I didn’t preach last Sunday, the fourth in Lent. And whilst I had planned to do the discipline of digesting the readings and writing few thoughts for the blog regardless, it didn’t happen and I let it go!
I have, however, been lecturing on LOVE in lent. Giving three lectures for the ecumenical council of Heidelberg/ East Ivanhoe. So it has occurred to me quite belatedly, to post a favourite snippet from last week’s lecture on “God is Love.”
Here ’tis… Picking up from the observation that Augustine equated divine work of love with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Augustine was so moved by the image of Romans 5:5—the outpouring of the gift of God-who-is-Love into the human heart—that he functionally equated the gift of Love with the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is, for Augustine, they are one and the same thing—the Holy Spirit is Love.
. . .
In the tradition of Christian theology across the centuries, generally speaking there are two suggested locations for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. The first, which I would guess is the perspective most familiar to most of us, is that the Holy Spirit is present in the work of redemption. We receive the Holy Spirit in conjunction with receiving the testimony of Christ, as a seal of our salvation from sin in Christ. Hence, the Holy Spirit is primarily Christ’s spirit, as the son proceeded from the Father, so the spirit proceeds from the son.
There are a number of theological difficulties that. I believe that it has locked Christians into an hierarchical authority structure for both God and church. If there is no love outside of redemption then we are all doomed, so lets not go there.
There is another perspective that locates the Holy Spirit’s presence in the work of creation. At the foundation of the world as narrated in Genesis chapter one, the breath, ruarch, spirit of God enlivened the word of creation.
Some theologies, take this to be grounds for a kind of universalism. Love, the Holy Spirit, is the creative life-force, the universal energy that sparks life. I have many friends whose hold to this theological narrative. But if the weakness of love exclusively located in the Christian story is authoritarianism, for me, the weakness of love located in a single universal story is that it is in danger of ‘flattening out’ the rich diversity of human experience and difference is essential for love.
Love requires an ‘other’ to be in relationship with. Even when we speak of loving ourselves we assume we are talking about different aspects of our self. This relationship must be allowed freedom to from, or else it is not love, it is coercsion or control. Love is a connection with someone or something thing that is not our singular self.
Feminist Luce Iragaray, and actually Simone de Beauvoir before her, argued that articulation of the feminine is essential because of this of human tendency to reduce difference. If the feminine is not articulated then the default story is masculine. The same goes true for religious singularity. If only one religious story is spoken then only the most dominant story gets spoken. This is no ground for inter-faith dialogue. So, if we are to entertain a religious universalism, love demands that it is personal.
In Christian mysticism, the personal and the universal come together. In prayer, there is only the individual, perceiving body, and the experience of the moment or the encounter. So for the mystic, the separation of redemption and creation is not an option. These two possibilities of love in Christ and love in all creation find their integration and that was the subject of last week’s lecture.
So, in the wisdom of Catherine of Siena, the love mystics perceive:
All has been consecrated.
The creatures in the forest know this,
the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know
as does the heart full of
Strange a priest would rob us of this
and then empower himself
with the ability
to make holy what
To love in Christ is to come back to our true selves. Our true home. As Augustine said, ‘our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee.’ The love present in creation and redemption are one single thread of divine love in the universe, not two separate strands. They are the same because God is the same.