In the last reflection, we saw the tension that exists, in our fallen world, between the beauty of Love inviting us into the fullness of relationship, and the disorder of possessiveness and fear which inclines us to close ourselves off from others. Let us go deeper here, to see how this turning away in sin and false independence is precisely a loss of gratitude and the spirit of playfulness, a loss of the joy of knowing oneself to be enfolded in the love and care of another—of God himself. It is also the loss of the confidence that allows us to open ourselves, trustingly and vulnerably, to the love and gift coming to us from the outside. After noting this, we will begin to speak about the path of healing that we are invited to walk: reopening the wounds of our hearts to the healing touch of Love once again.
We saw that, upon encountering the gaze and the smile of her mother, the child spontaneously smiles back. And as she grows, this smile matures into other, more conscious, ways of expressing love. For example, she begins to want to give kisses. Even later, she wants to help her mother in any way she can—by “helping” her cook, or clean, or fold laundry. And above all she wants to play with her mother and in her mother’s presence. Indeed, her very “helping” is but an expression of her playful attitude, and she does not at first experience it as a form of “work.” Her confidence and security within all-enveloping love allows her to be carefree, relaxed, and playful. Play, indeed, is the highest expression of human activity, the ultimate “way of being” for which we were created by God. This is because work is a means to an end, and something often undertaken out of necessity, a task in service of something else. But play is its own end and is done for its own sake, a simple exuberant expression of the gratuity of existence…that is, its “unnecessary” goodness and beauty. Indeed, it is simply the expression of our joyful and trusting acceptance of life, of the gift of love, and the surrender of ourselves to its radiant mystery.
What happens, however, whenever the child experiences neglect or abuse, or a fracturing of this “original experience” that we have spoken about? This is a tragedy, which attacks the very foundational intuition of human existence—but it can be healed. In the seamless fabric of the child’s experience of love there is a tear, an ugly rip. Her original experience of love is now threatened by the original rupture of sin and evil. Even without experiences of severe neglect or abuse, in the life of every one of us this original rupture becomes present. This is not only because our world is broken, and our experience of love and shelter is always in some degree imperfect. It is also because within our own hearts, due to original sin, we bear the original rupture. This rupture is manifested in what the Church calls “concupiscence,” or the disordered desires to close in upon oneself in isolation, in false independence, and to grasp rather than receiving and living in complete openness.
The whole of our life, we can say, is a matter of healing the original rupture and returning to the original experience—and, indeed, as we will see, of surrendering to the Love that we first glimpsed in our original experience, so as to be carried into the final consummation of this experience in the arms of Divine Love that awaits us at the end of time. Our life and healing is a matter of reopening the closed heart to the openness of love once again—reopening the heart to receive anew the gift of life, the gift of oneself, and the gift of love from another…and ultimately and definitively, from God. Further, when the gift of love is received, it bears within itself the reciprocal gift. In other words, when we truly know ourselves to be loved, we spontaneously yearn to love in return, to surrender ourselves totally to the one who loves us.
But the original rupture has cut off this desire to give ourselves away in love; this is something that has been submerged under a swamp of fear and distrust. But this desire remains present nonetheless, buried under all of own wounds, our sins, our shame. Indeed, every fear indeed conceals within itself a deeper desire. Every fear is only a desire that has not found authentic expression, but rather has been repressed by hesitancy and by withdrawal from vulnerability. We can, in fact, never cease to desire love and intimacy. This is true not only because of our implicit “memory” of our original experience of love and communion in the arms of our mother, but even more fundamentally, because of our “memory” of being created by God out of love. This is, we could say, the “memory prior to every memory.” Each one of us has, as it were, the “fingerprint” of God impressed upon our inmost heart. This is the most fundamental “original experience” that goes even deeper than our earliest encounter with another human being.
This “fingerprint” is, as it were, our memory of being created in God’s image and likeness…being created from the bosom of his own love and communion, and in order to share in this communion. It is as if God has pressed us to his Heart at the first moment of our creation, and has indeed created us precisely through this gentle touch against his pulsating Heart, overflowing with love. Therefore, perhaps it would be better to speak of God’s “heart-print.” Our very innermost being bears his seal, the mark of his own unconditional and total love, and the beauty of his own Being impressed uniquely upon us…and this is something we can never erase or destroy.
Therefore we long…we yearn…we thirst…we desire… We desire to return into the arms of this Love, to experience the understanding, acceptance, shelter, and protection of the One who created us from himself and for himself.
What does all of this mean for our healing, for our passage from rupture to unity, from fear to desire, from isolation to love? First of all, it means that healing cannot come merely from within ourselves, through our own effort. Rather, we must receive the gift of love from another—from other human persons, but above all from God himself. Only in letting ourselves be loved, in welcoming the gift, can our hearts reopen and expand into the joy of love and communion again. Yes, full healing and transformation can ultimately occur only through relationship with God himself—a relationship which safeguards and enfolds all of our human relationships, but also goes much deeper. God’s Love goes into the space in our inmost heart that no human hand can touch, but which has been touched by God at the very beginning, and is unceasingly cradled by him still.
We cannot heal ourselves, and yet, nonetheless, there is something we can do, and it takes courage. First of all, it is simply to be willing to let ourselves be loved. It is to open our hearts to vulnerability again, to heart-to-heart encounter, to sharing the things we want to hide, so that they can be touched and healed by love.
And within this context we can name our fears, acknowledge what closes our hearts in upon themselves, recognize that barriers we build to protect ourselves—and open these fears to God and to others who can love us in them and through them. But not only can we acknowledge our fears and interior obstacles, but we can look deeper: to the desire hidden underneath our fear. As we said, every fear conceals a deeper desire. The very fear of being unloved conceals the desire for love. The very fear of vulnerability hides the desire for vulnerability. The very fear of sharing oneself with another conceals precisely the desire to share oneself with someone who will understand, accept, and unconditionally love you in your unique mystery. And the fear of giving oneself away, of belong to another, conceals, mysteriously, the desire to truly become a gift to another, to commit oneself lovingly to another.
Therefore, when we open up the fears of our hearts, naming them and sharing them with the One who loves us, we can allow him to lead us to get in touch with our deepest and most authentic desires. It is then that the question of Christ can resound in our soul: “What do you desire?” We return from “exile” into the authentic truth of our being once again, and we recognize that we are thirsting for love, yearning for intimacy. And here God offers himself to us as the One who alone can quench our thirst and satisfy our desire…by drawing us back into the shelter of his perfect Love and everlasting intimacy.
– If I struggle to get in touch with the love that I experienced from my parents in the earliest years of my life (or if in some way I was robbed of this experience), can I “trace my way back” even further, to the loving touch of God that has brought me into existence…and which still enfolds me at every moment?
– Do I have the courage to face and name my fears? Can I open them to the healing touch of God, and perhaps to another person whom I trust?
– Am I in touch with my deepest desires, my desires for love and intimacy? What ways are these desires expressed in my life?