Today, Sister Joan Chittister continues exploring the relationship between prophetic witness and contemplation:
A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to . . . the Kingdom of God within and around us everywhere for everyone, is no path at all. . . . It is a dead end on the way to God. . . .
Jim said, “Ok, you be you and I’ll be God. And since I’m God, I’m watching you get up exhausted every morning, and I’m so touched that you want to spend this time with me. Really, I am! It just means the world to me. The thing is, I just can’t bear how much I love you. It’s too much! And so at a certain point I rush into the bodies of your children and wake them up because. . . .”
Jim paused. “Because I want to know what it feels like to be held by you.”
Yes, the interruption is the presence of God that I was so desperately trying to access in moments of stillness and silence. With or without the luxury of stillness and silence, God comes to us disguised as our very lives (as Paula D’Arcy has said). In my case, Jim helped me to discover how my path as an exhausted young parent was the monastery of my own transformation. If I learned to let my heart open enough, I just might begin to recognize each cry, each diaper change, every choo-choo play time request . . . all of it, as the startlingly stunning, diaphanous infusion of infinite love colliding into the small shape of my very finite and ordinary reality. There, at the intersection of everything, is God with us . . . wanting to be touched, noticed, nurtured . . . held by us. All we have to do is behold.
Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything. Jesus commands us to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” and he connects the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, saying they are “like” one another (Matthew 22:39). So often, we think this means to love our neighbor with the same amount of love—as much as we love ourselves—when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! That is unfortunately not the way most people understand love, compassion, and forgiveness—yet it is the only way they ever work. How you love is how you have accessed Love.
We cannot sincerely love another or forgive offenses inside of dualistic consciousness. Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. Many pastors and priests have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, “cut off from the vine, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The “vine and the branches” offer one of the greatest Christian mystical images of the non-duality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, my willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many folks try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. It usually does not work long-term, and there is no one more cynical about love than a disillusioned idealist. (This was my own youthful generation of the 1960s.)
Finally, of course, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price of self-extension will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.
Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds; but afterward a Larger Source opens up within us and we “think” and feel quite differently: “until knowing the Love, which is beyond all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Thus, Jesus would naturally say something like, “This is my commandment: you must love one another!” (John 13:34). Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open for mind, body, and will to enter. I suspect for most of us that is the work of a lifetime.
Christian biblical images of the peaceable realm are abundant:
- Isaiah’s prophecy of a time when lions will lie down with lambs [11:6-7];
- Paul’s teachings on the equality of male and female, Jew and Gentile, and slave and free [Galatians 3:28];
- and John’s challenge to love the neighbor whom we can see as an expression of the love of God whom we cannot see [1 John 4:11-12, 20-21]
all echo the gospel teachings of Jesus. Love is the ethic of Jesus of Nazareth—love of God, neighbor, and self. Jesus, Paul of Tarsus told us, is our peace, the one whose love breaks down walls of hostility that separate people [Ephesians 2:14-16]. The church, as the body of Christ, is called and commissioned to break down those walls wherever we encounter them. It is our mission, and we understand that.
Thus, every Sunday morning in American churches, bulletins, greeters, and signs on the door offer messages of welcome. Yet what is often meant by welcome is that strangers can come in as long as they look like us, don’t offend us, don’t challenge us, and work heroically to fit in with our communal sense of self. In American culture, what we are likely to be made uncomfortable by are racial and ethnic differences, generational differences, theological differences, or differences due to sexual orientation. But, as psychologist Robert Carter argues, what matters most in American culture is race. 
Though American congregations share the call to welcome, in fact, only 7. 5 percent of the over three hundred thousand Christian congregations in the United States are multiracial and multicultural, which means no one racial or ethnic group makes up more than 80 percent of its members.  Even churches with a sincere desire to diversify may encounter barriers, such as location, language, and worship style. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observation that eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in America still stands to challenge each congregation to examine the difference in its midst and to develop a higher capacity and moral compass to embrace it and to celebrate it.