” This takes absolute trust on our part, and God showers those who trust God with many blessings in the long run. Nothing pleases God more than trust. God works all things to the good for those who love and trust God.

Humility likewise pleases God. God can only really work with people who have moved beyond their ego. As Wayne Dyer used to say “E.G.O. = Edging God Out.” And as scripture says “Those who exalt themselves will be brought low. Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

brucetallman.com, btallman@rogers.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.

LOVE YOUR TRUE SELF

RECONCILING ANCIENT RELIGION AND MODERN SELF-HELP 

    All world religions would agree with St. Catherine of Sienna who said “Every evil is founded in self-love.” So how do we put ancient religion together with the modern self-help doctrine that you cannot love others if you don’t love yourself?

    When we are born, we are unitive thinkers: we sense our oneness with everything. However, as we develop we learn the word “no” from our parents trying to curtail our behaviour. We start to separate from our parents and others and develop our own identity. We learn we are a boy or girl and a human being not a dog or cat. Later we learn our race, nationality and everything else that separates us from others.

    Developing a sense of identity or ego is natural, healthy, and necessary to function in the world. However, if you think your ego, what separates you from everything, is all you are, it creates individualism, the source of all our problems. The illusion of separation transforms your ego into your false self, and life becomes every one for himself/herself.  

    Separation from others causes all social problems, and separation from nature is the root of all environmental problems. If you are really separate from others and the planet, what happens to them is not your concern. You can misuse them without any consequences. However, what happens to others and nature does impact us.

    I was pondering why, in indigenous paintings, there are fish, bears, and birds inside peoples’ bodies? Suddenly I got it: indigenous people are unitive thinkers – fish, bears, and birds are part of who they are. They and the environment are one.

    This is the solution to our environmental problems: the earth is us and we are the earth. Until we get that, we will continue to abuse the earth we depend on.

    Jesus was also a unitive thinker. He said “God and I are one,” and what we do to the least among us – people who are starving, naked, or homeless – we do to him.

    He also said the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love others as yourself. Perhaps he didn’t mean, as contemporary self-help would have it. “love others by first loving yourself,” but rather “love others because they are yourself.”

    God is everywhere and that includes inside you, in your depths. As Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk, frequently said “When you meet your deepest self you meet God.” 

    God is not only love, God is peace, goodness, wisdom, forgiveness, patience, and kindness, and so are you. Your true essence, your true self, is all these things. In this sense you and God are one. This is what being the “imago dei,” the image of God, means. You are not God, God is greater than you, but you and God are one in spirit. 

    That is why it is good to love your true self, your soul, the self that is love, peace, and goodness. When you love your true self, you are loving God within you, and since God is in everything, you are loving everything through God. When you love all the virtues of your true self, you are doing exactly what others and the earth need: people who love peace, goodness, and love.

    It is necessary to develop an ego, but it is also necessary to transcend the ego and realize that you have a larger, truer self. It is not healthy or wise to just love your ego, your false, illusory self. Loving just your ego is the root of all evil as St. Catherine said. She was thinking of love of the false self; contemporary self-help is presumably thinking of love of the true self, which is the foundation of all good.

    What we need now is a civilization built on love of the true self, the soul, our best self, our “better angels,” not one based on love of ego, our “worst demons.” This would solve many of our problems.

    As another holy woman, Mechthild of Magdeburg said:

“The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest or happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.”

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage coach, and religious educator of adults. www.brucetallman.com. For his weekly reflections on spirituality, see “The Big Picture” at https://brucetallmanblog.wordpress.com

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 May 15, 2019

  1. Teilhard de Chardin was a Christian mystic who believed that love and energy are the foundation of the cosmos. This “love-energy” is the source of the universe’s intelligibility and therefore the basis of knowledge. This leads philosophy out of the impasse of making matter the basis of all empirical knowledge. Philosophers have traditionally made love secondary to knowledge – you have to first know something before you can love it. But for lovers of God like Teilhard, love is the source and goal of all knowledge.
  2. Christian martyrs were willing to die for their faith because they believed “all is one” – everything, including life and death, is under the care of God. Now we have arrived at a similar state by the reverse process: we no longer believe there is a God, all is passing away, and therefore all is meaningless. Without God, all is not one, it is zero. The martyr was willing to die for God, but would the secular non-believer be willing to die for zero? This is important when you are speaking truth to power and fighting injustice.
  3. Almost everything wrong with the world has to do with the way the “It” of institutions can be misaligned, out of control, and disconnect with the “I” and the “We.” The personal is destroyed by the impersonal when corporations, governments, and religious institutions become out of touch with the people they are meant to serve, and only serve themselves. The result is exploitation of others for money or sex, and rape of the planet’s resources on which we all depend. Unitive thinking, the idea that all is one, keeps the “It” of hierarchies connected to the common good, the “We.”