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 April 23, 2019

  1. In the Jewish Book of Wisdom it says that Wisdom was there in the beginning, co-creating everything with God. Wisdom is an early intuition of the Cosmic Christ or the Holy Spirit. In the Christian scriptures Christ is seen as the wisdom and power of God. By applying themselves to philosophy, history, science and the arts, people are enlightened by that Wisdom or the Cosmic Christ who is all around us and was there from the beginning.
  2. Christian praxis (practice) is meant to spread the kingdom of love, the reign of God, by transforming social structures and laws that oppress people. The classic example would be the Jim Crow laws in the United States that kept everything segregated even though slavery had officially ended. Blacks got the worst schools, medical care, etc. The great Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that “Justice is the proper distribution of love throughout society. Only love can transform us while uniting us to everything. Love is the opposite of segregation.
  3. In 1998, two independent teams of scientists discovered “dark energy,” an anti-gravitational force that is causing the universe to accelerate its expansion. 70% of the universe is dark energy, 25% is dark matter, only 5% of the universe is visible. Science keeps revealing how mysterious God is. Einstein said that it is not that one thing is a miracle, everything is a miracle!


3 Big Ideas for April 18, 2019

  1. Every spiritual path begins with a founder who experiences a deep spiritual conversion. Then his followers turn this I-THOU relationship between the founder and God into an I-IT relationship by developing beliefs, creeds, rituals, and institutions. And the gap grows between the founder’s experience and his disciples’ lives as the founder fades away in historical time. We need to constantly try to recapture the founder’s original experience.
  2. D. H. Lawrence, mostly known for his erotic novels, was also a spiritual man who wrote that our deepest religious urge is to come into direct contact with the deep elemental life of the cosmos and to derive energy and life from it. He believed that erotic energy underlies everything in the universe, and that God is not only “agape” (suffering love) but also “eros” (the power of attraction) which expresses itself most fully in human sexuality. When the masculine energy of the universe meets the feminine energy, fire happens.
  3. In his “Discourse on Mindful Breathing,” the Buddha taught “Breathing in, I recognize my feeling. Breathing out, I calm my feeling.” Christian monks teach similar spiritual practices. Medical science has now proven them both right: when you inhale and then slowly let your breath out, the breathing out activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect on your whole body. Science is gradually catching up with and proving wisdom taught by ancient religion.

3 Big Ideas for March 18, 2019

  1. Henri Nouwen saw Christian life as in three stages: communion, community, and commission. That is, life apart from others (in solitude with self and in communion with God), life shared with others (with kindred hearts in community), life given for others (in ministry).
  2. The very essence of the New Spirituality (spirituality outside the church) is freedom to follow your own inner light without any pressure from dogma, teachers, leaders or institutions. As Oprah says “You are your own authority.” The only problem with this is that you are putting a lot of pressure on the one short life you have, and ignoring the accumulated wisdom of centuries of religion and the tried and true experience of millions of people.
  3. Jonathan Edwards, a 19th century Protestant theologian, wrote that “The Holy Scriptures everywhere place religion in the affections: love, hate, fear, joy, sorrow, hope.” Religion in his opinion, is a matter of feeling and emotion not intellect. This may be true, but Holy Scripture also says we should have “reasons for the hope that is in us.” (1Peter 3:15). This is particularly necessary in an age of science and the New Atheism.