We said in yesterday’s reflection that every fear conceals in itself a deeper desire that is seeking to find authentic expression. Because of original sin, and because of the wounds that we have received in our own individual lives, we have a tendency to live motivated by fear rather than by desire. Indeed, sometimes we are afraid to name our desires, to come to terms with them, to allow them to express themselves. We are often afraid to desire. This is because we fear that such desires will never find authentic fulfillment, but only intensify our sense of emptiness when we realize that there is no object that can satisfy them. Or we feel guilty for having such desires, because the face of Love was obscured for us by a relationship with our parents (or others) that was primarily about “obligations” and “rules” that we were not led to understand as simply expressions of love. Perhaps we even felt that their love for us was conditional, that we had to “measure up” to be worthy of their love and approval, rather than experiencing that their love was the prior gift from which the rest of our life, in freedom, could flow.
This fractured experience of human love, also, corresponds with innate tendencies within the fallen human heart, in which we spontaneously project onto God, our loving Father, an image which is not true: the image of an arbitrary Taskmaster or Lord whose love is conditional upon our “perfect performance.” This kind of vision of God—which as we saw is the very lie of the tempter in the Garden of Eden—leads us to repress our desires for love and intimacy under an attitude primarily motivated by fear. Yet these very desires are what fuel the fear! I yearn for unconditional love, for enduring intimacy, and yet I fear that I am not worthy of this, and so I must do all I can do make myself worthy. Or I even fear the vulnerability of seeking love and relationship, because I am afraid of being hurt or let-down, and so close myself off into the “safety” of my own locked and caged-up heart.
In both cases, I fail to receive my desires themselves as gifts from another, as signs and promises of the fulfillment for which I was made…as gifts corresponding with the deepest meaning of my own life and with the authentic desires of the One who gives me this life. But the truth is this: the only ultimate reason that God created me was precisely for the sake of love and intimacy! He made me for the sake of deep and abiding intimacy with him…such that I am always cradled in his innermost embrace, sheltered in his tender love for me. And, secondarily, he also made me for the sake of communion with my brothers and sisters, a communion made possible precisely within the all-enfolding Love of God that binds us together and allows us to be open to one another in confidence and mutual understanding.
All of this being said, it is precisely my deepest and most authentic desires—for love, for intimacy, for mutual understanding, for the experience of being cherished, accepted, reverenced, and held!—that reveal the deepest truth of who I am. Indeed, they open the door for me to experience the way in which God himself sees me, the authentic truth of who I am in his loving eyes. By getting in touch with these desires, therefore, I can open these desires to his healing and loving gaze, and find myself gradually set free by the gift of his total and unconditional love.
Let us go more deeply into this by looking again at the dichotomy between fear and desire. We were saying earlier that fear is felt as a heavy external obligation, a burden arbitrarily placed on our shoulders. This is because the awareness of love is lost, and we no longer see our life, and the intentions of God concerning us, as a loving gift. We are therefore tempted to spend our life either running away from obligation, or embracing it as a lifeless burden. How do we get beyond this dilemma? Part of it is to recognize that obligation is not truly proper to fear, but rather to love, that it finds its meaning and purpose not in fear but in love. In our culture, of course, this is difficult to see, for we live in a world that is afraid of obligation, afraid of any commitment that comes from the outside which could hinder our so-called “autonomy.” However, the deeper truth of the matter is that obligation springs spontaneously from love and desire. In other words, obligation is not meant to be a matter of fear and external necessity, but rather something that arises from the depths of our own heart, awakened to love in response to the gift of the other.
In short, love desires to oblige itself. This is because, in receiving love from another, the heart desires spontaneously to give itself back—totally and forever. Therefore love willingly embraces obligation—and obliges itself to the other. This is clear in the very word obligation (ob-ligo) which means “to bind” oneself. We see this, for example, in the case of love between man and woman. When their love is mature, they want to bind themselves to one another in a lifelong commitment, because they want their union, their self-giving, their intimacy to endure forever and to grow to its full flowering. Also, touched by the beauty and goodness of the other, of the one whom they love, they yearn to bring joy to the other person and to serve with all their heart the full flowering of the other person in happiness, freedom, and joy. This, too, leads to a profound movement of “binding” oneself to another—both in intimacy and in pursuit of the other’s good—which is really simply the handing over of oneself to another.
Do our hearts pull back in fear before such a radical surrender into the hands of another? Surely no human person is capable of receiving such a surrender? This is correct. In truth, no created being is capable of receiving such a gift in its fullness. Only in God can we truly make such an absolute surrender, a complete and trusting abandonment of ourselves into his loving hands. But when we give ourselves to God, then we are opened also to give ourselves to God in the other, and to the other in God. In this way, even our surrender to other human persons can be, in a way, absolute, because it rests in God and not in the other alone. Further, it springs from the wellspring of God’s own love and our reciprocal love for God, which encompasses in itself our particular relationships with other persons.
But how can we begin to restore our lost confidence in God’s love, in his sheltering embrace that gives us the confidence and the desire to surrender ourselves in such a way? How can we begin anew to experience the all-enveloping arms of Love—the shelter, the care, the tenderness, the protection of Love—which alone can awaken and sustain our loving response?
We said that in the previous reflection that it is necessary to receive love from the outside, to receive the gift of healing through the love of another. But ultimately no human person, however necessary and important they are in our path of healing, and however mature and constant their love is, can fully bring us the love we seek. This is because we thirst for a Love that is infinite and eternal; a Love that is boundless; a Love that envelops us entirely in itself and penetrates our entire being; a Love that knows everything about us and still cherishes us as sacred and beautiful, that indeed is the very source and safeguard of our beauty, our value, and our unique mystery.
In our next reflection we will see how God comes to minister to us precisely in this deep need for absolute Love…how he touches us in our very fear and brokenness in order to re-open us to his gift. Yes, we will begin to see how he restores to us our experience of Love, which has become fractured, and thus leads us back into the childlike confidence that we have lost. And, at last, we will be able to immerse ourselves in contemplation of the mystery of Mary and the irreplaceable role that she plays in this process. Then all of these “preparatory” reflections will be seen in the proper light—as they are irradiated by the beauty of that woman who is cradled totally in the arms of Love, and who opens herself to us from within this Love, so as to draw us to share in her own intimacy with God.
– Do I see how “obligation” springs forth from gratitude and love? Do I see how it is a response to the beauty of another person, and expresses the desire to give myself to them totally?
– Am I afraid of this kind of commitment, this “binding” of myself in love? If so, why? Am I afraid only in relation to other human persons, or also before God?
– Can I see in myself the desire for love and intimacy, and how this is the expression of a thirst for total and permanent belonging to God…the thirst to be surrendered into the arms of his Love so totally that nothing can take me away from this place?