The realms of unconditional love

Gerringong, NSW

I was fortunate that this truth stumbled upon me when I was broken enough to receive it. Pride is a barrier to all things really important and is never wholly defeated. One of the most difficult and ‘objectionable’ of prayers aimed directly at the ego: Lord, I pray for anonymity.[1] Had I been a younger man when I feigned to be inclusive of my heterodox brethren and when in reality I was fundamentalist almost to the core, I would have been too proud or too arrogant, probably both, to get off the high-horse and see past my own life-legend.[2] This truth which presses on us is amazingly straightforward yet one of the hardest challenges to a member of a believing community, in particular to a believer who has invested years in the building and defending of their life-legend. This is not difficult to understand.

Good religious people with sincere and honest intentions want for their ‘Myth’ to be the right one,[3] for this will validate their life and give reason and meaning to the suffering and to the wounds along the way. It has been correctly pointed out for instance, that if we are to look for the unifying theme in the writings of Dostoyevsky, it is his exploration of the human condition centred about the need to be sure of at least one thing. Kierkegaard before him would ask a similar question of his readers, do we will the one thing and what is this one thing? And yet a believer need not abandon the consolation of their spiritual home to concede that others may make comparable claims as to the comprehension of the Right Way. Here is found the delicious irony: the truer and more profound one’s own religious experience within the believing community, that is for instance, the ‘more’ Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim… the more humble and cognizant one is of their own lowly position before the Almighty Creator. Some like the German-Swiss philosopher Frithjof Schuon have spoken of that which underlies religion, the religio perennis, or the religion of the heart, the religio cordis

Within this atmosphere of the mutual understanding of the uniqueness and preciousness of our neighbour, the more tender and compassionate does the heart become in acknowledging the right of the other to exist and to explore and to love. At its crux, terrorism has nothing to do with the practice of religion but is a movement of violence which makes use of and exploits both religious rhetoric and sacred paradigms. This is exactly what the ‘anti-theists’ have not been able or have not wanted to understand. Cultural Marxism (at least in the West and certainly post 1920’s) has played a big part in the establishment of the “religion is violent” narrative. Diving deeper into the Divine (or into “the Aleph” as some mystics might say) takes you further into the realms of unconditional Love and into the opposite direction of the bomb makers whatever their stripe. Ultimately, the greatest force for change on earth which neither yields nor breaks and is ancient even beyond the oldest stars, is that energy which has its source in the Light. Let us then not underestimate our own possibilities, for light  too we have learnt, can be reflected from dust.

One of the great joys in my teaching life was when one of my under-graduate students at the University of Wollongong (UOW) came to my office to thank me for re-igniting the religious zeal in her heart. I was surprised but more so very deeply moved. This student was a Muslim and I her teacher a Christian. This gifted young lady would go on to earn a highly commended doctorate and inspired both Katina and myself, her two thesis supervisors, in equal measure. The busier we are trying to live and to work out our own religion, the less time we will have to bury our neighbour’s. On the problematical question of religious plurality or ‘Ecumenism’ I am in free-fall somewhere between Karl Rahner’s “Anonymous Christian”, and John Hick’s “mutually inclusive inclusivism”. For many years I have held to the Apokatastasis.[4] Not as a dogma, but as a theologoumenon which is a theological opinion. Nowhere am I suggesting that doctrine is not important. Precisely because it is that we should not spend our time fighting over it, but rather we should be immersing ourselves in the understanding of its eschatological and soteriological implications.

There is an extraordinarily beautiful and telling admonition aimed at Peter by Jesus in the last chapter in the Gospel of John which proved defining for me as I battled with issues of my own faith and ministry. Peter, pointing to the younger disciple John and curious as to his future, asks Christ, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow me” (Jn 21:21-22). In other words: mind your own business, and go about your work.

George, Eleni, and Jeremy, my three beautiful children, should you ever read these little reflections from your dad when you are grown up, this is all that I would want for you to take away: hold fast onto the faith you have received and exchange it for nothing of the world and for nil of its promises; at the same time do not close your ears or limit your wonder to the unique stories of others who have gone on a different journey nor shut your eyes or your heart to the divine presence in the other who is standing before you; and be the first to offer to fill your neighbour’s cup with cool water. This alone would have made my life worth living.

[1] This little prayer uttered by an idealistic young clergyman in a hotel room in Athens one evening, might be better understood nowadays given the internet and the rise of social media, as more of a condition of the spirit and state of mind rather than an actuality or a possibility.

[2] By life-legend I simply want to term the story we write for ourselves to describe and to justify our decision making and personal history. That is, all of that which goes into the creation and development of our identity and world-view.  

[3] I will normally use myth close to the intentions of Carl Jung for whom “mythmaking” was a pathway for the unconscious part of our psyche to express itself. It is one of the ways of how the collective unconscious strives to become conscious.

[4] For an excellent summary of this theological opinion held by a number of the Church Fathers, see Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, (Penguin Books: London, 1993), 261-263.