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How can I become small enough to ‘fit’ the narrow range of perception of a person with whom I share so little experience, philosophy, language, or understanding. Only love can make a way where there seems to be no way, no bridge of commonality. And what does that look like?
I often say, “Love condescends,” as shorthand for this process of smallifying the self in order to be in unity with someone younger, or with less receptivity for what is being given, being communicated. Our example? Christ’s own condescension when He “emptied Himself of all but love” on the Cross.
Chiara Lubich and her Focolarini had a huge influence on this teaching, for which I’m grateful.
- First, I love because God first loved me. I cannot go into a ‘tight spot’ without awareness of my dependence upon His loving mercy to carry me, to make up for all that is lacking in me as I try to communicate with and engage them.
- Second, I must do only what I can do in true freedom, otherwise my gesture may violate the other person and will not be an invitation to freedom. If I do what I feel I must, do it with an interior demand for a response, or act without consideration of my own reality (limits, aspirations, resources), I may (sigh…how often have I done this!) clunk in like a bull in a china ship instead of slipping gently through the crack in their defenses.
- Third, I need to empty myself of contempt, resentment, irritation toward this person. I must erase all the mental labels by which I have distanced myself and protected myself from identification with him. I must open myself to the mystery of this person and approach his delicate being with reverence. Loving condescension is not looking down my nose at him, but descending toward him in love, believing I will see Christ through this encounter.
- Fourth, present and attentive toward this person, aware of but not impatient about my hopes for him, attuned to God’s love for me that wants to pour itself through me into this ‘smaller’ vessel, I wait (Yes, actually stop and wait; be still and wait upon the Lord!) for the dawning of creativity. When the Spirit moves upon the whole of the factors I am embracing, some form will take shape as a response, a gesture, an act of freedom by which I can love this person and, thus, invite him to freely respond.
- Fifth, I will know the mot juste, the Right Thing, the perfect gift, the path to take, because it will be beautiful!