Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Way to Love

Every couple of years or so I re read this little book. There are 196 pages, but they are small - the book fits easily into a pocket. There are 31 short chapters so what with the diminutive size and all, you'd think it would be a pretty quick read but it's not. At least, not for me.  The minimum time it takes me to read it is 31 days, but usually it is more like 62 or 93. That's because although it only takes 5 minutes to read a chapter I have to sit with each one for a long time afterwards.

When Anthony De Mello died in his mid fifties in 1987 he was very widely known and read. For many of us, his numerous books of enigmatic little stories have been rich seams to be mined for sermon illustrations. For a lot of people Sadhana (1978) has been a resource enabling the start of a contemplative spiritual practice. Until Thomas Keating's Contemplative Outreach and Laurence Freeman's World Community for Christian Meditation became firmly established, Anthony De Mello was about the only show in town when it came to popularising Christian contemplative spirituality. Sadhana is still a good place to start, but now there are many others and I'm often surprised by the number of serious Christian pray-ers who have never heard of it.

The Way to Love was published posthumously and consists of a number of retreat addresses tidied up for publication. The tidying has been less than thorough in places and I am very glad of that; written and spoken English are two quite different things, each with their own idiosyncrasies and even to some extent their own grammars, and The Way to Love often betrays its origin as a piece of oracy rather than a piece of literacy. Sometimes reading I can just about catch the lilting rhythms of De Mello's Indian accent.

The central idea of the book is the one that lies behind my little conversation with Jesus post of a couple of days ago. Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is here. Note: not that it is coming , or will come if we all work very hard, or will be presented to us at the end of time if we just believe the right things and stop being naughty. Jesus said it is here. Now. So why don't we see it then? Well, Jesus is a little less than forthcoming on this point. All he tells us is to have metanoia (μετάνοια) which we translate "repentance" and conjure around it pictures of preachers in black cloaks tut tutting at our peccadilloes. But Jesus meant something other than that. He meant what the word says: to think again; to have a new way of understanding. This is the point Anthony De Mello expands on.

Happiness is here, says De Mello. You don't have to go doing anything fancy or expensive like acquiring a new house/car/spouse to get it. You don't have to go on a diet or reach enlightenment. You don't have to be successful at work or love or religion. You don't have to be married or single or have your life sorted out. You don't have to wait until next year or next life. It's already here. The Kingdom (that is, all that you are looking for in the deepest parts of yourself) is as far away as your hand. The reason you don't see it is because of the way you think. As Jesus says,  
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.
By which I think he means that if the way you see the world is stuffed, then the whole world will seem (to you) to be stuffed. And De Mello says that all of us have bad eyes. We are programmed - by our genetics, our upbringing, our culture, our experiences - to see the world in certain ways and to believe all manner of preposterous nonsense, for example that we require [ please fill in your fondest wish here ] in order to be happy. Because our way of seeing the world is more or less blighted our experience of the world is more or less blighted and almost none of us are happy. But, says De Mello, everything we need to be happy we already have. Now. Here. Open your eyes and see it.

Simple but not easy. Most of the book is a primer on how we might do that, partly through awareness of the world and of others,  but mostly through awareness of ourselves; and particularly through awareness of our own programming.

So over the next couple of months, while I am reading other things I'll read a chapter every day or so and let it percolate further in. The copy I am reading is brand new, as I keep giving them away. I notice, also, that it is the last one I have. Better nip out to my favourite bookstore and pick up a few more.

2 comments:

Mary Simeon said...

Thank you.
Mary Simeon

Deryck said...

Have purchased a Kindle copy of "The Way to Love." Some of it I get, some requires a lot of thought I can see why you keep reading it again.

I believe I am so much closer to God since I have been reading your words. In fact I have had some very emotional moments at times. Especially since reading about your thoughts and comments recently about LGBT and the General Synod. Perhaps I am given to emotional responses but I feel my hand has been touched by the Kingdom of Heaven. I am excited by this. Thank you for your teaching Bishop Kelvin.


Deryck. Choir member St Peters Queenstown.