If a perfect Creator loves His creation, can it be possible for us, as witnesses, to impute to Him a lacking heart? And yet, even in my own relationship to God I have found deep-welling evidence of such beliefs; that in the end I’ve been left out to dry in consequence of my incompleteness, my short-comings, or whatever.
But I wish to argue the other side for a moment. Anyone who has had parents knows that love often fails to manifest itself as what we desire or expect. It can come in forms that leave us in tears throughout the night. Or if love shows us a grim, or quiet face – perhaps for long days – it doesn’t imply abandonment, or flagging concern.
It would seem that to properly arraign the qualities of a lover, we must examine the case from his point of view. An action leading even to our deaths may be perceived differently by the affected souls afterward. Of course – in the case of human lovers – the context itself may be flawed; but when we consider the issue of a perfect Lover, it refers to a context beyond our ken.
Such was the mission of Khidr: to deliver those missives whose contents must sting the eye. We see it happening all around us, in the wretched conditions of the world, the fearful nature of the future, the frustrations that assail us from every side. We might even come to the conclusion that there is no love here; that to suggest it is ludicrous! That a hopeful Creator may have brought us into being, but His reactions since have shown His discontent.
This was the state of my own mind up to the summer of 2002. Religion had come to feel like an oppressive duty back then, and I was very dissatisfied with the community I found myself in. There was no shortage of people to commiserate with, either. It seems most people are dissatisfied with a great many things about Life, and the way it’s been setup.
Anyway, I was going through a divorce at the time, and my heart was bleak. I recall driving down a beautiful country road in Tucson, Arizona, with my windows down despite the blistering heat. To feel the hot breath of the wind somehow made me feel closer to living. I was thinking then of my religious community, and how angry I’d become that we weren’t connecting like true friends. This, after all, is the essence of community – fellowship – but I was feeling little of it. It seemed that for lack of anything better, we’d fallen on administration and proclamation in order to imagine we were doing good for the world. But if religion can’t unite the hearts of individual people, how can any plan for global unity succeed?
As I was thinking these dark thoughts, a flash came to me from nowhere – it felt almost like a thunderclap. I was instantly excited, and my heart began to beat faster. It was one of those moments where your mind has learned something, but the slowness of conscious thought has yet to reveal it to you. You know what you’ve learned, but the you that regards yourself still doesn’t know what you know.
I mention this realization because it was epochal for me. It drew a dividing line: between my experience of religion as a thing of chore and drudgery, to a vast, enchanting realm of possibilities. It was at that moment I became aware of a Life within life, of a secret world lying just beyond perception – a journey of vision, where the ordinary is transformed into the miraculous merely through a process of discovery. In short, this was my own personal awakening, in the midst of such troubling thoughts.
For what I had realized in that brief instant was this: In order for me ever to love my community, I had to love them for who they were. Not love them in the sense of nurturing them to become something else, but love them to the extent that I would never ask them to change. If all the world experienced stasis, my feelings would not hold their breath. Love is timeless, unconcerned, perfectly undemanding. If they change for the better, it would be to their benefit; but all I should want is the honor to know them.
This left my heart racing because it was a truly novel concept for me. Until then, I had always thought in terms of change: of the future, of progress, of results. If our faith was about world unity, I wanted to see it happen. Anything less than unity everywhere was an affront to my dedication.
But this was an utterly different philosophy. It said that world unity exists the moment you are unified with the world. That love is not a question of numbers or scale. World unity is that essential feeling of joy in simply knowing the people around you. Once this is found, nothing else is needed. And there exists no better way to spread it than by the words and deeds most natural to it: appreciation, assistance, love. Now, achieving this was a life’s work worth pursuing.
Just as that thought started to trickle down into my real consciousness (as opposed to my theoretical models of the world), another bolt struck, maybe ten minutes later. It was connected, and I had to think for a moment to discover what it was. It affected me even more powerfully than the last. It was this: Just as love means never asking my community to change, never expecting or demanding them to be anyone other than who they are, so love means I would also behave this way toward myself.
Even more strongly than my dissatisfaction with the community, I realized, was my horrid dissatisfaction at my own self. If I ever thought they were undeveloped, imperfect or lacking, I had leveled the same accusations at myself a hundred times over. However, I knew that it wasn’t personal change for change’s sake I wanted, but a change that would result in true love; but how could that happen if I began by disapproving of my own self? It undermines my capacity to love, if my own home is built up of frustration. Love has to begin at the beginning; it doesn’t wait for things to end; it is a thing of process, not product.
Seeing that hatred of my present self cannot ever produce a loving nature, I saw that my frustration with the community was just another part of “my way of doing things”. In all things, I was proceeding toward spirituality by loathing the material; I was hunting the future by wishing the present gone; I was longing for perfection by hoping the imperfect would finally disappear. My own faith had become a negative journey. I didn’t want the world to be a better place; what I really wanted was to magically find myself someplace else.
The opposite of such a negative approach, of course, is the positive: to begin here and now. To make spirituality a thing of the present and to regard love as something that only ever is. It is not a concept, or project, or ideal to hope for. Love is what you feel when you see someone at the grocery store buying candy, and it makes you happy to think of the pleasure they’ll feel when they get home and eat it. Love is that radiating power you send into other living beings, simply by wishing them well. Love doesn’t ask for another to become a Baha’i, or this person to stop being a Muslim, or for anyone to change anything about themselves whatsoever. Love is the feeling you receive from other people when they honestly enjoy who you are, today.
This discovery alone would have rocked my world – and it continues to do so, as I struggle between ancient programming and new patterns of thought – but it was followed by a third and final bolt. This final realization was the strongest of the three, and in a way was something my soul had been longing for for a long time.
You see, until that time I had always felt extremely distant from God. As if He weren’t even in town; I would ring up the address, but nobody ever answered. I had been left to face life on my own, with no other purpose than the steady arrival of tomorrow.
My third understanding forged a bond which has continued until now, and remains the core of my religious experience. Everything else is secondary – a part of the journey – but this is its pith and purpose: As I have described love and its character above, so God loves each and every one of us, always and without exception. From the misbegotten soldier who kills wantonly, to the nuns who expend their days in service of the poor. God loves without reservation, without limit – simply put, He loves perfectly. His is an unfailing love.
To know in my heart, not just my thoughts and hopes, that God loved me so truly, was to know that He loved me as I was, on that day and every day since.
This thought immediately caused a feeling somewhat like warm liquid to well up in my chest, which spread outward to my arms and legs and my head. It felt somewhat like taking a warm bath on a holiday, or resting on the beach during vacation, or having a person you love put their arms around you. It was this feeling that carried me through that divorce, and in fact became my entire reason for continuing my relationship with God. Prayer became a time to focus on that connection, and to feel its warmth unhinging my tensions. Even now, whenever I grow sad or feel alone, I recall that unerring bond and I always feel the same love pour into me. It was nothing other than the simple knowledge that a loving Creator does indeed love His creation – always, and unfailingly.
It was only those three thoughts – all connected, reflecting on each other – but it rewrote my understanding of faith and the meaning of religion. It is about you, dear reader; not your affiliation, or who you donate to, or what kind of afterlife you expect. Personally, I don’t care if you never believe He loves you, because it’s you that He loves – not your belief. Your knowing it is for your own sake, but not something He requires to love you – just as opening your eyes is something you do on your own, which the sun and the wind in the trees have never asked of you.