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And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. —Mark 12:30
…them that worship Me with love, I love;
They are in Me, and I in them! – the Bhagavad Gita
Heaven means to be one with God. – Confucius
The holy books of every great Faith ask us to love God. But those same holy books tell us that God is unknowable, unreachable, unfathomable.
How can we love what we can’t even know? How can we believe in and connect with and ultimately love something we can’t see?
These questions, these deep mysteries of the human heart, have plagued me since I was a small child.
I remember asking my grandmother, a devout and truly spiritual Lutheran, how I was supposed to love a God I couldn’t hug. I was five.
She told me that if I could hug God, or see God, it wouldn’t be God. Instead, it would be something on a human scale, something we could touch, something without mystery or grandeur or creative power. This, I’m sure, was my first-ever experience of existential awareness, of feeling somehow outside and inside myself at the same time. Her explanation led me to a place I’d never visited before, a new sphere of thought. In that place I suddenly knew what God was not; and that infinitely expanded my conception of what God might possibly be.
Then, when I was sixteen, I met a Zen Buddhist named Noel. He was one of the first seriously spiritual, self-actuated people my age I’d ever met. Noel influenced me tremendously. He loved good poetry, the blues, and great art. But most of all Noel loved God; with a great, heart-expanding love. He made a practice out of it, and his spiritual practice taught me how to start building my own.
I’ll try to reproduce what Noel first told me and demonstrated to me here.
He liked to point out, gently, that many churches and synagogues and mosques and ashrams had done a very good job of examining the mind of God. Their well-developed theology, their insights and principles, their sermons and invocations and liturgical practices—all those things, he said, were just fine in and of themselves. But they blocked us, my friend Noel said, from understanding God’s heart.
What do you mean? I asked him.
Oh, we have knowledge, Noel would say. We have information. We know our religious teachings, no matter what Faith we follow, and we can probably tell others about them in detail. We have a good intellectual grasp of our belief system. But we have a much harder time actually living those teachings, truly exemplifying the love in God’s innermost heart.
It’s the living, Noel would say, that God cares about. God could care less, my friend Noel maintained, what you profess, what you think, what you intellectually embrace. Those things mean nothing. God cares about how you live. God cares about how open your heart can become. God cares about your compassion, your love for others, the actions that your love compels you to do and to be.
God cares about what’s in your heart.
Noel encouraged me to explore the Zen teachings, and I did. They led me to a new place, just as my grandmother’s explanation had done. They opened my mind and heart to a new way of understanding myself. Those Zen teachings took me down a path of self-exploration, of learning how to feel what was in my heart. Later, when I discovered and really began to study the Baha’i Faith, I found many of the things my friend Noel believed and talked about. I learned that God desires to reveal His heart to humanity, and asks us to make our souls ready to function as a pure, unobstructed channel, so the love of God’s heart can pass through to ours:
In this day, to thank God for His bounties consisteth in possessing a radiant heart, and a soul open to the promptings of the spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 179.
As we seek the beautiful countenance of God, as we look into the heart of the cosmos and behold our own spiritual center, the Baha’i teachings invite us to manifest God’s love in our hearts:
I pray to God that daily ye may advance in spirituality, that God’s love may be more and more manifested in you, that the thoughts of your hearts may be purified, and that your faces may be ever turned towards Him. May you one and all approach to the threshold of unity, and enter into the Kingdom. May each of you be like unto a flaming torch, lighted and burning bright with the fire of the Love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 75.
In this short series of articles about how we can love God, we’ll look at the path of love the Baha’i teachings recommend we all walk.