Just back from the London Spirituality Centre’s Network Day which was expertly led by Julie Dunstan on the theme of ‘Happy are those who mourn - Loss, Lamentation and Laughter’. Towards the end she posed a question concerning the relationship between spirituality, psychotherapy and social action.
Reflecting on this matter I realise the fundamental importance of our Lord’s summary of the Law in the words of the Shema – ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” (Lk. 10:27) These words, of course, have been understood to show that love of God, neighbour and self are inter-connected. Whatever spiritual practices we are drawn to, this dynamic must be present for them to be authentic. In a similar way social action must be rooted in this love.
It is, then, the ‘heart’ that is fundamental and what is contained in the heart – how it ‘inclines’ and on what it is fixed. Yet the heart is full of contradictions, of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and it has always been the realm of religion to remind us of the need to ‘Know thyself’. All true spiritualty is rooted in this quest which must not be separated from the desire for the Other through whose empathetic gaze we are redeemed and made whole. This requires humility which, as the ‘Principles’ of the First Order of the Society of St. Francis state: Humility is the recognition of the truth about God and ourselves, the recognition of our own insufficiency and dependence, seeing that we have nothing which we have not received. It is the mother of all Christian virtues. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has said, No spiritual house can stand for a moment save on the foundation of humility. (Day 25)
The First Epistle of St. John points out: ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.’ To understand the value of an-other (in whatever way one wants to understand that term) one need only reflect on the fact that it is the Other who helps me understand myself, my desires, impulses, sins, failings, desires and so on and how these draw or drive me and how they can help in my redemption. I need my brother (sister/an-other) if I am to be whole.
For me, therefore, the desire to develop a spiritual life is intimately connected with my own wholeness which, in turn, can only be realised in communion with an-other. And all this is focussed in the ‘heart-space’. Indeed, the ‘work’ of spirituality is as simple as desiring for it to be emptied of everything apart from that love for an-other, to be a desert place of encounter, my solitary cell which welcomes the other for it is being swept clean to make space to welcome that Divine guest in whose loving, empathetic gaze I am made whole.