According to some estimates, about half of the people in my religious tradition are not theists. They are humanists, a broad category that captures nontheists (who personally don't believe there is a god, but think others could believe that), atheists (who say there is no such thing), and agnostics (who are not sure what they believe). Many others have a nontraditional theism, defining God as a creative force of love in the universe that does not have consciousness. Some who do believe in a more traditional personal deity call it "Goddess" or by many other names.
We are a diverse lot, and so define the source of our calling differently. A humanist might define their call as coming from human relationship, or a sense of justice, a community-forming power. However we define it, in order to have integrity in our calling we must hold ourselves in covenant with that Source and with ourselves.
As a mystic, I have had powerful, physical experiences of Divine Presence since I was a child. It is not an abstract concept to me, but the perceived reality of a loving, compassionate, creative force. At times the thought of it having consciousness comforts me, and I act as if that were true. I call it God or Goddess as a shorthand, knowing that no name captures it.
One insight from this year is that my covenant with the Source of my calling requires me to align myself with love. This past winter I discovered the 11th century work The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous Christian mystic. In it, he or she talks about how important it is for us to love Source. That was a revelation. Suddenly I felt very selfish. I had only thought about how much I needed love from Source.
Could this great power need my love? The more I pondered that, the more it made sense. If we believe everything is connected then all of our actions affect everything, even our emotional actions. Loving Source could only add to that energy, right? Makes sense. So I began working on loving back.
The Cloud of Unknowing also teaches us how to align ourselves with Source. The author says that when we center ourselves on that love, old habits and patterns will try to get in the way of that love. What to do when that happens? The advice from centuries ago was to "look over the shoulder" of those bad old habits and patterns, and keep the focus on Love. Align yourself with Love.
I like the image of looking over the shoulder of my bad habits and hurtful patterns, and have to admit that it's hard to do. Those patterns intrude and the busy stuff of every day life can take up the whole of one's focus, blotting out the object of our love. So mostly I forget and fail in this task of aligning myself with love. When I remember to do it, unusual things happen. I don't react the same way to things that would normally bother me. Who would have guessed that? Furthermore, reacting differently means others react differently back, and often more kindly. Huh. So it's a good practice that takes practice.
My covenant with the Source of my calling requires me to heal my old wounds, to live with fear but from love, in love, for love. It calls me to nourish my spirit. That covenant calls me to cultivate joy and hope even when (maybe especially when) circumstances do not seem to warrant those feelings. It calls me to let go of all I cannot control. It even calls me to let go of reacting in the same old ways to the things I can control. It calls me to act as lovingly as possible in the world.
One surprise to me has been realizing that acting lovingly does not mean accepting the unacceptable, or tolerating intolerable behavior from others. It can be incredibly loving to hold up the mirror to people who are acting badly, to show them what that looks like, how it is affecting others. I am thankful to people who have done that for me. It can be an incredibly loving act to tell someone that his or her behavior is not acceptable.
As my first spiritual director told me, setting boundaries is loving. It's taken me a while to see the truth and wisdom of that statement. At first I set boundaries in anger because that was the only way I could screw up enough courage to do it. Gradually I am learning to set them in a firm and loving manner. If Source has consciousness, it does not want us to be treated badly. It wants us to stand up for ourselves. It wants us to love ourselves, and setting boundaries around bad or hurtful behavior is one way to do that. Setting boundaries aligns us with Source.
If we believe all things are connected, and that our actions affect everything, lovingly setting boundaries increases the love in the world by helping correct wrong or unskillful behavior in others, which aligns them with Source. Our covenant with others calls us to correct wrong or unskillful behavior in ourselves, but that's the subject of another post.
For today, I ask you to consider this - how can you align yourself with love? If you have a calling in life that is a source of joy and challenge to you, what does your relationship with the source of that calling ask you to do?