I want to make a brief point about the marginal utility metaphysics (and theology et cetera) when it comes to the work of bringing forth love, and do so – I hope – through a concrete example. I will ask if the world is real or not and suggest that our living does not change based on the answer.
In other words, who cares if the world is real?
The suggestion I make is twofold: first, that the world is real and the world is not real and that in either case the work is to bring forth love by realizing that we can’t help but bring forth love. Second, it can be fun an interesting to ask literally “who” is the one is who is doing all the caring.
Here – in this essay – I am more curious about the first instance.
Imagine you are watching me shop for groceries at River Valley Market in Northampton. This is where Chrisoula, the kids and I mostly shop for what we do not otherwise raise, grow, trade or barter for on our little homestead.
Let’s say I’m pushing a cart down the cereal aisle. And let’s say – because it happens Lord knows – that I’m musing on some of Michel Henry’s ideas about erotic pairing and so not really giving attention to where I’m going or what’s going on around me and, predictably, barge into a woman’s cart and knock her into shelves of cereal, boxes of which tumble down around us.
Here is what you will observe next:
1. I will apologize profusely, accept full responsibility, and ask if the woman is okay;
2. If she is, and if it’s appropriate, I will crack a joke about what an airhead and klutz I am;
3. I will begin to put the cereal boxes back on the shelves;
4. If she tries to help, I will insist on doing it myself since it was all my fault;
5. If she insists on helping, I will go along; and
6. As we part, when we part, I will apologize again.
To the extent there are variations in that little drama, my observable behavior will always be in the direction of accepting responsibility and minimizing harm to the other.
[I am bragging a bit here and I apologize – I don’t mean to suggest that I am always so humble and helpful. More that that is closer to the norm than it once was, for which I do not stop thanking Christ :)]
Here is what you do not know and cannot see (because it is not observable unto you): whether I believe the woman is an illusion or a real embodied human being, whether I am Christian or Buddhist or something else, whether I practice A Course of Miracles in a way Tara Singh would recognize, or that Ken Wapnick would recognize, or what Michel Henry or phenomenology have to do with any of it, and so forth.
And here is the point I wish to make: none of that matters.
My behavior is the same regardless of which of those belief systems I happen to subscribe to. I am behaving as lovingly as possible; the specific ideology, theology and metaphysics underlying that loving behavior do not matter. They don’t change the behavior. Love is love. Love is love is love.
If the world is real, then love. If the world is not real, then love.
This is a very important point that is generally active in all our living. Reflect on a recent experience where you behaved lovingly – preferably with a stranger or in circumstances that were somewhat emotionally or otherwise challenging.
Ask yourself: was the love you brought forth brought forth because of a metaphysical conclusion you had previously reached? Or because it was natural? And felt right? Because it inhered in you?
In my experience, lovingkindness appears without regard for the intellectual explanation or theological description or metaphysical philosophy that subsequently arises in relation to it. Love goes first; our description of it, as such, comes later.
This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Think about that woman in the cereal aisle. How would the scene have unfolded differently if I had told her she’s an illusion? “I’m sorry your hand hurts but don’t worry – it’s not real.” Or if I had just kept going because she’s merely an appearance and who apologizes to a mirage? Or if I left the cereal scattered on the floor for the woman or some worker to clean up because the world is not real and so what appear to be my mistakes are not actually my problem?
It would not have resolved in a loving way! Others would have been confused or inconvenienced, frustrated and hurt. And the potential for healing and the ongoing extension of love would have been compromised.
I do not want that – for me or anyone else!
Our calling is to bring forth love. I cannot emphasize enough that in my experience the intellectual / theological / metaphysical underpinnings are . . . not that important. I mean, they’re fun and interesting. And sure, they can be helpful in certain contexts, but . . .
But they are really just serving plates for the holy loaf that we are sharing because by that loaf – that love – we live. Plates are okay but the nutrition and deliciousness of the bread are unaffected if we just tear the loaf into chunks and pass them around.
It’s the bread, not the surface upon which it temporarily rests, that matters.
Perhaps you want to say: “hey Sean. You’re a big fat hypocrite. You LOVE the sound of your own voice pontificating about Humberto Maturana and Tara Singh and Thomas Merton and Emily Dickinson. You LOVE carrying on about peace and love and Jesus. You LOVE the plate. Your whole website is a fucking plate . . . ”
Well, yes. Point taken. But I am getting better at knowing when to put on my thinking cap and when to leave it off and just . . . you know. Be helpful, gentle, kind, non-dramatic, et cetera.
Perhaps it’s like throwing a football on Thanksgiving. By all means go toss the old pigskin. But not in the kitchen or the dining room. And not when you could be helpfully cooking or cleaning. And not if everybody else wants to play poker. And not if somebody needs you to sit with them and listen to their rambling. And not if your back hurts and you need to rest it so you can help with chores tomorrow . . .
This is just common sense! It doesn’t take a PhD or even a well-used library card. We know how to be loving. We know how to help others. We know how to balance service and rest and play. It’s natural; it’s inherent; it’s what love is. It’s what we are.
So I am interested in bringing forth love in my living and, while I am also interested in the way I describe and define and otherwise semantically play with that concept, I know that that semantic play is . . . limited. It’s the napkin and the plate, not the holy loaf whose sustenance is the cosmos.
More and more, living appears to me as an ongoing opportunity to serve, and “to serve” means to be loving in simple and nondramatic ways. It is always clear how to do this unless I insist on bringing “Sean” into it, at which point it can become fuzzy and complicated indeed.
Yet if I am not bringing forth love, then I am bringing forth confusion and incoherence, both of which hurt. They hurt me and you. And there is another way, which is neither hard to find nor to follow. So I try mightily to follow it, and to live with those who help me follow it, and share with those who like following it, too.