In a poem entitled “Could You Embrace That?” the 13thcentury theologian St. Thomas Aquinas begs to know God more deeply. God replies that this would be “a feat way beyond your courage and strength. You would run from me if I removed my mask.” Thomas persists, pleading that he wants to love God in “every aspect, every pore.”
God then tells Thomas of “a hideous blemish on my body, though it is such an infinitesimal part of my Being~~could you kiss that if it were revealed?” Thomas promises to try. God then identifies the blemish as “all the hatred and cruelty in this world.”
Life’s harshness has been revealed a thousand times over. It is there in the news, experienced in our own lives and likely, if we look honestly, in our hearts as well. The question put to Thomas is, therefore, one for us all.
Life is not all sunshine and roses. It’s not merely a bit challenging. Horrors exist. How do we live with that reality? Often we turn our eyes away, or seek to minimize or justify the oozing wound. Or we may focus instead on the very real beauty of the human spirit and of this world we inhabit.
Yet a more advanced practice is to face the blemish directly, to gaze upon it…and to love it. Not easy, to be sure, but an exercise that brings many gifts. Certainly such a practice deepens our compassion. As voice and life coach Ariana Newcomer states, confronting callousness and cruelty also requires us to learn a “new level of forgiveness.”
It may also call us to action, offering an opportunity to fully participate in life’s tumultuous arena, to make a stand for love…and to take that stand in love. For if our action comes out of the same “I’m right/you’re wrong, I’m good/you’re bad” divisive mindset, we have changed the underlying dynamic not a whit. No, if substantive change is our goal, we must act from love. What a task!
On a morning walk last week, a large and strikingly beautiful hawk, white underwings marked with black, caught a thermal directly above me. The bird rose higher and higher, in ever expanding circles. Through its eyes, I saw the curvature of the Earth become visible, and the living things below took their place within a larger pattern.
Hawk vision teaches us not to try to escape darkness, but to seek always the greater design in which light and shadow each play their part in the intricate dance of life. The goal is to refuse nothing. With vision broad and perspective true, it becomes possible to love the whole tapestry. We can then engage the dance in our own unique way.
Our steps may seem small and insignificant but, if taken in love, who knows what their effect might be?