I have a neighbour who disapproves of everything I do. She’s very religious and she’s always letting me know it. Her disapproval of me is very obvious. The look on her face says it. What’s annoying is that she half tries to hide it, but it’s so obvious. She’ll mention something that was said at Mass and then she’ll say, casual like, were you there? Knowing that I wasn’t, so she can feel superior. She often brings up how much she loves God! I know that's an accusation of me. If I starting loving God would I begin to look like her? I don’t feel anything whenever I think about God. Seriously how could anyone love God? I know that priests are always talking about it, but I never heard anyone else except that woman talking about it. I look at your website sometimes when I come across it, I go for the question and answer part. Could you write something about what I told you? Ellen
I'll say the most important thing first: the Christian faith is first and foremost about God loving us, not about us loving God. Here is St John saying so: “This is love: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us” (1 John 4:10). We should look a bit more loved-up, then. Nietzsche famously made that point: ““I will believe in your redeemer when you look a bit more redeemed”. He was to have an unlikely ally in a future pope. Pope Francis said that some Christians look like people “who have just come back from a funeral,” or “like Lent without Easter,” “pessimists, sourpusses… defeated generals” (Evangelii Gaudium).
If you would like to halt the flow of self-congratulation on the part of your neighbour, any of those phrases would be helpful. There is much more. We all create God in our own image, returning the compliment. But there are many wonderful writings in the tradition to shake us out of that delusion. For example: “This is the final human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know God” (St Thomas Aquinas); or Meister Eckhart, who said, “I pray God to rid me of God.” (He meant all ideas and images of God.) Or the great Jesuit writer of the 18th century, J.-P. de Caussade, who prayed to God: “Arouse us and confuse us. Shatter all our illusions and plans so that we lose our way and see neither path nor light until we have found you.”
The ego’s God is always accommodating, being our own projection. He always confirms our views and supports us against our enemies. He saves us the trouble of searching for God, because he is already in our possession. He reassures us, keeps us warm and comfortable. It is easy to love him. He is the roof of the house of ego.
“I don’t feel anything whenever I think about God,” you wrote. That's a good place to start. If you were starting from a feeling, you would have the task of shaking it off before really searching. Try to forget about the ego’s God and look elsewhere.
But where? In our true nature. What’s that? Our identity as Christ’s Body. A Christian has every right to say with St Paul, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20). We are Christ’s Body; that is the deepest layer of our being; it is our true nature, our real identity, deeper than the ego. Buddhists speak about the Buddha-nature as the true reality of every being; Christians have every right to speak about the Christ-nature as the true reality of every Christian, glimpsed whenever the ego loosens its hold. Buddhists also speak about ‘Buddha-mind’. Likewise, Christians have every right, with St Paul, to speak about the ‘Christ-mind’: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). It would be wonderful to see those two phrases in circulation: the Christ-nature and the Christ-mind.
What kind of knowledge can you have of your true nature? Full lights? No, just glimmers now and then, if you are blessed. But mostly it is invisible, as if it weren't there at all. But it is there, and you are expressing it even if you are not aware of it. Whenever you do or say or think something that is not an expression of ego, it is an expression of your true nature. Do you ‘long’ for God? Do you ‘thirst’ for God? No, not at all, you say. But are you sure? Every creature has a homing instinct for God, said the mediaevals theologians. The salmon finds its way back to the very place where its life began. That instinct is working in us too, below the level of consciousness usually. ‘Final causality’, the mediaevals called it. In that dark mysterious dimension of your being you are surely longing for God, thirsting for God.
When the alarm clock goes off in the morning I immediately begin to say Psalm 62. It is a way of allowing the Christ-nature to be the first expression of the day. It is a push-off gesture to the ego.
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
To see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
My lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
In your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
My mouth shall praise you with joy.
On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
For you have been my help;
In the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
Your right hand holds me fast.
Why not print it out and keep it on your bedside locker? In a short time you will know it by heart. Don’t expect to feel those sentiments, but know that they are the truth about you at a mysterious level. That is not the emotion of love, but it is love in a deeper sense: God's love attracting us back to our source. God first attracts us to Jesus, then Jesus completes the process; he is the Way: “No one can come to me,” he said, “unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6.44).
Good luck with your neighbour, Ellen. No need to bother about her foibles; sooner or later she too will be pulled out of the orbit of her ego. You’ll be the first to notice the change.