Monday, November 08, 2010

There’s No One Like You…

Charismatic songwriters are often criticised by traditionalists, and by the more grimly reformed of worshippers, for writing “God is my girlfriend” songs: songs of intimacy and longing, like Eddie Espinosa’s There’s No One Like You:

There’s no one like you my Lord
No one could take your place
My heart beats to worship you
I live just to seek your face
There’s no one like you my Lord
No one can take your place
There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you…

I can’t help but think that this criticism is based in a very short-sighted kind of mystical illiteracy. Richard Rohr writes:

Any true experience of the Holy gives one the experience of being secretly chosen, invited, and loved. Surely that is why bride and bridegroom, invitations, and wedding banquets are Jesus' most common metaphors for eternal life… This is religion at its best and highest and truest. The mystics know themselves to be completely safe and completely accepted at ever-deeper levels of trust, exposure, and embrace. It is a spiral that goes ever deeper and closer. How different than the normal fear of hell or punishment, which keeps us on the far edge of the only dance there is…

Mysticism begins when the totally transcendent image of God starts to recede; and there's a deepening sense of God as immanent, present, here, now, within me. Augustine's line was "God is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself." St. Catherine of Genoa shouted it in the streets, "My deepest me is God!"

So you must overcome the gap to know—and then Someone Else is doing the knowing through you. God is no longer "out there."  At this point, it's not like one has a new relationship with God; it's like one has a whole new God! “God himself is my counsellor, and at night my innermost being instructs me,” says the Psalmist (16:7).

The mystics are those who are let in on this secret mystery of God's love affair with all souls, and recognize the simultaneous love affair with the individual soul—as if it were the only one God loves. It's absolutely our unique affair, and that sets the whole thing on a different and deeper ground than mere organized religion can ever achieve by itself…

We have put our emphasis on trying to love God, which is probably a good way to start—although we do not have a clue how to do that.  What I consistently find in the mystics is an overwhelming experience of how God has loved them.  God is the initiator, God is the doer, God is the one who seduces us.  All we can do is respond in kind, and exactly as Meister Eckhart said, “The love by which we love God is the very same love with which God has first loved us.”

The mystics' overwhelming experience is this full body blow of the Divine loving them, the Divine radically accepting them.  And the rest of their life is trying to verbalize that, and invariably finding ways to give that love back through forms of service, compassion and non-stop worship.  But none of this is to earn God's love; it's always and only to return God's love.  Love is repaid by love alone.

This is neither selfish nor solipsistic. Francis of Assisi was simultaneously one of the greatest of mystics and one of the greatest of evangelists. His paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer illustrates perfectly the blend of prayer and action, contemplation and evangelism, that characterised the man throughout his short life:

Our Father: Creator, Redeemer, Saviour and Comforter.

In Heaven: In the angels and the saints. You give them light so that they may have knowledge, because You are light. You inflame them so that they may love, because You are love. You live continually in them so that they may be happy, because You are the supreme good, the eternal good, and it is from You all good comes and without You there is no good.

Hallowed be your name: May our knowledge of You become ever clearer, so that we may realise the breadth of Your blessings, the extent of Your promises, the height of Your majesty and the depth of Your judgements.

Your kingdom come: So that You may reign in us by Your grace and bring us to Your kingdom, where we shall see You clearly, love You perfectly, be happy in Your company and enjoy You for ever.

Your will be done, on Earth as in Heaven: That we may love You with our whole heart by always thinking of You; with our whole mind by directing our whole intention towards You and seeking Your glory in everything; and with all our strength by spending all our energies and affections of soul and body in the service of Your love alone. And may we love our neighbour as ourselves, encouraging them all to love You as best we can, rejoicing at the good fortune of others, just as if it were our own, and sympathising with their misfortunes, while giving offence to no one.

Give us today our daily bread: Your own beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to remind us of the love He showed for us and to help us to understand and appreciate it and everything that He did or said or suffered.

And forgive us our sins: In Your infinite mercy, and by the power of the passion of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the merits and the intercession of the Blessèd Virgin Mary and all the saints.

As we forgive those who sin against us: And if we do not forgive perfectly, make us forgive perfectly, so that we may truly love our enemies for love of You and pray fervently to You for them, returning no one evil for evil, anxious only to serve everybody in you.

Lead us not into temptation: Hidden or obvious, sudden or unforeseen.

But deliver us from evil: Present, past or future. Amen.

God is love. John the Evangelist wrote to his people (1 John 4:7-18):

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

How can we know this love, and not sing of it? Eddie Espinosa’s beautiful lyric sums it up for me. Here it is in full:

        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one could take your place
        My heart beats to worship you
        I live just to seek your face
        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one can take your place
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you

        You are my God, you’re everything to me
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you
        You are my God, you’re everything to me
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you

        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one can take your place
        I long for your presence Lord
        To serve you is my reward
        There’s no one like you my Lord
        No one can take your place
        There’s no one like you my Lord, no one like you.

        (Copyright © 1987 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. All rights reserved.)

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