By Drena Griffith
Last week blog writer Susan Beal wrote about her experience sharing a recent post with someone who reacted strongly against it. Some might ask, "isn’t criticism surely inevitable?" Of course, but this scenario led me to consider our presence before the world.
It seems to me that Incarnational Spirituality openly challenges the “master story” of our human existence. Our foundation is not that humanity results from inherent sin or that earth is a penal colony where we work off eons of bad karma. In spite of our very real challenges and particular flaws, Lorian posits that human life on Earth results from a primal call-- which is not to penance; rather it's to the sacred impulse we call Love.
Yet one part of the dialogue that Susan shared with me privately--the woman’s passionate objection not only to Sue’s worldview, but also to viewing love as a genuine force in a sentient world in general, seemed particularly significant to me— and worthy of thoughtful response.
As I listen to some of the cynicism that passes as rational thought in my own immediate circles, I can see such resistance is, sadly, not that far from normal. Beneath frustration, intolerance and resistance often lies the indignity of loss. Loss of innocence. Loss of faith. Loss of sovereign identity. Loss of the most fundamental recognition of Love as our birthright.
Some decades ago, as a fledgling evangelical, a verse by singer-songwriter and Ragamuffin mystic Rich Mullins hinted to me of this understanding: “Let mercy lead. Let love be the strength in your legs and in every footprint that you leave there’ll be a drop of grace.”
Even then, I could gently feel the grace in the footsteps of people walking the earth with such intention. It seemed clear to me that love wasn't just a feeling or emotional response: it was an energetic exchange, a genuflection: it was how we should approach everything in our world, from our shoes and our steering wheels to our house plants, our food and our neighbors.
So, often as I stood in line at the grocery store or walked around town, I'd intentionally catch the eye of a stranger and smile. Even if that person looked upset or distracted, they nearly always came back from some buried place within themselves to meet me, grin to grin. And our smiles often lingered a while afterward. Reciprocity had taken place. We exchanged kindnesses, albeit briefly, and the world was lighter, if only by minuscule, scientifically immeasurable degrees. It wasn't that much of a stretch for me to envision other elements of our vibrant world--a field full of trees, an ant or a bird, a blade of grass, responding in kind. No, granules of earth, plants and insects never smiled at me, but they nourished and supported me— and I them— in other ways.
Having said that, it was a lot harder to practice offering this kind of attention to other people in more active ways. I realize now that the trouble I had living from that centered place then lay not in my understanding of love so much as my overall understanding of myself as a human being. In spite of the desire to bless, support and nurture, I always reached a point where I could relate only through scars, the shame of being born into a world where I felt flawed and innately out of step. I’d been taught to call this dichotomy “the nature of sin.” That explanation was never satisfactory, really. But at that time I didn’t have any alternatives that made more sense. (Incarnational Spirituality only reached me after many years of spiritual yearning and dissatisfaction.)
So, given my internal struggles, I can definitely understand skepticism over viewing love in this manner. And given the way human beings have often treated each other throughout history, I have wondered how certain groups of people have any faith in humanity left. It certainly doesn’t help that spiritual expressions of love sometimes come across as judgmental of those who don’t share those same views or are so utterly ungrounded that they have no basis in reality whatsoever. (Sometimes I cannot help cringing when I see the lengths people will go to to in order to interact with subtle beings or "the God within" while simultaneously ignoring the real, palpable needs of human beings they’ve tuned out in the process.)
Of course, we're all works- in- process with embodying our ideals of love, but perhaps it would be helpful to clarify an Incarnational understanding. David Spangler, in David's Desk 52:Loving, offers the following definition:
"Love isn’t an emotion; it’s not about attraction, acceptance, approval, or even affection. Rather, I think of it as an act of nourishment, a way of holding another so that that other’s unique character and identity can find its wholeness and an empowering expression of that wholeness in a collaborative connection with creation as a whole. It empowers participation as an individuality in the essential sacredness of creation.
Love is freeing, not binding, but it is an act that empowers connection: connection with oneself, connection with others, connection with the world, connection with possibility and potential, connection with the Sacred. This connection is one in which each participant can thrive and unfold in safety within themselves, in their relationships, and in what they offer to the world. It is a partnering connection in which each is a gift to the other demanding nothing in return. As such, love reveals and expresses the ultimate Gift through which the Sacred gives itself that the universe may exist and unfold. Each act of love replicates to some degree that primal Gift."
As I read David's words, I cannot help wondering how this understanding of love could impact our communities, our natural world? To attune to the “essence of love” and to orient ourselves within a world capable of offering this love back requires a new paradigm of relatedness and wholeness. Starting where we are, with our unique challenges and resistances, we choose to enact this sacred impulse.
Of course this doesn’t mean we all sit around the fire together singing “Kum-ba-ya.” One day love may prompt us to stand up, stand against injustice, or say no to someone we care for; another time it might ask us to soften our reactions and tend our own wounds, and even one afternoon to take our restless, aching heart to the land and listen to the wisdom of a Hawthorn tree.
This understanding of love grounded in sovereignty (rather than shame) nourishes me in hours of darkest need. It offers a foundation that allows me to stand as a sacred being choosing, as often as possible, an open hand rather than a closed fist. And for those times when loving the unwelcome within others or within myself seems an impossible task, I acknowledge my resistance. But this doesn't mean I give into the discomfort. Instead, I trust my own sacred intentions and whenever I'm able to, I relax my clenched fingers one motion at a time. In this way even the process of loving becomes a partnership (and life certainly gives me plenty of opportunities to practice!)
This is my personal understanding of the sacred Incarnational impulse we call Love. I do believe enacting this viewpoint could transform every facet of our world, but I'm choosing to concentrate on the one closest to me—my own. It may seem a limited viewpoint to some, but over the years I’ve come to a realization best summarized by a passage from Bette Green’s Summer of my German Soldier:
“You don’t believe in religion or education or psychiatry…Is there anything at all you do believe in?”
“Of course…. I believe that love is better than hate. And that there is more nobility in building a chicken coop than in destroying a cathedral.”
Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) If you wish to share how your life has benefited from your relationship with Lorian and IS, please email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. We prefer submissions between 700-900 words. We rarely accept previously published material (including blog posts.) We also reserve the right to edit or decline your submission. Any accepted submissions will be published in the order that best fits our schedule.