At Meditatio House, every weekday morning, we gather to discuss a part of The Rule of Benedict. One day recently our sharing turned to the nature of love and our experiences of love. It reminded me of a quote from John Main. In the quote the experience of meditation is compared with the experience of falling in love:
It [meditation] has often been described as the process whereby we open the eyes of our heart and learn to see with love and the best analogy for it is the analogy of falling in love. The beloved still seems the same to everyone else, but when we love someone deeply and unreservedly we see them in a new light and their slightest gesture can convey to us what no one else can see. Falling in love is such a profound and important experience for all of us because it takes us out of and beyond ourselves into the reality of the other; and profound meditation is of the same order. (John Main, The Door to Silence).
It is wonderful to hear a spiritual teacher speaking positively about the experience of falling in love, emphasising it as an important and natural human experience. However, as I heard about the experiences of others and began to look a little more closely at my own ‘love life’ experiences, a thought occurred to me: a lot of experiences of falling in love that have started in the manner John Main describes have ended with the experience of ‘falling out’ of love. The experience of being “taken out and beyond” ourselves into the other often does not last. After the immediate emotionality of the experience, the disorientation, and the delight in the other can come the getting to know them – their behaviours, their values, personality and temperament. All of this can result in a falling out experience that could be just as quick as the falling in. The experience can be one of suffering and can sometimes end painfully.
All this prompts in me questions. As the experience of falling in love can be at times a fickle thing, is the use of this analogy as beneficial as it first appears? If falling in love is an experience that does not last, then why use it to describe a dynamic of intimacy with God in meditation at all? After all, divine Love is not romantic love (right?) and unlike romantic love divine Love does not dissipate like the falling in love experience can (yes?).
While the human experience of romantic love can shift and change, the reality of divine Love remains the same. It is our experience and understanding of divine Love which can shift and change, not the reality of divine Love itself.
Sometimes, if divine Love moves so within us and we are disposed enough, this Love can sweep us up into it like a romantic lover, coaxing and enthralling our soul into ecstasy and delight. In describing these times, erotic language has been the language of choice for many Christian mystics.
The experience of divine Love which is similar to the experience of romantic love for us is not the fickle experience which romantic love can be, but is a gift from the life of God which happens if it happens.
If we go into meditation desiring this experience to happen, seeing it perhaps as the fruit of a ‘successful’ meditation, then we are bound to be disappointed and may start to experience prayer as a dry time and ourselves a bit like a jilted lover. If meditation is to go the distance, if a prayer life is to be fruitful across the whole pilgrimage of life, then everyday cannot be a day for this experience. The intoxication would be drug like. The pleasure seeking ego could attempt to use the experience to anesthetise us to the pain and suffering of life. As a result, compassion would dry up and wisdom fade. A wise God does not use this romantic-like experience as the default in our dance with divine Love.
So too, human relationships that begin with the romantic love experience, if they are to go the distance, need to change. It may be at first pleasurable to imagine a relationship based solely on the erotic, however, like a shooting star, the relationship will not last long in reality.
So if change is inevitable, what happens? As we have already noted, a romantic ‘falling in’ love can become a romantic ‘falling out’ of love. There is also something else that can happen: ‘falling in’ love can become a ‘falling into’ love.
There is a great song from the Australian rock band Midnight Oil called Outbreak of Love which contains some lyrics pointing to the transformation that ‘falling in’ becoming ‘falling into’ can be. The lyrics read: “This is the end of the beginning of the outbreak of love”.
Romantic love can become the intoxicating end of the beginning to a long term (perhaps lifelong) relational adventure in love that falling into love can be. The mystery of ‘falling in’ becoming ‘falling into’ is hidden in the couple’s gentle giving to, commitment to, and experiencing of each other over time. We need the challenge and responsibility of an all-embracing intimacy if we are to grow in this ‘falling into’ love.
It is this long term experience of falling into that is perhaps more consistent with the pilgrimage of contemplative prayer generally and the pilgrimage of meditation. The experience has everything: delight, monotony, challenge, pain, joy, sadness – much like the rest of life. And in this experience of falling into there is something else which consistently underpins the changing human experience of this love: the deep and truly divine Love which ‘falling into’ lovers participate in and yet do not create.
It can require commitment and hard work to remain consciously in the falling into. Falling into is not about trying to create the falling into experience ourselves. Any attempt to create a falling into experience may just be the ego fighting against the reality of a falling out of love experience.
When couples are falling into love, the ongoing experience of their love life becomes integrated into the reality of divine Love, (whether they are aware of this divine Love or not). The two loves become one because falling into love is, ultimately, a falling into divine Love. So, for those of us growing in an awareness of divine Love, the taking of our lover’s hand becomes the taking of the hand of God, not because she/he has become God for us, but because our relationship with our lover is becoming a part of an emerging communion with God. The finite falls into, and becomes, in Christ, the infinite.
Couples who are falling into Love together ultimately reveal the falling into Love journey that life can be for all of us, no matter what our relational choices in life might be. The blossoming awareness of divine Love in us and life is for all. The invitation of life is to discover and live out our own way of falling into. Attention to the mantra is, for many, foundational to this process of discovery.
* With thanks to Air Supply.