Valentine’s Day: Collectively “Bearing the Beams of Love”
When else, if not in winter, will you triumph?-
Years ago, as a younger man and a new father, I received a call from a younger man than I, whom I had been out of touch with for some while. This was a season in my life when I had dedicated efforts to work with youth and young adults from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds than my own. Among other things, this work included the good fortune of coaching basketball-one of my childhood affections.
“Coach, J, I’m in trouble,” the voice called from the other end of the speaker.
“Who is this?” I responded somewhat despondent. It was pushing 9pm and I didn’t much want to be involved in anyone else’s trouble at that hour. I also didn’t recognize the phone number and had been somewhat coaxed by my wife into accepting the call.
“Hey, what’s going on? Where are you calling me from?” I said, hearing a heavy amount of background noise.
“I’m at work and can’t talk much right now. I need to see you. I’m in trouble. Can we meet up soon?” He asked.
This particular young man had been “in trouble” before.
“You’ve been in trouble before, Mike. What’s going on?”
“I put my hands on Jessica,” he said. Jessica was Mike’s wife. The two of them had been married less than a year.
“You put your hands on her? Or, you’ve been putting your hands on her?”
“It happened twice, and she left me.”
“Thank God she left.”
“Coach J, I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.”
I sat momentarily silent, not knowing how to respond, recognizing both the seriousness of domestic abuse and the pain in the voice on the other end.
“Meet me at the Randall’s in midtown tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock. There’s a café on the second floor. I’ll be there.”
“Ok, coach. Thank you.”
The following day was my day off. I had planned to spend the day working on some seminary studies that I had fallen behind on.
I stepped into the shower that night, after telling my wife who I had talked to and what had been shared with me, wondering what I was supposed to do or say to this young man the following day.
For all intents and purposes Mike and I could not be more different. Most elementary, was the ways we had grown up and the subsequent resources we did or didn’t have direct access to. The crux being…I enjoyed many privileges that Mike did not.
That night, I was finding no answers inside myself as to how I was going to relate, let alone be helpful to Mike the next day.
As Mike walked up to the table where I worked that morning, his energy clearly depleted, he sat down across from me, humbled and broken. It didn’t take long before his head lay on his arms and his face filled with tears as he repeated the words I had heard on the phone the previous night.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this hard,” he said, shaking his head in defeat.
Was he talking about marriage, and love?
I could definitely relate to that sentiment. But I still couldn’t find a response that felt at all authentic, let alone integrous. I sat silently, overlooking the aisles of the grocery store and its shoppers below. Mike’s head remained on his arms.
And then, like lightning, it struck me.
There I, a young pastor, sat across from an ex-gang affiliate overlooking the well-stocked grocery store. The abundance began to overwhelm me as I realized we were sitting above the same store that just 18 months prior I had intentionally and petulantly tripped my pregnant wife after an argument, playing it off as though it was an accident.
The answer had arrived.
I was Mike.
The lie of separation was incinerated.
Compassion flowed as oneness.
The invitation to awaken consciousness is not an individual affair. We either all get it or none of us do. For to “get it” is to open the eye of the heart to see the oneness of all, from the oneness of all, acting in-sync with that oneness, for the sake of all.
Conscience, the seed of which is buried in our depths, instantaneously erases the defined lines of our separateness and moves us into the flow of coloring our lives as “true persons…circles whose centers are nowhere and whose circumferences are everywhere.”[ii]
We’re then free to move in the light of this seeing as living sacraments, dignifying the worst of what we see in others as part of ourselves and celebrating the best of what is contained in ourselves as wholly belonging to others. Indeed, if we’re called to build anything that might resemble something we can call ‘soul,’ containing agency and the force of will in and beyond this life, it will have to flow from the collective and evolutionary heart of the Christic towards the convergence and celebration of the ongoing unity in diversity that is the shape of the universe from top to bottom.
This energy field of exquisite and sublime personal qualities of power and compassion, the coherence and concentration of such force that we can barely bear it in the existing configuration of our human systems, invites us all, leaving nothing out, as it enfolds the coarsest qualities of this realm as the necessary means by which the light of our essence is transmuted breaking through as the modality of our shared human life.
The catch of course being that to stake our claim within such an invitation we must entirely orient ourselves and draw our identity from a context that feels like death to our pleasure seeking and pain avoiding egos.
In point of fact, though, we exert much more energy towards avoiding what appears as void and annihilation to the ego than we do to cooperating with the natural movement towards the constant dynamism of inevitable and ceaseless change. A wonderful starting place for and fruit of transformation's alchemical work.
The emptiness we anticipate discovering as we begin to reverse this trend through “intentional suffering and conscious labor,” waning our dependence on the pain/pleasure principle, releases us to experience emptiness as presence, just as death is discovered as birth and vice versa.
If we can begin to see that birth and death are not only two sides of the same coin but that these two sides are interchangeable, we can then begin to bring to bear the forces that generate favorable conditions for the inevitable movement towards, not only impending death, but the even more pressing invitation of impending birth on a higher plane. One that includes the lower, animal instincts, not as foes to be purified, but as the necessary fuel for the transformation of consciousness for the warming of the heart of our planet.
The stabilization of cooperating with this gesture includes both the self-emptying movement at the core of all creativity (including spiritual practice,) as well as the coinciding attention to ground this gesture in the reciprocity of exchange in and through the materiality of the body.
This is more an acceptance of our human post as transformers of energy than any kind of special appeal to the “spiritually sensitive.”
Yet for those of us with reference points inside the Christian tradition, this vision spans, reflects, expands and fulfills, the New Testament tie-rod of a coherent and cosmic milieu[iii], penetrated by a seeing of the heart[iv], lived in non-localized transpersonal interpenetrating exchange[v] through manifesting our lives as the continual outpouring of the concrete gestures of sacred feeding toward and on behalf of the whole body of creation.[vi]
Yet, in as much as birth and death are a part of one’s life, the accountability to play in these streams is inherent-whether explicitly religious in orientation, or whether consciously chosen or not. By “accident or fate” we are transformers of energy. As an adept way-pointer in these waters astutely observed, “Human beings are never transformationally neutral.”[vii]
This not only re-positions the spiritual journey (read transformation of energy) as a central purpose among our species but widens its context to include the unique niche humans play-invited to consciously midwife alchemical fruits for the sake of the entirety of the planet, forging the union of realms invisible and visible in our very bodies.
Though it remains a dubious dilemma, and apparently unique position of our species, to possess the ability to participate in this exchange or not.
Again I repeat: we are meant to produce food for the planet. The rich qualities of which we are swimming in, though mostly unaware, accessed through the technology of the human-a potent mix of conscious infused biology-though without work, mostly remaining disordered and moving toward entropy on every level. Until we can begin to see that death is more a birthing of the new than a permanent ending, it will only be the decomposition of our bodies that fertilize the planet. And we will have left the precious gift that we call life, forgotten and unlived.
As the spiritual and wisdom traditions say, either we die before we die and our life becomes “food for the moon (assisting and maintaining the higher realms and its purposes) or, at our death, our life becomes “food for the earth (when our lives are predominantly lived according to the strict pleasing of our animal instincts-their habitual way of being lived without help, cosmic assistance and work on our part).”[viii]
And until we can begin to overcome the adolescent reaction of Western culture that marks personal authenticity as a necessary rejection of any and all hierarchy/authority, we will continue to miss out on the enormous opportunity afforded to us in this moment of increased cultural constriction as an invitation to submit to a higher order of causality. Discovering that expansion is born through constriction-“a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”[ix]
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.[x]
[i] I’ve changed the real names to fictious ones in this story.
[ii] Beatrice Bruteau, “Prayer and identity,” in Thomas Keating et al. Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation: Writings on Centering Prayer (New York: Lantern Books, 2008) 111.
[iii] See John 1:3
[iv] See the 6th Beatitude in Matthew 5.
[v] See Jesus’ “final discourse” in John 13-17.
[vi] See St. Paul’s ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5.
[vii] Personal notes from Cynthia Bourgeault at Valle Crucis, NC Wisdom School 2020
[viii] This idea comes from G.I. Gurdjieff’s principle that the entire cosmos-visible and invisible-are held together in a balance of reciprocal maintenance and that human beings will play a role either consciously or in spite of themselves-though either way they will inevitably play a part.
[ix] Words from T.S. Eliot as quoted in: Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene (Boston: Shambala, 2010) 137.
[x] Romans 8:18-27
Jonathan lives in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas with his wife, dogs and three children. His Wisdom work comes out of a blend of the Christian Contemplative tradition and 4th Way spirituality with a focus on companioning others from the unified and collective field accessed through the heart. He is a life-long seeker who offers private Spiritual Direction in person or by zoom, one-to-one or in groups.