I first read F. Scott Peck, the psychologist and Christian philosopher, back in college. (Ouch! Was that really 1984?) The Road Less Traveled crystalized the wisdom he gained in trying to balance the scientific practices of one-on-one therapy with the creation of networks of support that enabled healing to become a practical way of living for the patient.
One of the greatest causes of psychological distress, as well as the greatest impediment to healing, was the simple confusion that “love” was something that the giver felt. Peck completely rejected this in the case of the confusing loss of ego boundaries that we know as romantic love, applying to this particular form of madness the technical term “cathecting.” That’s close enough to “catheter” that I find it almost repulsive.
Peck’s writing sent me off down a path of rational loving that is just terribly confusing to most people. I don’t expect to feel good when loving somebody until my love actually manifests itself in a way that means something to them. I know that I’ve succeeded in that process when they come and say “Thank-you for loving me.” Ultimately, that’s the only meaningful evidence of my love. I do still offer “I love you” to my intimates, because it’s a comforting token, but I know full well that it doesn’t give me any claim on them until they give me “thank-you” back.
The most awe-inspiring part of this process is the depth to which people reveal themselves, and the tenderness of the engagement. The experience is very much like the “cathecting” that Peck described: it’s a deep surrender of ego. It’s different, however, because I’m not projecting myself into them. I’m actually acting as a doorway of sorts, and on the other side of the doorway is God. In looking into them, I’m simply showing them how I accept God, and letting them use that as an example for their own acceptance.
This is the source of the confusion, particularly to women of child-bearing age. They think that they’re falling in love with me, when in fact what they’re falling in love with is the source of perfect, infinite, unconditional love that reaches out to them through me.
That divine love is the love that forgave Cain, the first son, for the murder of Abel, the second son. It is a love that knows no rules, no boundaries. It is the love that manifested itself on the cross in the ultimate act of forgiveness.
Are rules imposed upon us in this relationship? Only one: to humbly accept that our love can never be so perfect, and thus to surrender ourselves as the conduit through which that love flows to others.
Is that hard? Yes, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. The reason is that, after we’ve all broken down our egos and learned to offer our hearts up in service to one another, we still have to figure out how to stay alive in this world long enough to make some progress in healing it. That means deciding what we’re going to do, and often it really doesn’t make a difference, in the big picture, whether we eat Chinese or Mexican take-out tonight. But if we all say “you choose”, then nothing ever happens. And if we always insist on making ourselves happy, then our partners will eventually get tired of never having their preferences honored.
The example might seem silly, but when you’ve got a two-career family, and job offers in two states, the decisions become more difficult and painful to resolve.
And so we look for rules – something hard and fast from God that will help us prioritize. In Judaism, those rules were pretty much designed for men (which I interpret as reflecting our weakness). Rules provide structure, and can be a useful spiritual tool. We simply stop investing our egos in practical matters, and move on to spiritual ones.
But the New Testament is about creating people that live outside of the rules, and Acts demonstrates Jesus’s success in that endeavor. After the healing of a cripple, the Sanhedrin throw Peter and John in jail, but eventually are forced to relent, because, as the Scripture says [NIV Acts 4:13-14]:
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.
And so this brings me to the point of this message: the standard of truth, as Jesus always said, is the faith that gives you the courage to give and receive healing. Remember, Jesus never, ever said “I have healed you” – he always said “Your faith has healed you.” Divine love can reach out through us, but unless the target of that love accepts it, no benefit will come.
So believe in what heals you. Allow others to take comfort in the healing that their faith brings to them. And open your heart to each other so that the truth of your healing can be seen to all. For that is the testament that Christ begs for the world to see: not a labored adherence to rules and conditions, but a joyous revival of truth, hope and life in those that once suffered with lies, fear and death.
And you ministers: if you can’t offer the kind of healing described in Acts, please humble your egos to the ultimate authority when your congregants tell you that the rules don’t work for them. Just agree that they need to find a spiritual home elsewhere, and part without prejudicial words on either side.
And for those ministers with the courage to recognize that you have guided your congregation through experiences that have moved them beyond the need for rules: Well: “God Bless You!” and “Welcome to the Journey!”