Love: Dorothy Day

​If life is love expressed, as we saw it last week in Gandhi, then we have no better example of it than in the life of Dorothy Day.  Like Gandhi, her soul force was the force of love.

Dorothy Day was a pipeline through whom the love of God flowed, to any people to be sure, but particularly toward those whom the world had ceased to love as it should.  For decades, she lived with and served the needs of people who were on the margins.  She did this as a response to God’s call, a call which arose from her deep existential sense of oneness with everyone.  

This sense came to her profoundly during her first time in jail.  She described her experience this way, “I was no longer myself….I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed. I was the oppressed. I was that drug addict, screaming and tossing in her cell, beating her head against the wall. I was that shoplifter who for rebellion was sentenced to solitary.” [1]

Dorothy day incarnated love by living the second great commandment, to love her neighbors as herself—that is, recognizing her essential oneness with everyone.  This is what Buddhists mean by interbeing, and what Jesus embedded in Christianity through the second commandment.  It is the cosmic oneness that physicists call quantum entanglement—the essential oneness of all things.

In Dorothy Day we see a love which bears witness to the fact that there is only one Life, and we share it in our particular lives through life together.  This is soul-level solidarity, the radical oneness of love.

[1] Quoted without reference in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditation for December 6, 2019.

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Love: Mahatma Gandhi

​This week, we look outside Christianity to see the universality of love, using the witness of Gandhi as our illustration.   He is also a good follow up to our look at Teilhard de Chardin last week, because Gandhi too saw love as the supreme law of the universe.  In his autobiography he refers to love over eighty times, describing its reality in relation to the total range of our human experiences. [1]

Using the word ‘experiments’ in the title of his book. Gandhi revealed the scientific nature of his understanding of love—that is, he was an explorer, a practitioner.  He experienced and confirmed the truth and love by living it, concluding that “nothing is impossible for pure love,”  Gandhi recognized that despite all attempts to destroy it over time, love prevails. He proved the validity of love in the laboratory of life.

Because of his belief in the supremacy and invincibility of love, nonviolent living became his chosen way of manifesting it.  He called nonviolence the “soul force which is but another name for love force.”  And with that force, he marshalled a movement where love overcame hatred through what Richard Rohr has come to call “the practice of the better.”

Through Gandhi’s witness we see the essence of love (philosophically and theologically), and we see the expression of love (practically and specifically) as the way of life.  And as with Jesus, Gandhi’s death took place in the absence of love.  But as with Jesus, his death became the starting point for a resurrection of love that encircles the world, bringing light wherever it is lived.

Gandhi’s emphasis on love as the only thing which can overcome hate, and his commitment to nonviolence as the practice of love for overcoming it have been mediated to me through John Dear.  Although I will not write a post specifically about him, I want to include him as someone to benefit from when it comes to living in love, particularly in a life of nonviolence. [2]  He is a contemporary Gandhi in our midst.

[1] Mahatma Gandhi, ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth.’  This book is available in a multitude of formats.  All quotes in this post come from it.

[2] John Dear, ‘The Nonviolent Life’ (Pace e Bene Press, 2013).  Love runs through this book, especially in relation to the two great commandments.

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Love: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

​Looking last week at E. Stanley Jones’ all-encompassing theology of love provides us the opportunity to see the same thing scientifically through the writing of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who saw love as the physical structure of the universe. Love is the divine milieu. [1]  For him, love is the energy attracting all things to each other.  He saw it in atoms, gravity, orbits, photosynthesis, ecosystems, electromagnetic systems, and human relations.  Moreover, he saw the existence of the cosmos in a dynamic way–as a movement toward love, the Omega point.

Amazing and awesome as this is, it is not surprising, because we would expect there to be congruence between the Creator and the creation.  It would make no sense for God to make a world at cross purposes with the Divine nature.  God is love, and what God makes is love.

At the personal level, this means none of us can ever rightly see ourselves as anyone other than God’s beloved.  We are God made, love made.  We are made in God’s likeness.  This reality both defines who we are and motivates us to develop who we are in deeper and wider ways.  When we do so, as Teilhard would tell us, we are on the trajectory God has in mind for us all.  We are on the never-ending journey into Love.

In this view, Teilhard is in concert with the ideas of growth and maturation that we have seen in Underhill and Jones (indeed, in every other person we have highlighted), but he treats it in the context of science.  For him as a paleantologist, this meant observing how the created order is undergoing evolution–a persavive development of all things from lower to a higher order.  For him as a priest, this meant a spiritual evolution into fulness of life in Christ.  It is most clearly seen in the development of increasingly mature relationships with each other. [2]. Love daws into ever deepening and widening fellowship, community, and oneness.

For Teilhard de Chardin, love is literally and figuratively our DNA.  Love is the essence of what is most passed on from one generation to another.  It is the divine dance in the cosmos.  It is the spring in our step.

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, ‘The Divine Milieu.’He wrote the book in 1926-27, but it was banned by Roman Catholic censors, only finally to be published in English in 1960.  

[2] Louis Savary & Patricia Berne, ‘Teilhard de Chardin on Love’ (Paulist Press, 2017).

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Love: E. Stanley Jones

​I have previously identified E. Stanley Jones as the overall most major influence in my theological and spiritual life.  His influence only increased when, years ago, I discovered that he wrote an entire book on love, ‘Christian Maturity.’ [1]  Like some other of his books, this one offers a year’s worth of  daily readings, affording readers the opportunity to concentrate on love for an extended period.

Using the letter of First John, Jones connects maturity with love, noting that “we are mature as we are mature in love.” [2]  This is a view in keeping with what we noted last week in Evelyn Underhill’s theology of love.  I think they both got the idea from St. Paul, who described his maturation as a growing into love (1 Corinthians 13).

Growth in love is growth into increasing maturity because it is growing increasingly I to God, who is love (1 John 4:8, 16).  Growth in love is also the hallmark of the Spirit-filled life (Galatians 5:22), wherein we find the motivation and the means to love our neighbors as ourselves.
One of the keynotes in Jones’ theology is that love is the means for overcoming the major problems that we face in life.  Love overcomes racism, independence, impulsiveness, fear, resentment, naivete, negativism, self-seeking, pride, self-condemnation, and emptiness. [3] Love is not only the key pronciple that runs through life, it is the ultimate power that enables us to live as God intends.

It is no exaggeration to say that, for E. Stanley Jones, every achievement is due, in some way, to the presence of love, and equally fair to say that every decline is due to the absence of love.  Life rises and falls in relation to love. Love cleanses, consecrates, and conquers.  Love calls out the best in us.  We are never more the people God means for us to be than when we love. 

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Christian Maturity’ (Abingdon Press 1957).

[2] Ibid., xii.

[3] Ibid., Jones writes in the book about love’s ability to overcome each of these things, leaving us to conclude (as St Paul did) that love is the means to victory in all things (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).

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“You will laugh” (Luke 6:21) is the only time Jesus referred to laughter, but, but it is certainly not the only time he laughed.  He went to many parties, and you don’t do that without laughing a lot.  He told stories that made people laugh (e.g. the idea of a camel squeezing itself through a needle’s eye), and he likely laughed along with them as he told them. No doubt about it,  Jesus laughed. [1]

Unfortunately, most of the portraits of Jesus do not show him laughing.  But there is one depiction called “Jesus Laughing,” which friends gave to Jeannie and me in 1990.  Every day since, that portrait has hung on a wall in our several homes. We see it all the time, and some days I pause to look at it more intently.

The importance of Luke 6:21 is that Jesus put laughter into our vision of life in the Kingdom of God.  He did it in a way that brought immediate joy, and also in a way that gave inevitable hope. In fact, in 6:25, he warned people not to live so that only the present is humorous.  That kind of limited laughter may bring about weeping later.  Sometimes laughter is a sign that we have things in perspective.

Kingdom laughing not only gives us a lot to laugh about right now, but more…it assures us that even when we weep right now, sadness does not have the last word. Jesus laughing is not only about the funny things happening around us today, it is also his way of saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”  Joy is a keynote in eternity.

Years ago, I read that Thomas Merton said “the mark of a saint is the ability to laugh.” [2]  John Wesley believed “sour godliness is the devil’s religion.”  Across the ages, the link between holiness and happiness (eudaemonism) has been noted.  When we are at our best, we know at soul-level that, indeed, there is a time for laughter (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  Jesus set the pace.  Let’s follow it.

[1] Elton Trueblood wrote a book about this, ‘The Humor of Christ’ (Harper & Row, 1975).  My longtime friend and colleague, Donald Demaray, also emphasized Jesus’ humor and the importance of it in the Christian life.  He wrote, ‘Laughter, Joy, and Healing’ (Baker Books, 1986).

[2] I have not found this exact quote in Merton’s writing, but I have found the sentiment many times.  Jim Forest tells that the first time he saw Merton, he was on the floor laughing.  The laughing Merton made a first and lasting impression on him.

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Love: Evelyn Underhill

​For the sake of time, we move from the eighteenth century (last week in the post about the Wesleys) to the twentieth century, continuing our look at love through another Anglican, Evelyn Underhill.  In her writing, we easily detect the centrality of love in Christianity’s essence and expression.

In its essence, she wrote that the spiritual life is “the willed correspondence of the little human spirit with the Infinite Spirit”—correspondence between the Holy Spirit whose nature is love and the human spirit made in God’s image. [1]  Indeed, for Underhill,  the spiritual journey corresponds to the drawing of iron filings to a magnet—natural and inevitable because of Love, akin to the sentiment of St. John, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

John’s declaration leads into Underhill’s belief that the core expression of the spiritual life is the showing of love.  Put first by Paul in his list of the fruit of the Spirit, she noted that “live is the budding point from which all the rest come.”  She summed everything up in one sentence, “To be unloving is to be out of touch with God.” [3]

As a Christian in the mystical tradition, Underhill clearly understood the life of love to be a journey into increasing maturity, which is essentially maturation in love.  Her classic book, ‘Mysticism’ has over 850 references to love.  Growth in love is occurring in every stage of our spiritual formation: purgation, illumination, dark night, and union. [4]

In a very compelling way. Evelyn Underhill invites us into a dynamic spirituality rooted and fruited in love.

[1] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Spiritual Life’ (Harper & Row, n.d.), 30.

[2] Evelyn Underhill, ‘The Fruits of the Spirit’ (Morehouse-Barlow, 1981), 14.

[3] Ibid., 15. 

[4] Evelyn Underhill, ‘Mysticism’ (1911).  Her book has been republished many times, and it is still available in both traditional and ebook formats.

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Love: The Wesleys

​When I write about the Wesleys, I do so from within the tradition which has most substantially shaped my Christian faith.  Fortunately, the Wesleyan tradition is ecumenical, itself the child of other streams of Christianity, and one which invites us to be formed in relation to the depth and breadth of Christian thought.  All this to say, the theology of love found in the Wesleyan tradition is the culmination of previous theologies in the Roman, Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican traditions.

In addition to the breadth of its theology of love, we also find a depth such that many rightly describe Wesleyan theology as a theology of love. [1]  In demonstrable ways we see this.

First, with respect to theology itself.  The fact that neither John nor Charles Wesley spent their lives in the academy has caused some to discount them as theologians, but that is a both a bogus claim, and one which reveals a too narrowing of the word ‘theologian.’ Their media were different (e.g. sermons, hymns, treatises, and letters) but their message has theological substance.  And their message was rooted in the two great commandment—the love of God and neighbor. Writing sixty years ago, Colin Williams confirmed John Wesley’s alignment with and commitment to the universal Christian belief that faith is formed by love. [2]

Second, love is seen with respect to the ministries that characterized Methodism.  One of the guiding mantras for John and Charles (and other Methodists) was “faith working by love,” a conviction akin to St. James, who wrote that “ faith is dead when it does not arise from faithful activity” (James 2:17).  John Wesley called it “practical divinity,”—what he (and the larger Christian tradition) referred to as social holiness.

My study of Wesleyan spirituality has shown how much John and Charles (and the Methodist movement) connected with, benefitted from, and expressed the many theologies of love which preceded them. [3]  I have come to believe that they saw Methodism as a Third Order, akin to what we have seen in the Franciscan order–a movement rooted in and expressive of love.

Love as the cornerstone of faith and life has generated this principle throughout the Wesleyan world, “Methodists move toward people who need help.” [4]  The help given is not generated solely or primarily by a sense of obligation or duty, but rather from compassion born of love—a sense of love rooted in the person and work of God, who in the Holy Trinity loves the whole world (John 3:16).

[1] Nazarene theologian Mildred Bangs Wynkoop left no doubt as to her recognition of this, entitling her study of Wesleyan theology, ‘A Theology of Love’ (Beacon Hill Press, 1972).

[2] Colin W. Williams, ‘John Wesley’s Theology Today’ (Abingdon Press, 1960), 65.

[3] My PhD dissertation launched my study of Wesleyan spirituality: ‘The Devotional Life of John Wesley: 1703-38’ (Duke University, 1981).  I have since written about this in books and articles–for example, ‘Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition’ (Upper Room Books–first as a book in 1983, and then republished as a workbook in 1996).  The workbook is still in print.

[4] A statement made by Nazarene theologian J. Kenneth Grider in an unpublished paper he wrote in 1999.

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