And turning around, and seeing them following, Jesus says to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” — which is to say, when translated, “Teacher” — “where are you staying?” He says to them, “Come and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and stayed with him that day; it was about the tenth hour.John 1: 38-39
Recently I have found myself reflecting on the complexity of my, and by extension all of our, motives for all that we do. I’ve thought of this in light of my attraction to, repulsion by, and so behavior toward others. What is it that makes us so mercurial, that accounts for the great vicissitudes in our feelings and behavior toward other persons? At times others whom I know and even have some degree of consistent connection with hardly penetrate my focal consciousness. At other times, I feel an insistent urge to be in touch with them, to pay attention to them, to be responsive to them. Of course, I hope a part of my motivation is concern for their well being, both in the immediate and ultimate senses. And yet, I find myself having to admit that it is also my own well-being that is always part of the motivation. If I feel in any way “under siege,” I want someone on my side; I want to be understood and confirmed by another.
This reflection is not intended as a moralistic one. It is not so much about the good or evil of our motivations, rather it is an attempt to grow in awareness of them. To some degree we are always both serving and using each other. This is what makes life and relationship so inherently complicated for us. It is this multiplicity and dispersion that makes life a struggle for us. We have desires at every level of our personalities: desire for vital gratification, desire for the satisfaction of our functional ambitions, and desire for union and communion of spirit.
As the excerpt from the first chapter of John’s gospel begins today, we hear that John the Baptist, “standing there,” that is firmly on his own ground, watches Jesus walk by. John then fulfills the very call and purpose of his life as he proclaims to two of his own disciples, “Look: the Lamb of God.” What is the nature of John’s experience and motivation? He must be recognizing Jesus out of the level of his own spirit, for he directs the attention of his very own disciples to Jesus, to the one who “comes before” him, as he has said earlier. However it is that John has lived his life to this point, he is here able to recognize Jesus for who he is, without the complexity of his own contesting wants and desires. He does so fully cognizant, so it seems, of the fact that “his” disciples will now leave him for Jesus, will move on to the next significant teacher in their lives.
Seldom in my reading of this passage have I reflected on the experience of John as his disciples go with Jesus to see where he is staying, and then stay with Jesus “that day.” As they go, John stands there alone. One of the great obstacles, at least for me, in living out my call and my relationships in integrity is my fear of being left “alone.” Although in our imaginary continuation of this gospel scene, John is left physically alone, our fear of being left alone is not merely physical. We may continue to be around and with countless others, but at times when we do what must be done or say what must be said, we often experience in the core of our hearts the sense of utter aloneness. We often mitigate our fidelity to our call in order to avoid this experience. Because at its deepest level we are a unique call, the full expression of that call, of that deepest “duty” which is ours, will always carry with it the truth of our own aloneness and solitude. This experience is, at once, both utterly fulfilling and painful. At the moment that he directs his disciples to Jesus, John has both fulfilled his call and destiny and found himself, in that, alone.
A harsh reality about the love to which Jesus and the gospels call us is that we can only learn to love, and to be loved, by being willing to enter into the truth of our own solitude. When all we have strained our whole lives to achieve at the social and cultural level is taken away, what is left of us? We spend much of our lives and attention on gaining the love and confirmation of those around us, of our families, our communities, of those with whom and for whom we work. There will always come, however, a moment of testing in which the truth that is at the heart of our unique life call will require of us what feels like the loss of that love and confirmation. Much of what constitutes our daily lives of work and relationship is a kind of negotiation between the summons to integrity and the need for social acceptance, the fear of being left alone. To grow humanly and spiritually is a process by which our fears about being unloved diminish as motives for our relationships and work, and our disinterested love of others and God increase. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Generally, fear figures to some degree in much of what we understand to be love. The true test of our love is when we are willing, when called to act in love, to risk not being approved of or loved in return. John, in pointing out Jesus, is deeply loving both Jesus and his own disciples, whom he is directing to Jesus, even at the cost of their leaving him.
How do we, who are so formed to social conformity, learn to love as John does? I began by speaking of how I have been becoming increasingly aware of the complexity of my own motivations. Yet, it is not by introspection or calculative thinking that I can sift through these motivations and bring myself to my own ground. We can only truly come to ourselves, in the deepest sense, as the disciples do in today’s gospel. When Jesus sees the disciples following him, he, as any true spiritual teacher, asks a question of them: “What do you seek?” Their answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” indicates that they truly are seeking from this teacher the truth they see in him. Were they following out of mere curiosity, or in order to find a new leader who would give them a greater status than John the Baptist can, we can suspect that Jesus would never invite them to stay with him. But they indicate that they want to stay with him, to be with him where he is, to discover and to share with him the life that they recognize in him. Adrian van Kaam says that when we see and experience a person who truly lives from her or his originality and uniqueness, that encounter stirs in us a desire to live our own true life and call. It inspires us to become original, the person we truly are called to be.
So, the gospel tells us that to learn the way (“You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:4), we must learn, or discover, what we already know. We know the way, but we must “stay with” Jesus if we are to learn it. So, what begins as thinking and growing awareness of the true complexity of my behavior must become, in time, no longer awareness of but rather sheer awareness. At this place, the place where Jesus is staying, there are no longer questions but only silence. Beneath the questioning of myself and the speaking to myself in response to the questions, there is only the life that we share with Jesus, where we are able to “stay with’ him.
The more we live this life the greater is the love. For in this place we know the actual ground on which we live and realize without thinking that, as Meister Eckhart says, “Here God’s ground is my ground, and my ground is God’s ground.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to “stay with” him each day. it is in this discipleship that our fear of being left alone falls away, for we are never alone in the way we fear. As Eckhart goes on to say, out of this ground we are to act “without why.” To act “without why” in this way and out of this ground is to love, with the love that Jesus and the gospels describe. It is to love simply out of one motive alone, that this act, this work, is what is ours to do at this moment, whatever the cost.
The skill developed in receptive mind is this: less hindered by clutter, we are able to shift our attention from what we are aware of to the aware-ing itself. When this occurs, the mind is immediately drawn to silence. As we have said, that in us which clearly sees the clutter is both clutter-free and free of the stories we tell ourselves about the clutter. Otherwise we could not be aware of it.Martin Laird, An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation, p. 117
In reactive mind, whenever our attention was stolen by a distraction, our attention immediately clung to the distraction. The clinging mind immediately produced a story in our heads about what or whom we are angry at, envious of, ashamed of, puffed-up about, greedy for, envious of. But now, in receptive mind, characterized by a liberating release into our practice and hence cleared of so much mental clutter, all the prepositions fall away. We easily shift our attention from what we are aware of — anger, joy, fear, pain, shame, happiness, peaceful recollection, pride, despair, what have you — to the awareness itself, the very aware-ing, before the clinging mind whisks up a frothy story of anger, joy, fear, pain, happiness, recollection, pride, despair. When the “of” [of being aware “of”] falls away there is quite simply no one there to launch a story to tell, no video to play, no one there to comment, chatter, or cling. There is simple joy, fear, pain, happiness, peace, pride, despair that is naked of all narrative. There is no isolated, separate self to whip up all these stories in our heads.