I want to write about Love. Big Love. Where do I start? And how can I possibly describe an experience that great visionaries throughout the centuries have attempted to capture in words, art, mystic prayers or song? Plato to Dante, Mozart to the Beatles, Rumi to Julian of Norwich, Bronze-age sculptors to Cezanne – they have all attempted to distill the spiritual essence of Love into matter.
Listen. Here is the Christian Christmas Story: The Higher Self and Transpersonal Will descended upon a young woman. She was frightened but, nevertheless, chose to accept this synthesis of Love and Will, nurture it, and give it birth. She gave birth to this Immense Love called God, embodied as a tiny, vulnerable child born in an abandoned cave. Choirs of angels sang for Joy!
We may wonder today where is this Big Love? How might we give birth to it? A question I often hear is: How can God let innocent children die and cause so much suffering all over the world? I believe that this question needs rewording. How can we let innocent children die, and how can we cause so much suffering in the world? The Big Love is there, everywhere, all around us, ready to fill us, waiting to overwhelm us. And yet, as we readily, hungrily grasp for it, we only too often transform this Love into something less desirable but just as powerful.
Like the Child born in Bethlehem, we too are born full of Immense Love. This love can never be at fault and is always joyful. But later, the choices of what or how we love can lead us and others towards suffering. For example, take a mother’s love for her child. Assagioli describes how initially, the mother joyfully is devoted to the protection and care of her infant. Mothers of small children must use their good will for self-denial in order to direct their energies towards their young ones. But once the child becomes older and independent, this devotion and sacrifice by the mother can turn into attachment and possessiveness.
The same with fathers. They too initially may want to selflessly provide their children with material comfort and other types of guidance. But as the child grows older, this love can become overbearing and demanding. He may identify himself with the child and try to mold him or her into his own image, or pressure the child to achieve what he himself has been unable to accomplish.
How often we distort Love in our own relationships with our partners! Assagioli wrote that the love for a couple comprises a mixture of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual attractions in proportions that differ in every relationship and that change over time. We can barely handle these dimensions in our own personal lives, never mind try to harmonize, unite, and integrate them with another soul! Hence Love seems to only cause conflict and suffering in our lives.
But Love does not create this mess, we mess up Love! Dante also tries to explain this idea in his great work the Divine Comedy. Midway through Purgatory (and the great epic poem) Dante’s guide Virgil says: “ …love must be/ the seed of every virtue growing in you,/ and every deed that merits punishment” (Purgatory: XVII, 103-105). He explains that wrong love falls into two main types: 1) the goal is wrong, and 2) where the goal is good, but the will towards that love lacks the proper measure causing the love to be either insufficient or excessive.
In other words, the essence of Love is good, but not every love is, itself, good love. What we love and how we choose to love is the key to opening the door to Big Love. Our free will and reason allow us to choose to love well (or otherwise), and Assagioli says, “to cultivate human love that is satisfying, enduring, and creative is truly an art.” He continues to say that to love well, like the practice of any art, requires discipline, patience, and persistence. And all these are qualities of the will.
Advent is the time we can prepare our hearts for the Big Love that is so ready to be born inside and around us. We can prepare ourselves by learning and practicing how to direct our own personal will to activate more love in our everyday lives. Now is the time to practice the art of loving well and await with joyful anticipation the time when Big Love will flood our bellies and soul. This is the Christmas story: Immense Love is born today as a tiny, vulnerable human being in a chaotic and confused world. This human being is you and me. And this Immense Love is God.