[From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 49, Verses 15-16. The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version-KJV]
To me, this is one of the most intimate and touching passages of poetry I’ve read in the Christian bible. Whenever I hear reference to it, I can sense the utter comfort and well-being that would result from being gently held in the palm of an infinitely loving hand so intimately that you are actually etched there, body and soul.
A few years back, on a spring day that had suddenly turned again to winter, DB and I were walking in our local park when we came across a large female Canada goose sitting on the grass by our path. As I glanced down at her, I noticed that her normally svelte body looked oddly puffy, as though someone had blown her up like a balloon. She looked so swollen that her wings could barely rest against her body.
As I stood there watching, one of her wings popped out even further out and a newly-hatched gosling waddled out from under, followed by another, and another, and yet another. They kept coming, those fluffy babies, and now, even more were emerging from under the other wing.
It was like watching one of those commercials where a dozen football players miraculously unfold themselves from inside a Volkswagen Beetle.
That kind of warmth and security is what I imagine when I start thinking about where we on this little blue planet came from and where we might be going. My puny brain has trouble wrapping itself around the concept of an infinite creative spirit, but it can – and does – create symbols to stand in for the reality I cannot fathom.
And for me, one of those powerful symbols is the image of being sheltered, being held in loving arms like a child who has run to its parent for security and been picked up and tucked safely in, secure. Or a clutch of goslings taking refuge under their mother’s spacious wings.
There is much in the bible that I don’t understand, that is patriarchal beyond what I can stomach, that is violent, that seems incredibly biased. But there is also tenderness, and love, and unselfishness, and beauty in that book.
Many years ago, I gave up the idea of the father-figure in the sky, preferring instead to trust my own internal gyroscope that helps me pick my way through the minefields of life, bolstered by the teachings of the enlightened ones.
After all, if we can manage to quiet our minds and listen to that deep and living silence within, we discover that there is guidance available to us whenever we are ready to hear it, from Heart to heart.
I’m not saying it’s easy to discern or easy to follow, because the few times in my life I’ve actually set out to do just that (no, let’s be honest here: when the situation was so dire that I had no other option but to go within and cry for help), the actual doing of what I knew was the right thing was excruciatingly difficult.
This is not a path for the faint of heart, I’ve discovered. And I’m often faint of heart.
What I am saying is that there is a rightness to following that often difficult path of love that simply cannot be mistaken for anything else. You absolutely know in your heart when you’re managing to do the right thing, the loving thing. It doesn’t necessarily make the path any easier, but it gives it meaning.
Love is the Final State Attained by Spiritual Practice.
That’s what I’ve read, and I’ve come to believe it. After all, both Christianity and Buddhism agree that unselfish love is the goal. In Buddhism, we call highly-attained people Buddhas. In that end state, we are so attuned to the Infinite Creative Consciousness that we walk at all times and all ways as if hand in hand, or carried in loving arms.
I could be wrong, but I think that this, this learning to live entirely in the heart with its powerful, tough, overriding love, is the reason we are given the gift of life. I suspect that we, all unknowing, are actually students in a life-long training entitled Learning to Love 101.
When Saint Augustine of Hippo first wrote dilige, et quod vis fac*, or “Love, and do what thou wilt,” he was saying that when love of God [sic] is the governing principle of our lives, then everything we say and do will yield to that love, and we will naturally select the path of virtue.
*[“Love God, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare. In all things, let the root of love be within, for of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”]
If we learn to open our hearts, it becomes possible to see, and to love, the individual beauty of each precious soul on this planet. I’m just one very fallible, foolish human being – bombu, as Amida Buddhists say – but it is this hope that keeps me reaching toward the Light.
As Oriah Mountain Dreamer tells us, “Remember what you are and let this knowing take you home to the Beloved with every breath.” *
Sometimes in bed at night, I recite to myself – simply for the pleasure of it – the beautiful psalm that I learned as a child and will remember until I am called Home: the King James version of the 23rd Psalm, with its “thees” and “thous” and its simple, graceful poetry of faith and trust.
* Quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “The Call,” HarperONE, San Francisco 2003]