All You Need is Love

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

Love is all you need. (The Beatles)

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jesus)

Anyone who fails to go forward begins to go back, and love, I believe, can never be content to stay for long where it is. (Teresa of Avila)

Teresa of Avila says, “you must not build upon foundations of prayer and contemplation alone”. We must also “strive after the virtues and practice them”. Without these virtues we stunt our spiritual growth. Central to “the virtues” are humility and love. Humility is the central character trait of the Christian. Love is the central behavioral trait.

Love is Enough
If love is the central behavioral trait of the Christian and it fulfills the requirements of “the law”, why are there so many other “commandments” in the Bible? The list of rules seems endless. Sometimes these commandments seem pointless and/or unloving.

Love is enough. Biblical commands, properly understood and practiced, always express love. Two key points:

  • The commandments provide definition to love.
  • The commandments only provide definition to love.

In the first bullet: The commandments provide an expansive view of love to help us understand the scope and possibilities of love. Restrictive commandments exclude behaviors that dehumanize self or others.

In the second bullet: The operative word is “only”. God did not design commandments to create rules of behavior apart from love. Behaviors that do not express love misunderstand the intent or context of the commandment.

Action
Teresa says we must “strive after the virtues and practice them”. Virtues don’t develop automatically. Cultivating virtue is a combination of learning a particular skill of love and practicing it in changing circumstances over a period of time.

Take Paul’s phrase, “Love is patient”. We find this partial definition of love in I Corinthians. We can intellectually understand patience. Then we begin to practice it, but realize it doesn’t work in every situation (at least not in the way we understand it). What if our understanding of “patience” becomes the acceptance of the despicable behavior of others? Does our patience still meet the criteria of love? Is exasperation (instead of patience) ever an appropriate response? Jesus expressed exasperation on occasion. We realize exasperation may be carefully included in the overall theme of patience and love. But if we begin rationalizing chronic impatience and exasperation, now our habit of exasperation may not express love.

This may sound complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. We can process this thinking more quickly and intuitively than it takes to read the previous paragraph. But some of us have been so weighted down with religious dogma and rules that it interferes with common sense. One thing dogmatic religion strives for is absolute rules that can be applied to every situation at the exclusion of good judgment and love. This leads to self-righteousness, shame, and unloving behaviors.

Practice
The Beatles said, “Love is all you need”. In fact, I think they said it 15 times in one song just to make sure we got it. They’re right – “love is all we need”. Of course, it takes some work to better practice love in a way that actually loves the other person. So let me leave you with a few tools to connect biblical commandments and love.

  1. What is the commandment when we properly understand it in context?
  2. If I practice this commandment in the way I understand it, is it loving to others and self. Or am I just following a “rule”?
  3. Are there exceptions to my understanding of the commandment. (Without these exceptions, the commandment becomes unloving.)
  4. Would I find it loving if I were the recipient of how I’m applying this commandment?
  5. How would Jesus practice this commandment in today’s world? (Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.)
  6. Do my actions have credibility in a larger community (not just church) as the “way of Jesus”? (By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.)

You can make significant contributions to your families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. All you need is love. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 4

How Power Works

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it — always. (Gandhi)

Fix your eyes on the Crucified and everything will become small for you. . . . Do you know what it means to be truly spiritual? It means becoming slaves of God. Marked with his brand, which is that of the cross, spiritual persons, because now they have given him their liberty, can be sold by him as slaves of everyone, as he was. He doesn’t thereby do them any harm or grant them a small favor. And if souls aren’t determined about becoming his slaves, let them be convinced that they are not making much progress, for this whole building, as I have said, has humility as its foundation. If humility is not genuinely present, for your own sake the Lord will not construct a high building lest that building fall to the ground. Thus, Sisters, that you might build on good foundations, strive to be the least and the slaves of all, looking at how or where you can please and serve them. What you do in this matter you do more for yourself than for them and lay stones so firmly the castle will not fall. (Teresa of Avila)

Metaphor
The slave metaphor used by Teresa (and the Bible) creates difficulty in light of the atrocities and oppression connected to that term. Replacing it with the term servant may help a little, but not much. This metaphor may be hopelessly and understandably lost to many readers. The point of “slave” metaphor is humility. Humility, in a biblical sense, links us to self-knowledge, inner strength, and freedom. Ultimately, humility has it’s own kind of power superior to the authoritarian, oppressive, and violent power we see in our world.

The Gospel
To understand power let me start with the gospel. I find it humorous many Christian leaders “preaching the gospel” don’t know what the gospel is. In simplest terms the gospel is: Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. Caesar was a reality in the first century, but we can apply the metaphor to anyone in power. Jesus is Lord, not the President, the Prime Minister, the King, or some other political person. Jesus is Lord, not some business leader, manager, or supervisor. Jesus is Lord, not the media or technology. Jesus is Lord, not (and you get to fill in the blank).

The Problem
If Jesus is Lord, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? My simple answer is God gave and continues to give rational beings significant freedom. This includes freedom to do evil and inflict suffering on self or others. It also gives us the power to do good and heal. To Jesus’ credit, when we ask the question, “If Jesus is Lord, why is there evil and suffering?”, we’re assuming better things of him and his “rule” than what we see from much of the current leadership in the world.

What Do We Want God To Do?
Many people want God to fix everything. This includes eliminating evil, death, and suffering. But most people don’t want to be “robots” programmed to do everything a certain way, even if that programming is done by a loving deity with perfect results. God doesn’t want robots either. He wants partners and friends that love him and others as a product of their own free will. But we can’t have it both ways: Guaranteed freedom and guaranteed good (at least not yet).

So What God is Doing?  
Jesus is Lord and not Caesar shifted the power differential. True power no longer resides in the hands of the powerful, the rich, the famous, or the violent. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Jesus said this and lived this. This culminated with the cross (i.e. humiliation and suffering). Through the cross he gained control of “all power”. He then distributed this power. But he did not distribute power equally. He put it in the hands of the rejected, the outcasts, the “weak”, the persecuted, the poor, the discriminated against, and with those people who aligned themselves with those other groups.

Actualizing This Power
This is where it gets complicated. Because Jesus is Lord and not Caesar, the old ways of power have been destroyed and replaced with the power of love, humility, and virtue. The old ways of power only maintain their power when we respond to them with like kinds of power. If we use violence, oppression, manipulation, or authoritarianism we actually increase their power. If we compete with them using their weapons, we also get devoured. There will always be people and systems bigger and stronger than us. And even if we “win” using violent or manipulative ways, we ultimately lose “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword”. This not only applies to the “big stuff” of violence and oppression, it’s also the stuff of daily life. If we use criticism, judgmental attitudes, defensiveness, and other passive aggressive behaviors, they’re included in the old ways of power. You will also “perish by the sword” of those very activities.

We actualize the new power by embracing the tools of Jesus: Humility, love, gentleness, prayer, virtue, joy, wisdom, and truth. The old system ultimately crumbles or transforms. By the way, I’m not promoting naivety. Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Our conflict is still strategic; it’s just not done according to the traditional rules of power.

Teresa of Avila
When Teresa says, “Fix your eyes on the Crucified and everything will become small for you.” She’s shifting our focus to the new power. Do you know what it means to be truly spiritual? It means a life of humility. Another metaphor: “This whole building, as I have said, has humility as its foundation.” She further says, “If humility is not genuinely present, for your own sake the Lord will not construct a high building lest that building fall to the ground.” You are not going anywhere meaningful without humility. You’re in an old power structure and, at a minimum, it will sap your strength and energy.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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Christ the Redeemer

Resa publishes one of my favorite blogs. Her blog features “Street Art” punctuated by her outstanding photography.

Graffiti Lux and Murals

Lucky shot! The rays & light arc are due to the sun coming up from behind the building.

This piece of street art is based on the Mount Corcovado, Brazil, statue of Christ the Redeemer.

   Built in the 1920s by Heitor da Silva Costa, it is an  art-deco statue designed by Paul Landowski.

Considered a symbol of Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer is the 5th biggest statue of Jesus in the world.

This was truly a challenge to capture. The dead end alley is very narrow, and filled with a host of debris and machinery. I shot from below.

I zoomed in.

I shot from across the street, which is why there are wires in the shot below..

I stood on a 2 foot high pile of collapsed, waxed cardboard boxes.

When I stumbled out of the alley, a car had parked in the entrance. Yay…

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The One I Will Become

Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

It benefits me little to be alone making acts of devotion to our Lord, proposing and promising to do wonders in his service, if I then go away and when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite. I was wrong in saying it profits little, for everything having to do with God profits a great deal. (Teresa of Avila)

She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all (Bob Dylan)

We commit to do something “big” for God — “proposing and promising to do wonders in his service”, but “when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite”.  Teresa begins by saying “It benefits me little” to make these resolutions if I don’t follow through. But then corrects herself saying, “I was wrong in saying it profits little, for everything having to do with God profits a great deal.”  

Resolutions
Teresa approaches resolutions from two points of reference. (1) We make resolutions to God. (2) We make resolutions with God. The resolutions “with God” develop through a variety of ways (e.g. prayer, reflection, reading, conversations, and mystical prayer). “With God” implies some sort of revelation and includes friendship and partnership with God. Since these resolutions develop in partnership with God, they’re significant. But, sometimes we fail to carry out our resolutions – or as Teresa says, we “do everything the opposite” of what we intended.

Failure and Success
What you do for God “profits a great deal”. This is true even if we fail or partially fail. Yet, the ultimate completion of our resolutions is still critical. With the passing of time, our “failed” resolutions are likely to evolve and take new shape. Instead of downgrading the challenge because we “failed”, God gives us something better, more complex, and more rewarding.

Trials
Then to support our ultimate success, God may also intervene with “trials”. The trials are not a punishment from God. They’re designed to remove fear and build resilience, clearing the path toward our objectives. I was reading a book from the insightful Dani Shapiro yesterday. She led with this quotation from Baal Shem Tov: “Let me fall if I must fall. The one I will become, will catch me.”

Embrace your failures and trials. They will shape you into the person who can achieve your resolutions.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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Simplicity

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

The Interior Castle is a book about prayer and the intimacy we can have with Jesus Christ (“Spiritual Marriage”). The details of ascetic and mystical prayer can be complex theology. Therefore, Teresa of Avila periodically brings us back to the central practices of the Christian life: Love and humility along with their corresponding good works.

Every skilled theologian or exceptional leader learns to find (and consistently recapture) the “core issues” of his or her venture. In fact, an unwillingness to do so indicates a self-serving agenda that seeks to control others and their time. They also encumber their “followers” with unrealistic and unprofitable demands. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned: Is it the Churches concern to erect a spiritual tyranny over men, by dictating to them what must be believed and performed in order to be saved, and by presuming to enforce that belief and behavior with the sanctions of temporal and eternal punishment? (Who put the church in charge your life anyway?)

Teresa mastered the “core issues” of the faith. This is why she was an exceptional theologian, reformer, and leader. She said, “I only wish to inform you that in order to profit by this path and ascend to the dwelling places we desire, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love.” This is not anti-intellectualism, but it does warn about retreating into learning as a substitute for love. The same is true of prayer. Certainly prayer cultivates valuable intimacy with God and a peaceful life. Yet, it should also produce wisdom and good works in the daily activities of our life – particularly with our key relationships.

Bruce Lee, another master of “core issues”, said: It is not daily increase, but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity. It is the half-way cultivation that runs to ornamentation. So it is not how much fixed knowledge one has accumulated; rather it is what one can apply alively that counts.” 

I encourage simplification and the mastery of core issues. Do we center our key relationships in love and humility? Does our prayer produce wisdom and good works? Does our learning supply actionable content? Or, is our life running the way of “ornamentation”? It looks good. It impresses people. But it adds little value to self or others.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Bruce Lee Library) Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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