developing love for God.
#11
(sorry, I wrote more than I thought I would...)

This is a really great thread, and something that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, too. So, I’m going to be annoying and write a novel because this is a good chance to express what has been on my mind.

I can’t help but feel that the my ‘love of God’ is very different from the feelings of love I feel towards “loved ones,” such as friends, but also when I am ‘in love,’ i.e., romantically. That kind of love is a very powerful feeling that often exists in spite of rationality. Even if I rationally accept that I shouldn’t love that person, that a relationship wouldn’t be good for us, it wouldn’t work out, it’ll never happen so I should just spare myself the pain, etc., I still can’t help but have those intense feelings of love. And even if I recognise those feelings as good, such as in the case of friendship (which, admittedly, is a different sort of love than ‘romantic love’), the feeling of love persists even as the commonality between the friend and I diminishes and we drift apart. So that kind of love – the most powerful, “gut feeling” kind of irrational, or super-rational love – is something I find myself feeling for creatures, whether I want to or not. It just happens.

I want to be able to say that I love God with the same kind of love, but it wouldn’t be true. I want to love God like that, but I’m still working on it, and I’m still very far off. It’s much harder. Perhaps because that kind of love is not something we choose, but rather a situation we find ourselves in: “oh crap, I’ve fallen in love with her... this isn’t going to work out well.” Perhaps because God isn’t something we can see and be physically attracted to, or build up a friendship based on shared experiences and similar feelings and personal compatibility. It’s a different kind of relationship, so the kind of love is different. It’s a love we have to choose to cultivate. It doesn’t just happen; it’s a love which we choose to give and which we have to cultivate in spite of ourselves, because as fallen creatures we naturally are attracted and attached to creatures, rather than the Creator.

The Greeks were smart enough to have different words for love: erotic/romantic love, eros; brotherly love (as between friends), philos; familial/natural love (e.g., the natural love a parent feels for their child, neither erotic nor friendship), storge; and above all, as used by St Paul in the ‘Love Chapter’ of 1 Corinthians 13, agape, that is, charitable love, sacrificial love, love which is deeper and self-giving and utterly beyond friendship, eroticism or natural family bonds. While I find these categories useful, I don't think they are exhaustive, and I can’t find the right descriptive term for how I feel about God.

So I ask myself, how do I know when I love someone? I think about them a lot, I want to be with them, I want to have them in my life, and I want to be in their life. I want to be loved and wanted by them in return. I want to make them happy, I want them to be happy, I don’t want to live without them; and I’m happy when I’m with them and when I see them.

So then I apply this to how I feel about God. Do I think about God a lot? Yes, I’m pretty much obsessed with Catholicism, to the point where it can alienate me from my secular friends; and the subject of Catholic religion is God. Do I want to be with God? Yes, I know that eternal life with God in heaven is the highest form of happiness I could possibly have, and nothing else can satisfy what my soul craves: so yes, I want to be with God. I want to participate in the life of God, and I want God in my life; I definitely do not want to live separated from God or without God. I want to please God, do what is right in his eyes, and devote myself to his service, and to glorify him for his sake. When I’m at Mass, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, deep in prayer, etc., I am happy and at peace. I cannot look upon God as he is – that is the beatific vision. But I can see the work of God, something in my life or the life of another that I can only attribute to God’s grace (such as witnessing someone’s conversion, or reflecting upon my own conversion. I used to be an atheist and very anti-Christian, so, considering such a radical turn-around, I can only credit God with my conversion). When I see something like that, I feel joyful and amazed.

To all these conditions, as I go through the checklist, I can answer in the affirmative. And yet still it’s not the same. When I am ‘in love,’ I don’t have to think about it and go through a mental checklist and try to work out if what I am experiencing is love. I just know it. Even if that person is cruel to me, hates me, doesn’t want to talk to me any more, I still know if I am in love. Yet with God I have to really reflect upon the matter rationally in order to conclude that my feelings towards him qualify as ‘love,’ and even when I can say “Yes, I think about God a lot, I want to be with God, I want God in my life, etc., etc.,” it’s still not the same.

I think the love of God begins as a rational love, an intellectual love, which we acknowledge, submit ourselves to, and then try to cultivate, to turn it into a more passionate, human and “gut feeling” kind of love. The pathos (emotions, passions) has to be harmonised and subordinated to the logos (intellect, the rational will, which clearly and logically sees God as the sovereign Good). The love I feel towards someone who I ‘love’, either romantically or as a friend, is the love of creatures, and stems from hormones or emotions or affections of the heart – but ultimately these are affections/feelings of my fallen nature. This doesn’t mean they are bad feelings, but it explains why my natural being is directed so easily towards the love of creatures, but it requires effort and rationality and contemplation in order for me to feel love for God. But this love of God, precisely because it is a logos-love, not a pathos-love, is a love that must be chosen and cultivated by an act of the free will. We have to choose to love. This is, I think, highly important and central to the relationship between God and man. God loves us unconditionally, even in our sin. He desires the salvation of every rational being. We have to choose to love Him and struggle to overcome and move beyond our natural love of creatures. It takes grace, sacrifice, prayer, and effort, and is only possible through the love that God has poured out on the Cross.

I’m not spiritually advanced by any means, which is why I still struggle to bring my ‘emotional’ or ‘lower’ love (which is usually directed towards creatures) in line with my ‘intellectual’ or ‘higher’ love, which is directed only towards the Creator. I imagine that a saint, who is spiritually advanced and holy, is one who feels the love of the Creator stronger in their ‘gut’ than the love of creatures; for whom it is no effort or struggle to love God and to do everything for God’s sake, because they have brought their passions in line with the ‘higher-level thoughts.’ So I will try to cultivate this, and pray and beseech God’s help for this: because I know that I want to love Him the way I love creatures, and I accept rationally that I have to try to approach this and grow in this kind of love, but it’s hard. My fallen nature is opposed to it.

Sorry this has been so long. I hope it helps, or at least is an interesting read for someone.

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#12

That post is a keeper  :)

I hope Meh doesn't let the thread die - it's hard to think of a more important question than the one he asked.

Last night I found a stack of stuff by St. Alphonsus Liguori on archive.org, thanks to the links at the bottom of the page about him on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonsus_Liguori

His classic on prayer  is here, unabridged AFAICS: http://www.archive.org/stream/thecomplet...7/mode/2up  (the site somehow confused it with a book by someone else, but this is it)

- this may help those with scruples: http://www.archive.org/stream/thecomplet...5/mode/2up

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