I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
Good walkers leave no track.
Good talkers don’t stammer.
Good counters don’t use their fingers.
The best door’s unlocked and unopened.
The best knot’s not in a rope and can’t be untied.
So wise souls are good at caring for people,
never turning their back on anyone.
They’re good at looking after things,
never turning their back on anything.
There’s a light hidden here.
Good people teach people who aren’t good yet;
the less good are the makings of the good.
Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher
or cherish a student
may be clever, but has gone astray.
There’s a deep mystery here.
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
In generosity and helping others, be like a river
In compassion and grace, be like the sun
In concealing other’s faults, be like the night
In anger and fury, be as if you have died
In modesty and humility, be like the earth
In tolerance, be like the sea
And either appear as you are, or be as you appear
As the subject of narcissism becomes more popular, the resources for counsel will become more available. Some of these resources will not understand the truth about narcissism. I keep running across writings and videos where the counselors consider narcissism to be simple “self-love” gone to extreme. I have ranted about the idea of “healthy narcissism” in the past, and probably will again, but those who think narcissism is just self-love are wrong. There’s a lot more to it than that.
In fact, if you think of narcissism as only self-love, many observable things won’t fit. The sudden rage, the continual discontent, the lies, the insecurity, just to name a few. You would think that someone who loves himself would be secure and at peace, wouldn’t you? But few who know their narcissists would describe them as secure or at peace.
No, most who have studied narcissism in depth and over time seem to agree that the narcissist does not love what he/she considers to be self. Instead, they create an image, a fantasy self, to hide the reality they believe. Whatever happened to them as children, they decided that the way to handle it was to become something they were not. They believed that they were unlikeable, unworthy, and unable. So they created an image of themselves that was outgoing, successful, and superior. To do this, they learned to mimic the behavior of those they admired. If they saw someone loved by almost everyone, they imitated that person. If they saw someone successful in work or school, they acted like that person. If they saw someone admired by others, they mimicked the one who got the attention. And they found that they could control others by controlling the attention others gave to them.
But none of this comes out of self-love. The image of the narcissist is not the narcissist. He/she wants you to think it is, but he/she does not believe it is. In fact, the reason the image is defended so strongly against challenges is to stop people from learning the truth. The image is phony. The real narcissist is hiding.
Some suspect that the narcissist doesn’t even know his/her true self. Because of the broken childhood (or whatever trauma), the narcissist did not receive the feedback good relationships provide to help us understand who we are. Without a basic understanding of self, the narcissist cannot empathize with others, cannot even see others as fellow beings. Hence, the depersonalization and exploitation of others. So the “self” the narcissist hides may also be false. We cannot know ourselves without heart connections with others.
The living entity is constitutionally pure. Asaṅgo hy ayaṁ puruṣaḥ. In the Vedic literature it is said that the soul is always pure and uncontaminated by material attachment. The identification of the body with the soul is due to misunderstanding. As soon as one is fully Kṛṣṇa conscious it is to be understood that one is in his pure, original constitutional position. This state of existence is called śuddha-sattva, which means that it is transcendental to the material qualities. Since this śuddha-sattva existence is under the direct action of the internal potency, in this state the activities of material consciousness stop. For example, when iron is put into a fire, it becomes warm, and when red-hot, although it is iron, it acts like fire. Similarly, when copper is surcharged with electricity, its action as copper stops; it acts as electricity. Bhagavad-gītā (14.26) also confirms that anyone who engages in unadulterated devotional service to the Lord is at once elevated to the position of pure Brahman:
māṁ ca yo ‘vyabhicāreṇa
sa guṇān samatītyaitān
Therefore śuddha-sattva, as described in this verse, is the transcendental position, which is technically called vasudeva. Vasudeva is also the name of the person from whom Kṛṣṇa appears. This verse explains that the pure state is called vasudeva because in that state Vāsudeva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is revealed without any covering. To execute unadulterated devotional service, therefore, one must follow the rules and regulations of devotional service without desire to gain material profit by fruitive activities or mental speculation.
Prayer, both ecclesial and personal prayer, thus ranks higher than all action, not in the first place as a source of psychological energy (“refueling,” as they say today), but as the act of worship and glorification that befits love, the act in which one makes the most fundamental attempt to answer with selflessness and thereby shows that one has understood the divine proclamation. It is as tragic as it is ridiculous to see Christians today giving up this fundamental priority—which is witnessed to by the entire Old and New Testament, by Jesus’ life as much as by Paul’s and John’s theology—and seeking instead an immediate encounter with Christ in their neighbor, or even in purely worldly work and technological activity. Engaged in such work, they soon lose the capacity to see any distinction between worldly responsibility and Christian mission. Whoever does not come to know the face of God in contemplation will not recognize it in action, even when it reveals itself to him in the face of the oppressed and humiliated.
I find it almost unbearably tempting to try to identify how the ongoing process of the night increases our love. Looking at communities, organizations, nations, and the world at large I have to say it is very difficult to discover. If a growing love is there at all, I think, it is hidden beyond my perception. This make me wonder if the dark night really applies only to individual souls. Then I reflect back over my own life, in which it seems I can identify many experiences of both night and morning, and I ask “Am I really more loving now than I used to be?” Sometimes I think I am; other times I’m not all so sure. And then, finally, I remember how vast and incomprehensible real love is, and how terribly limited is my capacity to judge it for myself, let alone for anyone else. My ideas of love have to do with emotional feelings and acts of kindness, and I know these bear as much similarity to divine love as Teresa’s silkworm does to the butterfly. And I am reminded of how attached I am to the idea of progress; I am looking for objective evidence that I am making headway in this spiritual journey. Yet the truth of the journey admits of no such evidence, and it completely transcends my petty notions of progress.
So in the end I am left only with hope. I hope the nights really are transformative. I hope every dawn brings deeper love, for each of us individually and for the world as a whole. I hope that John of the Cross was right when he said the intellect is transformed into faith, and the will into love, and the memory into…hope.
I sense that there is something very special about the transformed qualities of faith, love, and hope. This is very hard to describe, and my attempts always feel shabby, but I must try. In their truly contemplative and transformed state, faith, hope, and love, are tied to no particular ends; they have no object. Contemplative faith is not faith that God exists, that life is essentially good, or that this or that is true. All such things are beliefs, not faith. Faith is, instead, a way of being, completely open, empty, as John would say of all specifics. Contemplative faith is more like a continual fire of goodness, warming and illuminating every breath. Contemplative love is completely beyond comprehension. It is not love of some things to the exclusion of others, for that would be attachment. True love is like some infinite way of being that we become part of: a flowing energy of willingness, an eternal yes resounding with every heartbeat. And contemplative hope, the transformed hope, is also completely open and free. It is not hope for peace or justice or healing; that also would be attachment. Is is just hope, naked hope, a bare energy of open expectancy.
I think I have experienced this kind of transformed hope from time to time in people who have suffered more than anyone deserves. And when I saw it in them, I was blinded. An old priest, abandoned by his community, sick and dying and terribly depressed, lifted his eyes and whispered, “Oh, Jesus, I do love you so.” He smiled at me, his face was filled with hope, and his smile filled me with hope. And in the summer of 1994 I joined a small pilgrimage to Bosnia. I had the opportunity to speak with poor people who had lost everything: homes, possessions, entire families. As they told us their stories through tears of grief, I sensed deep hope in them. Through interpreters I asked if it were true.
“Yes, Hope,” they smiled.
I asked if it was hope for peace.
“No, things have gone too far for that.”
I asked if they hoped the United Nations or the United States would intervene in some positive way.
“No, it’s too late for that.”
I asked them, “Then, what is it you are hoping for?”
They were silent. They could not think of a thing to hope for, yet there is was—undeniable hope shining in them.
I asked one last question. “How can you hope, when there’s nothing to hope for?”
The answer was, “Bog,” the Serbo-Croatian word for God.
Thus I have had some glimpses into the nature of this transformed hope. I believe I have experienced moments of it myself, but I can neither fathom nor comprehend it. Like contemplative faith and love, it evades my understanding. The one thing I can say positively about these transformed qualities is that to discover them, in oneself or in another, brings the deepest reassurance I have ever experienced.
It is usual for people to think of God as the Supreme Being, the Lord and Master of all Creation, the omnipotent Higher Power who is in charge of everything. Such a God is separate from us, transcendent, above and beyond us, and capable of giving us good things and bad things. We naturally pray for the good things we want and for relief from the bad things we don’t want. And usually it doesn’t work. We don’t get all we want, and we get too much of what we don’t want. Logically then, that transcendent, omnipotent, and separate God seems arbitrary at best, unloving at worst.
But the contemplatives, as we have seen with Teresa and John, emphasize God’s immanence as well as transcendence. God is our center, they say, closer to us than we are to ourselves. We are immersed in God, and God is immersed in us. So if the transcendent God “out there” is arbitrary or unloving to us, that same God is being arbitrary or unloving to the God “in here.” An alternative vision, one that I find repeatedly in contemplative literature, is that instead of God’s being unloving or arbitrary, God may not be so omnipotent. Or at least the power of God may not extend to making God invulnerable. Most contemplatives see God as being wounded when and as we are wounded, sharing our sufferings as well as our joys. When bad things happen to us, they also happen to God. This is certainly in keeping with Teresa’s sense of the Holy One’s being surrendered to us in loving and needing us to love, to be loved by, and to manifest God’s love in the world.
The idea of God’s having any needs at all, let alone needing us, may sound like an alien, even heretical idea, yet it is a realization that many contemplatives come to. Theologically, if God is indeed all-loving—if God is Love—then that love must necessarily temper God’s omnipotence. Love always transforms power, making it something softer, deeper, and richer. Conversely, it may be only in our vulnerability, in our actually being wounded, that love gains its full power. Thus true omnipotence may not be found in a distant and separate power over something or someone, but rather in the intimate experience of being wounded for and with.