The highest common denominator for all spiritual practices and religious teachings, as I’ve come to understand, is Love. That is, Love with a capital L, meaning that which transcends a personal or ego-based sense of love. Love that embraces all and everything. Love that is the ground, or source, of all being.
It’s a “perfect” love, a powerful love, a love that can change lives, and nations, even as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King have shown.
“Perfect Love casts out fear” is from the Bible, but it is one of those highest teachings and practices found across cultural and religious divides.
If these teachings cannot be made practical in our ordinary, flawed, imperfect lives, they are of no use to us. But as a mother who has struggled with an almost debilitating sense of fear at times, an understanding of what this verse means has saved me many times.
Fear is at the heart of manner of darkness. “All that ails us” is some mutation of this life-crippling, joy-killing, action-paralyzing, energy-sapping, emotion. I have found myself in its grip many times. And the only way I’ve found to peel back the strangling fingers of fear is to let a more perfect sense of Love rise within me.
It is understanding that without Love, I am nothing. That love truly is the ground of my being, the source of all being. That love is what makes life worth living. And that when the time comes to depart from this life, all that will have mattered is how much we have loved; not how much we have fallen at the feet of fear. How much we have given, not how much we have taken; how much we have expressed the best in us, and sought to see the best in each other.
“Perfect Love” means to love others more perfectly. This doesn’t mean to love others in spite of their flaws or failings.
It means to love them unconditionally because we know that they are not their flaws and failings. And to know that so clearly and so fervently, that we can keep that love pure, even while doing whatever we can to help them let go of their own fears, and all the failings that go with those fears.
We are not our fears. We are not our failings. We are not our hate, or greed, or selfishness, or addiction, or anger, or violence. These are all manifestations of our fears. And the only thing worth saving or savoring in each other is what we love, and what expresses that love.
“Love your enemies” is the same as saying you have no enemies, a wise woman once said. For those who would appear as our enemies are those so overcome by their own fears that they have failed to see what they love in another. And if we hate them, we have fallen into the same trap.
Isn’t that what the great moral and inspirational figures of our age have taught us? Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela? That love conquers all, even the most insidious, unjust, hateful systems of government that would try to separate, enslave, and dehumanize us?
We are not our prejudices, we are not the cruel things we say or do, the cruel systems that we create and justify. We can’t condone these things, or ignore them. We don’t give them a pass.
But we understand that, to some degree, the most hateful and cruel among us, are us, in other circumstances. That there, but for the grace of God, go I.
That even the most loving and kind and wise among us, when governed by fear, rather than love, would be the same.
We have no enemy because we see ourselves in him, and the only way to un-make an enemy is to see his humanity, to see us in them.
That’s how Mandela was able to overcome Apartheid and lead to reconciliation.
That’s how Gandhi was able to face the oppressors and free his county.
That’s how Martin Luther King was able to peacefully resist an oppressive system and usher in the Civil Rights Act.
It’s fear for ourselves, our children, our families, our community, our country, our way of life, that leads to resentment and anger and blame and shame and discouragement or despair. That eventually leads to resignation and indifference and apathy and depression and joylessness.
And it’s learning to love ourselves and each other more perfectly that casts out those fears, and frees us from all its crippling mutations.
“Perfect Love” – a powerful antidote for all that ails us.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, peace and love, to every one of you, and all.