Spark Calling to Spark: Divine Indwelling and Community
I love going into a garden, and walking among the plants, flowers, birds, and trees. My joy springs from the experience of the divine in all that is created in the garden, each and every member of its community. One rose alone would be lovely, but my experience is deeply enhanced by the bees, the lilies, the pathways of exposed roots, the rabbit scattering under the bushes, the notes of birdcall, the leaves falling from the maple, the pine cones nestled against the foot of the mother tree. The ecological diversity of a little garden astonishes me, and it is merely one microcosm of the world, and indeed the universe.
In a similar way, we can have deep experience of the divine through one another, even and especially through our diverse identities and lives. We are formed in the image and likeness of our creator God (Gen 1:27), who chooses to make his dwelling with us (Ex 29:45-46; Lev 26:11; Ezk 37:27; John 1:14), and even within us (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 8:11). When we authentically encounter one another, we come into contact with the divine in and through one another. Theologically, this moment of relationship with the divine is enosis, or experience of the divine in and through creation and community. What is important to know here is that in a state of grace we bear a divine spark within us, and that those we encounter do also. When two people come together in authentic relationship, spark calls to spark. We are touched and transformed by the divine when we cultivate the openness to be present to the other person in patient receptivity and loving acceptance.
The Apostle Paul gives us another image of this indwelling: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the human body “is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (CCC 364).
Jean Vanier thus gives us a complete picture of the profound meaning of indwelling: that if Christ dwells in us individually, and likewise Christ dwells in our neighbor, then he dwells in all the rich diversity of the people around us, this vast, beautiful garden of humanity. That includes the smallest, the weakest, the broken, the suffering, both within ourselves and in others. In fact, as Jean Vanier states, the “whole vision of Jesus” is this very thing: to enfold the weak, the impoverished, the suffering with love, and to likewise experience the enfolding in love of our own weakness, poverty, and suffering. For are not we all members of one and the same body, the same temple of Christ? We all share a common life and love: “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another” (Rom 12:5). In becoming the Body of Christ, we take up the mission of Christ, to love one another, and in so doing we each both give and receive love and acceptance.
We know through the gospel that our interactions with one another are, in a very real sense, interactions with the divine: Jesus says that “whatever you did for the least one of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). Moreover, we know that we are not to approach our relationships with some kind of intellectual or emotional calculation, but rather “love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34). We are to be as children in the direct simplicity of our love and acceptance: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Matt 18:3-5). Therefore our love for, and acceptance of, one another ought to be sincere and complete.
Jean Vanier notes that in community we may feel pressured to live up to an ideal image of ourselves, or to hide or change parts of ourselves, especially those that our world rejects or devalues. Yet these attributes of ours are often the very things that make us uniquely ourselves, and we should be comfortable and content in them. If we are the handiwork of our Creator God, then shouldn’t we choose to live out of the identity which God himself has fashioned for us? Community “is not about perfect people. It is about people who are bonded to each other, each of whom is a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, love and hate.” Community is defined by this loving bond between people, which “is the only earth in which each can grow without fear toward liberation of the forces of love which are hidden in them. But there can be growth only if we recognize the potential, and this will never unfold if we prevent people from discovering and accepting themselves as they are, with their gifts and their wounds.” Making room for this individual self-discovery and self-acceptance must be a critical hallmark of the community. As we are called by God to be who we are, and not what others impose on us, we are in turn enabled to respond likewise in being a part of the earth of that community which fosters growth, acceptance, and love.
Love, then, forms the basis for all. We can have confidence that God, who is Love (1 John 4:8), loves us (John 3:16) and makes his loving home with us (John 14:23), and that he has created us to be simply ourselves and no other (Ps 139:13-14). In living out our own graced purpose, our primary characteristic and action is love: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). As we love our neighbor in the poor, the weak, the broken, the suffering, we direct our love also to Christ (Matt 25:40). Thus paradoxically, profoundly, the indwelling of our Lord is directly tied to God’s outpouring of love to us and through us, in and through the community, which is also love tendered back to God.
I would like to close with a remark made to me by the founder of the Mission of St. Thorlak, Aimee O’Connell, during a conversation regarding indwelling and this divine spark within each of us. Aimee said: “Our mission is to go, defenseless, in search of that spark in the other person.” How right she is. Once we discover that divine spark burning within ourselves, we realize that spark calls to spark, and that our own spark compels us to go in search of the other, in vulnerability and openness to authentic encounter. The spark within us burns with God’s love, love which catches fire within us, which lights our neighbors in turn, as they light us with the fire of God’s love. Certainly, we may come up against all kinds of barriers in our effort to love sincerely and completely. In our contemporary, fast-paced, and high-tech world we often ignore or miss opportunities to truly and defenselessly connect with others. Yet these challenges only make our mission even more urgent today. Can we go, defenseless, in search of that spark in the other person? Can we, like the One dwelling within us, love and accept them for who they truly are?
Laura Reece Hogan is the author of I Live, No Longer I (Wipf & Stock, 2017) and O Garden-Dweller (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Find her online at www.laurareecehogan.com, and on Twitter: @laurarhogan .