In the last blog, I mentioned that the spiritual life is something that transforms us into the divine essence. What is divine essence? According to John, it is agape; selfless love. John also tells us that Jesus desires his people to be one with him and the father. We are called to be fully united to agape. Thus, it makes sense that the spiritual journey is about shedding selfishness.
If you want more than my word on this, all you have to do is look at the concordance to see what Jesus and the apostles said about love, the nature of God, and the importance of love in the Christian life. One of my favorite examples is in the story when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. When you understand the original Greek version of the text, the conversation goes along these lines: Peter, do you love me as God loves you? Peter answers, Jesus, I love you like a brother. This conversation is repeated, but in the third instance, Jesus asks if Peter loves him like a brother. Peter emphatically says, “Yes! You know I do.” In this conversation, I see God calling us to a higher form of love. He may accept us where we are in our love tainted by selfishness, but he is calling us to something more.
In the Bible, Jesus tells us many ways of becoming agape. One can look to the beatitudes, the way he interacts with others, and in the metaphors he uses for seeking the kingdom of God. However, the very first step in the way of agape is conversion. Catherine of Siena tells us that self knowledge precedes love. Knowledge of our sinful self, our selfishness, comes before we can see that there is something better. In addition, knowledge of self opens us to an encounter with mercy, and this encounter is what leads us to desire the perfection of love.
The second step on the way of agape is baptism. Through this act of faith, we are united to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, and God is agape. The on-going journey is the perfection of this union. Eternal life is about perpetual union with selflessness, and eternal life begins with baptism.
For some of us, this process is reversed, especially for those of us who are baptized as infants. There is nothing wrong with this inversion; however, as adults, we must personally choose conversion because the Holy Spirit cannot be effective within us if we do not turn our hearts towards God. In truth, most, if not all of us, will find ourselves back at the beginning on numerous occasions as we get distracted, mislead, or otherwise step off the path. The way of conversion is something that we must return to every time we turn back to God. In addition, even when we stay the course, we will find the Spirit of Truth convicting us of areas of sinfulness that we previously failed to see. So, regardless of the order of the first two steps, conversion is one that we will encounter multiple times along the way.
Spend some time in prayer pondering your understanding of agape. Some call it unconditional love, but it is more than that. Unconditional love implies a sense of accepting one for who one is. God does accept us where we are, but he is calling us to something more. He is calling us to selflessness. Ponder your favorite Bible verse on love, and see how it corresponds to God’s call to agape. Ponder what it means to go to Heaven where we will live in the presence of agape, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what that entails. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you penetrate the mysteries of union with him, and what this means. Spend some time with him confessing your sins, asking for his forgiveness, and for healing in the areas of your life that keep you from becoming agape. In closing, spend some time offering him a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for offering you this path of life, and for leading you along the way.