Every now and then, I see a message in something objectively ordinary and meaningless, but subjectively a divine message. Today, as I walked away from work to my car, I took a shortcut through a Dillard’s store. There, on what must have been at least a dozen signs, written just for me, was the message:
The Golden Path has been shortened.
Bam! It had my attention. Although I still haven’t written about it yet, Children of Dune is one of my favorite sci-fi and spi-fi (spiritual fiction) films. The theme is the “Golden Path” that the protagonist must discover to become a bodhisattva and save humanity from disintegration and self-destruction, a path that demands he undergo an unprecedented transformation.
I often call my practice “the Path.” If “the Golden Path” has been shortened for me, I believe it’s largely due to my discovery of the power of consciously loving people, rather than the usual substitutes, unconsciously unloving, or (at best) consciously acting as though I did love people. My friend Julie and some others rightly questioned why feeling is a necessary part of love… isn’t the action of love (acting for the good of another) most important?
Let me clear up one thing. The feeling of love I’m talking about isn’t the needy, “oh, you make me feel so wonderful,” or “I need you,” romantic love. It’s agape, a perception of the inherent worth of each person as person, as the image of God, no matter how tarnished that image may be. It’s a felt desire to act (or not) in such a way that benefits those you love. To the extent that this love is a feeling (what a vague word!) it’s outward, a willing motion of the heart to see things as they are. If a return feeling of bliss or “being loved” is felt, that’s just frosting on the cake.
I no longer think that actions without feeling are quite on a par with those that are. Loving actions without loving feelings are inherently conflicted. There’s something that at best dilutes, and more likely, contaminates the “love” that’s being expressed. It may be a sense of duty… “Of course I love you, you’re my (fill in the blank). Or it can be an external reference (What Would Jesus Do?), which isn’t “bad” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an only an entry point.
Practicing “WWJD love” should naturally dissolve because, like Jesus, we are “moved by compassion” to act with love, as the Gospels describe his motivation repeatedly. When compassion becomes second nature, the motor of one’s being, one is becoming like Jesus in that regard. And one’s actions, whether or not they seem “compassionate” on the surface will be rooted in the medium as love demands.
The love that lacks feeling gives rise to all sorts of ego-boosting structures. (I didn’t want to, but I gave a coin to that beggar on the street. Hey, guess I’m loving after all!) Evil conflicts can easily be justified when felt love isn’t present. “Security,” “Freedom,” “The RIGHT thing to do” and other abstractions are easily adopted to dress up the ego’s actions. I don’t think the war on Iraq could’ve begun if our leaders felt unconditional love for all people. You don’t readily bomb people whom you feel love for.
But why this message, for me, today? It sure wasn’t because I was on the top of my game. Rather, it was a reminder. I had spent the workday feeling ill, put upon, and sometimes quite consciously unloving. I need to remember that the Golden Path has been shortened.
(Oh, and what did Dillard’s think they were telling me? To buy socks!)