JULIAN MEETING –4th November 2019
The test of whether I am looking at myself or another person with my eyes or through them, with eyes that scan the surface or eyes that give attention, is whether I am prepared to take time to search for the self beneath the mask. “Mask” is not the word: it suggests something we don or remove with ease, like a fancy dress, and we are far more complex than that. Of course we wear our protective disguises, but the self of which we are conscious is but the tip of the iceberg, the rest lying buried deep in our unconscious, though like the iceberg capable of inflicting powerful damage.
This is not about some kind of potentially embarrassing mutual analysis: it is about honesty, the honest acceptance of ourselves and each other as we are, rather than as we should like to appear or as we should like others to be. To believe that you or anyone else is not complicated, often neglectful and selfish, sometimes envious, unloving, angry and full of self-pity, is to reveal a serious form of blindness. But it is equally blinkered not to know that you and everyone else have the capacity to be creative, thoughtful, courageous and self-sacrificing, funny, loving and compassionate. The recognition that is allied to love lies in accepting myself as I am, and you as you are, rather than fastening upon myself the image I should like to have, or upon you the image I should like you to have. Any genuine encounter of loving and being loved turns on my readiness to acknowledge your unique, though frequently exasperating, self. And my own.
Love is a dangerous, many-faceted word. I’m not speaking of an emotional feeling, but rather of a going out of yourself, the giving that is called ‘agape’, not the passion of ’eros’; a giving of your time and your attention to that which you recognise to have value. That covers many aspects of love, but where it relates to persons it means the ability to recognise their value and the attempt to meet their need.
We meet many people who have been so starved of love that it is a foreign concept. Often people will test you repeatedly to show they are as unlovable as they believe themselves to be. Holding to what you know is the truth about them in the face of constant aggravation, simply continuing to ‘be there’, is sometimes intolerably hard, but only such a keeping faith with what you know to be their value may in the end be the only evidence they have that they may after all be worth loving. But, in order to do this, you need to have learned and learned and learned again to see yourself with love.
A religious attitude to life accepts the mystery and the wonder of existence. It also means giving proper attention to persons and things, because they are loveable and because there is no other way of learning to love them. Yet the starting-point has to be with the person you know best of all. You cannot – it is implicit in Jesus’ command – love your neighbour unless you first love yourself. The truth is that God delights in me because I am me. He sees me as I am, and he invites me to explore my potential as a lover and so become what I could be. The key to understanding our value is not just in seeing that we are capable of transcending ourselves by giving attention to other people and things in the process of learning to love them; or of creating, as artists do, beauty and order out of chaos. It is the realisation that each one of us is quite literally irreplaceable.
The next Meeting is on Monday 2nd December at 7.30pm in the Rectory