Love propels us. We all have egos. Our egos keep saying: “Me, me, me.” “Mine, mine, mine.”
Love is different. Love is not a mere emotion. It is a divine force that propels us beyond the ego.
In this simple way, much of the spiritual life is not about otherworldly experiences, burning incense, or expensive retreats. It is a progression of love from the bind of our own ego toward ever more compassionate, gentle, and wider circles. It is worth pausing to examine our own hearts, and explore how wide our own circle of compassion is. Whom do we ultimately spend our life serving?
In every instance, what moves us from one smaller, narrower, more selfish and parochial circle towards the next is love.
If the circle of our compassion encompasses only one individual, our own self, it is selfishness.
Love propels us beyond the circle of ego, and puts the welfare of others ahead of — or at least alongside — our own. Love spills over, beyond our ego, towards our family, our neighbors, our friends. But it must not stop there. Widen the circle of love.
If the circle of our concern encompasses only one family (our own), it is nepotism.
Love puts the welfare of many families ahead of one’s own families, but it must not stop there. Widen the circle of love.
If the circle of our concern embraces only one people, it is tribalism.
Love can bring together the many people living inside an imagined boundary, but it must not stop there. Widen the circle of love.
If the circle of our compassion stops at our national borders, it is rabid nationalism.
If instead of being projected along a national border, it projects towards embrace of a whole religious community, that, too, is a move towards the global and the universal. But it must not stop there. Widen the circle of love.
If the circle of our compassion stops at the borders of a religious community (and no further), It is religious fanaticism.
We have to keep pushing, deepening, widening the circle of love. When love comes to encompass the whole of humanity, no exceptions. When every human life, regardless of gender, color, creed, wealth, and nationality is embraced, we have risen above the narrow confines of egoism, nepotism, nationalism, religious fanaticism to arrive at a place that is worthy of us, worthy of love.
And yet we must not stop there. Widen the circle of love.
If we come to cherish only human life, then we seek the supremacy of humanity over the only home we have in the whole cosmos. Somehow, some way, we have to come to share love with every sentient being. Somehow, we have to come to see that the earth itself is alive.
That, yes, the hills are alive with the sound of music,
and so are the clouds,
the leaf that falls in autumn,
the black ant that crawls on the rock quietly at night,
the snow that falls silently in the wind.
Somehow, we have to come to see our own life as being connected to them. We cannot be who we ought to be unless nature is what it ought to be. It is a circle of love because a circle comes back around to where it starts. We cannot love ourselves unless love propels us beyond ourselves, to the furthest corner of the cosmos, and then back to us. But the “us” that returns to us is no longer the ego-self that got started.
Ultimately, love has a mandate: to remain rooted, grounded, serving those in the immediate vicinity, yet propelling us towards the global, the universal, the cosmic. Love refuses boundaries, obliterates them. Love erases borders the way that shadows disappear in the light, the way fog evaporates in sunlight. Love is divine, and love loves all that is God’s. Which is to say… All.
We have to remember who we are, and whose we are.
We need a reminder of who we are, who we have been, and who we must become yet again.
We need a reminder that we are not “mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life,” as Martin Luther King used to say, but that there is something in us as grand as the whole cosmos. As Rumi once expressed:
“We come spinning
out of nothingness,
Somewhere deep in our hearts, there is a faculty that is meant to hold the whole universe, because it is made in the image of the Lord of the whole universe.
In this season, after the Christmas trees have been kicked to the curb and the unwanted presents returned, I make a point of returning to Dr. King’s last Christmas sermon, as it gets me to ponder the meaning of the circle of love for each and every one of us.
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.
No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone,
and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.”
Martin Luther King talks about loyalties that each of us have, and consequences for peace on Earth. We start with the each and every single one of us, and ask that most urgent of questions: Who is included in our circle of our love right now? To whom do we display that fierce urgency of compassion?
There was a song that used to ask: “How deep is your love?” Good question. But it’s also worth asking: “How wide is your love?”
Let the circle of your love deepen, widen, and expand, until it encompasses the whole universe. When it does, it will enfold you as well in a way that is whole, healing, and worthy.