"Sir, I know you say we can love anyone, but I seem unable to love someone. I've tried to love her, but I can't." Said the Sage, "Possibly, you can't love her as she appears to you." "So," came the reply, "it's okay that I can't love her." "I didn't say that," replied the Sage. "You may not be able to love her as she appears to you, but you can love her as she is. See her, and you cannot not love her."
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This writing continues a theme of the last several days - Right View (Understanding), beginning August 24, 2021. In these writings, I contrast "looking at" and "seeing," or "deep looking." For instance, I was raised in a culture where we were socialized not to see persons of color; we were trained to see the social ideology about these people, not the people. Hence, we did not enjoy fellowship of heart or place with them. Ironically, in not seeing them, they were located in a section of the town out of sight. They were, nevertheless, out of sight even when in plain sight. The location apart signified the not seeing and not wishing to see. The result was a mutual not-seeing - they did not see us, we did not see them. An underlying premise to these writings is we cannot merely think or will our way to inclusive insight; we must grow there, together. That is, we must reshape our wills and brains naturally to see others without the fog of our conscious and unconscious prejudices.
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Thich Nhat Hanh tells of reading a story about a Christian man hunting in a jungle in Africa. The hunter got lost. Trying to find his way, he remained lost. He decided to pray. He prayed, "God, if you exist, please come and save me now." An African man appeared. This African showed the hunter the way to a village. The Christian wrote in his diary, "I called upon God, but only a Negro appeared."
*The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching.
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Is it not amazing that persons do not recognize God? That is odd, is it not, when God is appearing everywhere?
True, there is that aspect of the Absolute beyond our knowing. Yet, we meet the Absolute in the relative, somewhat like flowerness appears in every flower and humanness appears in every human.
The man in the above story could meet the African without the African unbecoming the suchness he is. In meeting Africanness, he could meet God. In meeting God, he could meet Africanness. Yet, he does not see this. He only sees what he calls a "Negro." Do we fail to see rightly, too? What did the man meet that day? Did he meet the African man? If not, what did he meet?
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Our lives are enriched when looking deeply, seeing both aspects of Reality. Our life energy becomes one of welcome. The question, "Where is God?" receives an obvious answer through experience.
Clearing away what keeps us from recognizing Sacredness, we see Sacredness. We see, for we look deeply. Looking deeply is insight - in-sight. We feel into Truth. Truth feels into us. This holy communion is mutual. When we meet anyone, that is the Beloved meeting us.
Different wisdom paths refer to this meeting in different ways, but it, finally, is the same encounter. Buddhists speak of Buddha within us. Christians speak of Jesus, Christ, and the Holy Spirit; they speak of God becoming flesh in Jesus. Quakers, or Friends, tell of that-of-God-in-everyone. Hindus speak of the one Self, or Atman, the universal Being. We are lamps lit with the same Light, whatever we call that Light.
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How does this deep looking arise? Two words speak to this question. First, deep looking arises spontaneously; it is not processed mentally. We do not think the Sacred in the other. We see it. This seeing is not in-thought but in-sight.
Second, deep looking arises spontaneously through growth in Grace, and this entails clearing the mind of impurities that block clear seeing. The Greek Orthodox Church teaches of our becoming God (en-godded, infused, onened) with the Sacred (theosis, divination). So, as we draw near the Light, we become the Light, such that one cannot say there is a separation between the Light and us. Initially, we sought the Light, and we practiced to grow in insight. Then, we see as the Light sees.
The usual words for the result of this deep looking differ in Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhists speak of the wedding of insight and compassion. With insight arises compassion, for now we can truly see the other beyond their appearance. For Buddhists, compassionate feeling can occur with this insight, but compassion is more than a feeling. For Buddhists, compassion as clear seeing is the foundation of sympathetic feeling and action. Christians speak of love. In surrender to God, who is Love, arises love. We need not differentiate too much between these two words.
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When a seminary student and in my mid-20s, a couple attended the little Baptist congregation I served on weekends. This couple was from an even more conservative Baptist sect than my church was a member of. They met me alone in the sanctuary to ask a favor. They informed me their son was gay. They asked me to try to talk some sense into him, so to speak. I agreed. They asked their son to meet with me, and he agreed.
The young man, a little younger than I, and I met another day in the sanctuary. He spoke of being gay. He was upset, wanting to know my thoughts on his sexual orientation and his relationship with God. His parents and I maintained the Bible taught there was no hope for anyone gay to be accepted by God.
My response to this man was to quote the Bible, scripture purportedly confirming he needed to give up his homosexuality. If he did abandon his gayness, I told him, based on the Bible, there was no hope for him with God.
At that time, I was not seeing this young man. Even the Bible was standing between the two of us. A life of misinformed teaching was keeping me from meeting him. I was seeing him as lost and as a homosexual. I missed seeing him as that-of-God-within us both, the same Godness. I missed wedding insight with compassion. Love was not joined with deep looking. Hence, love was limited by the ignorance taught me by others. I was born in the ignorance as a member of a particular culture - we all are, the ignorance takes different shapes based on the teachings we have received from others.
The first time I shared with others of the above encounter with the gay man, I felt deeply hurt. Even after some thirty years, it pained me to speak how I had mistreated him. Again, through ignorance, one who loves can act or speak unlovingly without knowing it. Yet, we cannot make excuses and live with integrity. Part of our spiritual growth is speaking forth how we have hurt others, even unknowingly.
Decades later, I faced a similar situation, of a gay man attending another church I served as pastor. I had changed. I could see him. I was able to embrace him, figuratively and literally, seeing through gay or not-gay, in compassion and love. I will share this experience here soon.
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Ironically, it is through ignorance that we learn wisdom. Ignorance is a deadly poison that can be transformed into life-giving love and compassion. We can see how we have not seen, and this seeing is part of the transformation to recognize that-of-the-Sacred the other is and, thereby, having a basis for acting in reverence and kindness toward other beings.
Have you ever felt looked at but not seen? What was that like for you? Do you recall a time when you saw that-of-God-in-the-other? How did that shape how you treated them? Do you see a growth in spontaneously seeing the other as sacred, regardless of how you agree or not with them? If so, how has this changed your life?
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*© Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Story of the Sage is from Brian K. Wilcox. "Meetings with an Anonymous Sage."
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.