Spirituality of Love #4 – ‘Love’ by Sebastian Moore

a snapshot of material presented at solace ‘tuesday stuff’ may-june 2012

see spirituality of love #1 (20 June) for more details

spirituality of love #4:  

happy love relationships negotiate the space between you and me with freedom and grace 

There is a line in this prayer that I kind of think is heresy, but all in all I think it is an extraordinary piece.  I’m afraid I have to give it a strong language and sexual references warning though – so don’t read on if you need your prayer tamed!

LOVE by Sebastian Moore

Christ! I’m ready now –
ready to get lost in the evangel of people’s bodies
accuracy of the flesh
kiss of truth
we cannot say what we are
we can only be to each other
touch each other with truth
and a miss is as good as a mile.

When I was a kid
that is yesterday
I kept myself within bounds
and sowed the dream out of bounds
the pleasure of the flesh without the bone
and thus was straddled between two childhoods
of the law and of the flesh
straddled, castrated, unmoving
unable to embrace
for the dreamed-of-lips were without truth
and truth without flesh
and I nowhere.

When suddenly is the new power
to bone the flesh from far-off galaxies
and quiver each to each
in the inerrant star-dance of people true to each other
and true to me who hardly know myself
the child who paddled in the still pools of the flesh
soft flesh soft light the still forbidden poison
as I laugh now at the forbidden nowhere.

O the wretched rag-bag of the unresolved
containing ‘I love you’ and ‘people are important’
and the absurd Law which filled the one with guilt and tried to bone the other
while the whole thing collapsed in a heap of shapeless me.
Now I am shaped to you and you
and we give each other the bloody obvious kiss
written in light years of the beginning.

Now we begin to love
and old God groans like a teacher who has laboured
from the beginning a lesson that was too obvious for the class
‘At last you’ve understood? You don’t say!
I gave you a law when the semen splashed off the vaginal wall into galaxies of direct speech
and you made the futile roundabout, the rules
in which it was impossible to say what you meant or what anything meant
and so I gave you my bloody obvious Christ
and still you kept your clothes on and went round and round
Him: honestly I was almost prepared to junk him and try again,
anything to get that one thing from you
to sing each other’s names
in the ribbed glory of my eternal making.’

‘I love you’ we said in the old world
and forgot the world, clinging to me and you,
but now the world invades
crushes the ancient sentence into a word
that is you me him
the universe has caught up with us and caught us up
into the word flesh crash –
Christ! how I love you.

In Sebastian Moore & Kevin Maguire, The Experience of Prayer (London; Darton, Longman &  Todd; 1969)

You may or may not have noticed that Sebastian Moore is a reddresstheology favourite.  Here’s some others of his poems:


this, the call

if I could just be one, no longer two

in the body

and one of his theology monographs:

let this mind be in you

‘Wisdom’ by Sebastian Moore

In Sebastian Moore and Kevin Maguire, The Experience of Prayer(London: Darton, Longman & Todd; 1969)

The blog has suffered of late as I’ve been busy with other stuff:  at the start of June I presented my PhD proposal to the postgraduate seminar at St Marks Canberra.  I informally introduced my proposal with a couple of personal stories of love and the first two stanzas of this poem from Sebastian Moore.  It’s a gem.


We have lived too long without wisdom

on which alone the soul feeds:

wisdom is the structure of loving:

without it the heart is wild.

So a community without wisdom

is a collection of private wildernesses

growing more slowly with age

waiting for the full stop.


The heart, when young, is wild:

absolutely requiring the lover’s hand

it may not deny this requirement

in any of its details

and every detail is pain,

and the heart’s pain will either create hell around

or it will be denied

unless there comes the ordering

from within the heart

which is the heart becoming beautiful:

and a community whose commitment

precludes (I suppose) the lover’s hand

and ‘the sweet disorder of her dress’

is desperately in need of wisdom.


A community that has no word

for one tortured on the detail of loving,

a community without the detailed word of wisdom ,

is coarse and unschooled

whatever its spiritual pretensions,

its God an old colour-sergeant

for all the spiritual reading.


Wisdom is born in love

making the heart a city,

every movement of heart anguish

becoming a straight way.


Wisdom is born of God,

makes the heart the City of God.


Those who inhabit the city

have discovered love’s secret

which love by itself can hardly impart,

and indeed wisdom is of God

for whence on earth can a man learn

that a man’s love is himself,

that the difference between two loves

is precisely the difference between two people

whose love is to be to each other

without tyranny,

whose love is to be, together,

whose love is to be the polis:

whence on earth is learned

this courtesy without polish

consenting to the humble?

Holy Week: Being-in-love with God

Amidst all of the possible thought trails to pursue in Holy Week, it is The Liturgy of the Bridegroom that continues to grab my attention.  In particular, I have been mindful of the great burden of broken love which human beings almost universally share and the wonderful, therapeutic opportunity to confront that loss and pain as we turn our eyes towards the Cross of Christ.

Hence, I’ve decided to share the final of four sermons which I recently delivered at Southern Cross Ministries, a contemporary/charismatic Anglican Church in Melbourne.  Theme of the sermons, Being-in-love with Jesus, is taken from Bernard Lonergan’s epistemology of conversion and knowing, and is material that I will continue to develop for 2 other (very different) contexts this year.  Not only is it the result of intense theological reflection from the past year, it is the result of three and a half years of hard living and an awful lot of prayer.

A sermon in response to Song of Songs 2:1 – 3:5

Romance as the Pathological Religion of Western Culture

The psychology of love is a massive cultural phenomena in our Western. It is, in fact, one of the things non-Western cultures criticise us for. It is our obsession; our pathology; and our replacement for religion in a secular age. As our culture moved away from seeking meaning in religious notions of transcendence, we projected those spiritual needs onto our human relationships. Romance has become our religion.

A case in point: I saw the movie Any Questions for Ben? when it came out last month. Poor Ben is going through a quarter life crisis: he feels cut adrift, lost, yearning for something more and for his life to ‘mean something.’ So does he turn to religion, spirituality or even psychotherapy? No, he turns to love! He finds it within himself to commit to one woman and trusts in that relationship to satisfy these inadequacies he feels.

There is a pressing need to address the unrealistic expectations on intimate human relationships of all kinds – parental, romantic, platonic, etc. And whilst I am going to be focusing on romance today, much of it can be transferred to others whom we are close to, and especially to our mothers and fathers.

If we seek ‘god’ in a human person we will always be disappointed. But more subtlety, if we seek the source for our own personal transformation in another person, we too easily fail to integrate any fleeting transcendence within ourselves. It is not that God is absent from human relationships, indeed, frequently we experience the wonderful grace of God in our intimate relationships, but the source of God is not located solely within them as the object of our affection. It is a glimpse of heaven, but we live here and now on earth.

Robert Johnson is a Jungian therapist who has written on this issue:

“…What we seek constantly in romantic love is not human love or human relationship alone; we also seek a religious experience, a vision of wholeness. Here is the meaning of the magic, the sorcery, the supernatural in the love potion. There is another world that is outside the vision of our ego-minds: It is the realm of psyche, the realm of unconscious. It is there that our souls and our spirits live, for unknown to our conscious Western minds, our souls and spirits are psychological realities, and they live on in our psyches without our knowledge. And it is there, in the unconscious, that God lives, whoever God may be for us as individuals.”


Mystical romantic Love

When I first read the song of songs as teenager, I really could make no sense of it. The unfamiliar imagery and the mysterious whisper or sometimes snigger, that seemed to accompany its mention. I was taught that there was a huge debate about this book of the bible. Some say this is a book about a man and a woman, so its a book about marriage and about the sanctity of marriage. Others say that it is an allegorical book about loving God, and the mystical experience of knowing Jesus in the thrill of the holy spirit. I have no doubt in my mind now that it is both. And the reason that it is both is because, in the words of Richard Rohr, the way we love anything, is the way we love everything.
I have a friend who used the Song of Songs as the basis for a major art project last year. I greatly anticipated the artwork for many months, for she is a beautiful and skilled artist, and she was trying a new technique with ink. When she shared the finishe product I was surprised and taken aback. She created a book with selected words from Song of Songs on one side, and images of indigenous shrub on the other. It is a comment on the Love of God that we can discover through nature!

St John of the Cross was a sixteenth century mystic, who wrote his own love poetry to God, some of which was directly modelled on the Song of Songs, with the voice of the bride and then the bridegroom taking it in turns to declare their experience of love. He found such spiritual nourishment in the Song of Songs that when he was dying, he requested the priest read from the book of Song of Songs, unstead of the usual prayers for the dying. This John once urged a younger Christian, “Enter within yourself and work in the presence of your Bridegroom, who is ever present loving you.”

He is picking up on Ephesians chapter 5 of course, where St Paul describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as Bridegroom and Bride. We must be careful to always remember that in Paul’s meaning each of us as individuals are only a part of the Bride, Christ is ours by virtue of us being one with one another, but this language of bride and bridegroom is not uncommon amongsts spiritual writers across the ages. Singing love songs to Jesus is not new and by no means exclusive to the contemporary charismatic worship movement!

In a sermon on Loving God, Rowan Williams remembers a story about St John of the Cross and wonders, do any of us love God so intimately?

“When St John of the Cross was staying at a convent over Chrismas, one of the sisters saw him, when he thought no one was looking, picking up the figure of the child Jesus from the crib. He hugged it close to his chest and then, with eyes closed, danced around the crib for a few minutes. Well, that, it seems, is love of God: a devotion that makes people more than a little dotty, that produces an all-pervading warmth and delight, an incommunicable gladness beyond all words. ‘My beloved is mine and I am his.’”
Is this kind of crazy love just a personality thing? Some of us are more emotional than others and they are the one’s who have this kind of relationship with God in prayer? St John of the Cross entered into his great love affair with God when he was kidnapped and imprisoned. The Dark Night of the Soul was literally for him, 9 long months in a dark, damp, medievil cell. Upon his escape he began to write poetry of what had happened in the darkness, the breaking through of light and love as he cast himself entirely on God.

Spiritual writers describe love and suffering as the two great doorways into knowledge of God. Both are experiences which wrench our hands off the steering wheel; bind our fate to the whims of another; shame us into knowledge of our own powerlessness. Hence, it should be no surprise that the darkest moments of our lives have a unique capacity to throw us into the arms of God.

Rowan William’s deals with the relationship between this mystical love with St John of the Cross describes, and other more rational forms of love: love is a decision, love is a choice, love is a set of actions putting the other person first. Yes, love is all that but the Song of Songs and the saints who pray them, reveal to us the possibility of more. And then he gives some great advice:

“If the ‘love of God’ means nothing to you…, then love the lovers of God. Love the love of God in Francis or John of the Cross, Dick Sheppard or Mother Theresa, Aelred of Rievaulx or Charles de Foucauld. To love love-in-someone is, by the courtesy of heaven, to love love and so to love God. It is to turn our eyes toward, to choose and desire the truth of all truth, the beauty of all beauty. It is to look and hope in and love and serve and know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, from whom and for whom everything in heaven and earth exists, even the cold, flabby, and fantasy-ridden hearts of human beings.”


The agony of falling-in-love

There was a bigger reason why I struggled with song of songs as a teenager, beyond knowing what this mystical sort of love was. Really, I just didn’t didn’t have enough life under my belt to really get it. Maybe, and this is a hint for some of the young people here this morning, maybe if I’d had The Message version I would have cottoned on a little sooner. The bride’s dream at the start of chapter 3, Eugene Peterson translates:

“Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover. I wanted him desperately. He absence was painful.”
At age 15, I knew not enough about falling in love to grasp the deep longing and great confusion of feeling within the text. Listen to the repeated refrain:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not awaken love until it is ready!”
In recent years I have found myself often repeating a little mantra to myself: “it is possible to feel two very different things at once.” Intense passionate love is like that. In fact, Robert Johnson would say, suffering is an essential ingredient in romantic passion. It is agony to awaken desire for a lover with whom we are not able to share a bed – whether that is for practical or moral reasons, temporary or permanent. Now, when I read the text I feel the complexity of love! At once joyous and burdensome.


Love’s work

Gillian Rose has been one of my greatest delights in the past year. She is a contemporary philosopher who wrote a book in 1997 while she was dying, called ‘Love’s work”. In it, she describes “unhappy love”. Human love which is bound to be thwarted in this life – be it because it is unrequited, the object of our affection does not share the same passion for us, even when maybe they once did – or maybe the man/woman of your dreams just is nowhere to be found! Unhappy love includes all those cases which are deemed immoral or socially impossible – to be married and in love with someone who is not our spouse, or to be in love with someone who is too young for us, or considered inappropriate in some way; it is not uncommon to be strongly attracted to our teacher, our boss, our doctor, our priest: none of which are appropriate relationships to pursue. Finally, unhappy love can be purely because of impracticalities – they live on the other side of the world, you meet at the wrong time, or , in the worst possible circumstances, one’s Beloved has passed away and you are seperated by death!

In any of these relationships, unhappy love is the passion of loss. And interesting in the Song of Songs story, the woman is searching the streets for her Lost Lover. Romantic love, at its heart, is about the desperate human search for love! Some pyschologists like to ham up the idea of falling-in-love as addiction or an illness, but maybe, in one way, falling-in-love is a sign of good health! When a healthy body requires food we experience hunger pains: could not love pains be a function of a healthy soul telling us what we need? In which case, falling-in-love can be processed as a spiritual discipline: the soul’s prescribed remedy for deconstructing the immature ego and unearthing the true self. A drive to reclaim the perfection of Love as it was first known in pre-human form. Hence, Gillian Rose writes, unhappy love initiates an investigation into lovelessness. We come face to face with the epic journey to recover our sense of Beloved-ness.


Created from Love

The Love of God is woven beautifully into all God’s creatures. And what I have tried to describe in my previous sermons is an insight from the Dominican spiritual writer Sebastian Moore. Our desire for another, is triggered by a deep memory of ourselves as desirable. Some look or word from whatever archetypal man, woman or child is required to grabs our psychic attention, and we rediscover the Love out of which we were formed, as the Psalmist has said, I loved you in your mother’s womb, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The way we love anything, is the way we love everything. The different types of love that we experience – for brother, for friend, for children and parents, for our heros, for our Lovers, for our enemies, all Love comes from the one source: God. And God, who IS love, has poured God’s own love for us into our hearts by the holy spirit. So the very source of all Love is within us, buried deep within our foundation as human persons, but released by life as we encounter love and discover ourselves to be Beloved in the eyes of others, starting of course, with our mothers, even before we sense the cool of a breeze on our cheeks. This is Sebastian Moore’s point, the person who awakens love in us, merely throws aside the veil, and we unearth the fountain of love from which we were created by God.

If we do not seek God within us, the love that is available in God stays distant, stays apart from us, it cannot change us in the same way when we keep it at arms distance. We must know it within ourselves if we are to survive the trials of human love.


Encouragement for sufferers of Unhappy Love

To close, let me speak to those whose heart is breaking right now, from unhappy love.
Let me say to you: this is normal. This is not nice, but this is normal. This is what human love is like. And even when you are in a relationship that is more happy than unhappy, there are still moments when the people we love let us down.

I have a close friend who is married, I am not. We have journeyed together through the unhappy love of our different circumstances and what we have discovered is that our pathways are the same: the way forward, towards happiness, is only through the discovery and determined depenence upon the love that is within ourselves. The love we seek, the love we all seek, is already inside you. It has been inside you since birth. The one who has awakened love in you is but a beautiful mirror, reflecting the Divine Love of Creation in your very Being. Set your heart on the higher goal, search for the source of all love, and you find what you so desperately seek in a mere mortal.

Let me also speak to those whose struggle is not so much lost love but betrayed love, the same is true. Seek the higher love, and you will find the source of forgiveness, grace, and justice, that will get you through. Mere human love does not have the capacity to love one’s enemies. You will need divine love for that. But that divine love is written into your inmost Being – Jesus can show you how to find it.

Finally, let me speak to those of you who are on the other side; who have been the cause of unhappiness in Love. Let me say to you, Falling in love is not wrong, it is not even stupid! But it is not always healthy, and it is not always right to pursue it in an outward relationship. Don’t fall for the lie that passion is all there is. There is a higher love, and that love calls us to a higher law. This higher Love is not a disciplinarian, but will reward you richly for choosing to invest in it. Jesus said even he who looks upon another woman lustfully is guilty of adultery! How on earth can we survive that kind of temptation? Self-discipline definitely has it’s place, but you will never chain up your mind entirely. So, you need a greater love. You need a superhuman love! And you need to know that love has forgiven you at your most undeserving.

So, start a journal, sign up for counselling, go on a silent retreat, take an art class, walk in the rain, buy a pet: but turn inwards, and let go of the person you think will make you happy. God has already given you what you think you want, look for it within yourself.

Sharing these kinds of thoughts with a friend recently, she put me on to this beautiful hymn which I’d never heard.

Geoff Mattheson, O Love that will not let me go.

1.   O Love that wilt not let me go,  
I rest my weary soul in thee;  
I give thee back the life I owe,
  That in thine ocean depths its flow,  
May richer, fuller be.
2.   O light that foll’west all my way,  
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
  My heart restores its borrowed ray,
  That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day, 
 May brighter, fairer be.
3.   O Joy that seekest me through pain,  
I cannot close my heart to thee;
  I trace the rainbow through the rain,  
And feel the promise is not vain,
  That morn shall tearless be.
4.   O Cross that liftest up my head,
  I dare not ask to fly from thee;
  I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
  And from the ground there blossoms red, 
 Life that shall endless be.

‘this THE CALL’ by Sebastian Moore


The time I took my life into my prayer
Was when I said to you, simply, you bore me
For then it happened, you were everywhere
And my life suddenly no longer stormy.

The self within and what I call my life
Became identical and I was new
The preferential option for the strife
Dissolved as you gave me yourself as you.

This is the bliss that waits upon us all
Who have to learn a self no longer two,
The dualism that prevents the call
From coming through to the deep self from you

To tell us as no one on earth is able
That we are loved, and not otherwise stable.

‘If I could just be one, no longer two’ by Sebastian Moore



If I could just be one, no longer two
With me controlling me to keep me straight
Paying a toll that is forever due
And always, O always a little late.

You draw me down into the one of prayer
My mind on nothing in particular
And it is lovely, happiness as rare
Never yet known, with love’s protracted Ah!

Fall into one is to come into now,
This is the luxury of real time
To take the furrow from the oldest brow
And drench the soul in the sweet Jesus crime

Which, seen with Easter eyes, makes generous
My will beyond reach of the curious.

In The Body, by Sebastian Moore


The body hugs itself, the feel of me
As I am loved into to be by you
With all my brothers, sisters, amity
Where being is equated with the true.

The self acquisitive is not alone:
Inquisitive I know another way
Of longing for you utterly unknown
That eases me as I find I can pray.

The body hugs itself: how do I know
To say this and immediately to feel
Love’s tenderness upon the breath as so
Where each pretence reveals itself as peal.

I know love woke in me, for I succumbed
Without all doubt, I previously numbed.

There’s that in us which cannot be deceived,
The body bullied told just what it feels
Knows when most inwardly it is relieved
As layer on layer my imposition peals.

If we could tie this focus to mimesis
That would be wonderful, a common sense
Connects the former with the latter thesis
For those who need not sit upon the fence.

Smile at a baby under one hour old,
Baby smiles back: for whom is this a proof,
Girard or Gendlin?* If the truth be told,
For both perhaps, unless we stand aloof.

The self acquisitive is not the whole:
There is the body with its form the soul. **

* Rene Girard and Eugene Gendlin were, for Sebastian Moore, the two most seminal thinkers of our age.
** This is the definition of the soul for Aristotle and Aquinas.