God is love (cf. 1 John 4:16). Because of this love, God is in constant pursuit of being united in love with all of humanity. In this pursuit, he gave his son Jesus, so that all people might have life, and have it more abundantly (cf. John 10:10). Abundant life comes from being fully united with God, and also with humanity. Unity with God, and with humanity, is achieved through love. Love is a mutual, reciprocal, and complete giving of oneself to another (God or human) (cf. John 15:13). Jesus willingly gave his life for all people by dying on the cross. Naked, vulnerable, exposed, and freely available on the cross, Jesus’ entire body, and especially his arms, symbolized the availability of his heart—which is the very source of the essence of love—extended to all. His open heart provided humanity access to the grace, or assistance (an effect of touching and being touched by love), necessary that all who draw closer to God, may fully give of their heart, and leave space for the reception of another’s heart. I have been crucified with Christ; I have accessed his heart and he lives within me (cf. Gal. 2:20). Thus, in my encounter with others, I mysteriously become Jesus for them, while I simultaneously encounter the divine in them.
The thesis of my theology of pastoral care, which is a theology of life in and of itself, is only understood by moving through it, and then returning to the beginning. It is circular; it is a rhythm—a poetry or dance if you will. It can only be understood as a process—like a lung breathing in air and then letting it out, or the waves crashing on the shore and then returning out to sea—experienced throughout one’s entire life, and culminating only in death. It assumes that the ideal—fully being united with God and with humanity—is not achievable in this life. Thus, there is a yearning, longing, and groping that is always present in the heart, which seeks satisfaction—seeks its home and final resting place—and is restless until it finds that home (cf. St. Augustine The Confessions). Herein lies the intensity or seriousness of who I am. I feel that longing in the depth of my soul, in the depth of my heart. Like a stallion blazing across the open field in search of a mate, my heart races with an intensity that provides the impetus for my very life—the search for love, the search for the divine, the search for the heart of others, the search for God.
Constitutive of my theology of life (or pastoral care) is that I must be in relationship (encounter, experience, commune) with the divine. My belief is that the fullest way for me to access the divine is by drawing close—giving of my total self, exposing and freely giving of my own heart, uniting my heart—to Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the second person of the Trinity. This implies then, that my theology of life must contain an element where I am seeking, praying, reflecting, contemplating, and worshipping God, both inwardly in the movement of my heart, and outwardly through divine sources. This encounter happens through the consumption and digestion of the Scriptures. These transform my thoughts, peel away the layers of barriers surrounding my heart, inspire me to move away from my imperfections and sinfulness, transform my motivation and intentions, and lead me to be more loving (both desiring to love, and acting in a loving way)—which is ultimately my being more freely open to share fully of myself with others.
This also implies then, that I must worship God in the fullest way that I understand to be possible on this earth: through consuming the Eucharist—the Body and Blood of Jesus instituted in the last supper on the eve of Passover, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and re-presented (made fully real as if for the first time) on the altar during Mass. My consumption of Jesus in the Eucharist is where I find unity with the divine, the potential for the fullness of life, and the path towards a transformation that allows me to fully love—to have Christ living in me. I am not being replaced in this consumption. I am being re-created or transformed. Being created by God I am a creature, and have been deemed good. Even so, I bear weaknesses, imperfections, and sinfulness, which are most probably associated with a fear of being loved and fully loving others. This is an inability to trust; this is a weakness of wanting to be strong and preserve myself, rather than risk vulnerability and intimacy. Jesus, whose endless cry to not be afraid—and whose very life was an example of this—removes (or allows me to let go of) the fear that restricts my ability to fully love. I die to that fear through the love and grace of Christ working in my whole being—mind, body and spirit in one unified person: Aaron. This is what happens when I consume the Eucharist. This is essential to my being fully what God has created me to be.
This encounter with the divine, an encounter with the heart of Christ—with love—is not experienced only on, or limited to, the level of spirituality or mysticism. It is something that I must (must indicating the level of importance to be equal) experience on a human level (i.e. the ability to fully love is vertical and horizontal, divine and human [exemplified/manifested in Jesus who was fully human and fully divine]). My own ability to love the divine is contingent on, impacted by, and expressed in, my ability to be loved by and to love humanity. This all implies then, that just as I must be in relationship with the divine, I must also be in relationship (commune, encounter, experience, love) with human beings: it is here where I encounter love, compassion, intimacy, trust, vulnerability in others, and where this is unlocked, integrated, and established in my own person (felt in my heart/soul, understood in my mind, and communicated through my body). This is seen as reaching in, gently and appropriately, into the very depths of another’s soul through my presence, my eyes, my words, my emotions—through my whole person—to touch the very heart of another, which contains his or her divinity (imprints of divine love, value, truth, compassion (imago dei [cf. Gen. 1:27])).
This is how the stage is set: life, then, is a play between the divine being and human beings, and between human beings themselves, in a complicated, confusing, mysterious and beautiful—simply unimaginable—exchange of love. The risk and tension of life—of loving—exists because I cannot—I simply and not able to—access fully the divine through Jesus Christ without being called to die to myself (those things that keep me from fully allowing my heart to be with God—fear, selfishness, sin, mistrust, etc. [cf. Luke 17:33]). In a similar fashion, I cannot fully love others without shedding those same things that keep me from truly loving the divine, but also coming in contact with these elements that keep the rest of humanity from fully being able to love. As I reach into the heart of humanity, I must encounter both the beautiful, loving, divine elements, but also those things which are less than perfect, less than loving, and less than divine in the other. And yet I cannot shed those things inside of me without loving the other. Thus, human beings (me!) must risk love so that they might be loved, and so that they might truly love. This is my call. This is holiness.
Life, and pastoral care, is much like the story of the disciples and Jesus on the sea in the midst of a terrible storm (cf Matt. 14: 24-33). Jesus stands on the water amidst the storm—with the waves of uncertainty, the fear of drowning, the despair of death, the lack of self-preservation—and asks Peter to trust in faith, and to walk out of the boat onto the water to meet him. Jesus is beckoning Peter to risk everything to encounter Jesus (who represents both the divine and the human elements of my theology) in an embrace of love. In my encounter with all people, and in pastoral care, I am both Jesus and Peter. I am being asked to walk closer to love, and I am reaching in, beckoning that others come out in the midst of the storm, with every risk in the universe present, to meet in a loving way so that both I, and the other, are pulled through this experience to a place of greater love, trust, faith, hope, understanding—abundance of life. There is always the risk of drowning, of being overtaken, of failing, of being overcome by fear and washed away by the storm. Yet it is a risk that I, and I would like to believe, all people must take to ascend to the heights of love—the full encounter with the divine and with the other, that represents truly being human.
And so I wrote this poem:
I Reached for Your Heart
Alone in this city I once sat and prayed. My heart was filled with fear; for this I wasn’t made. All great adventures have to have a start. And it was at this place where I reached for Your heart.
At your desk I stood and to you I didn’t exist. Maybe it was a memo that perhaps you just missed. I didn’t know what I was doing here, for this much was certainly clear. But what could I do, so I reached for your heart.
I’m not a Jew and with this I did not have a clue. Your pain was immense; my fear I know you could sense. I knelt by your side, though I really wanted to hide. The tear came down your cheek and I simply couldn’t speak. Did it feel like I reached for your heart?
Your son was so precious and not even three. He had been hurt by this world, was I seeing me? Can a mother really love if she cannot find peace? I wanted to hug you and never release. We’ve come from foreign worlds eternally apart. Amidst the difference I reached for your heart.
In circular arrangements how much we have grown. Seven stories colliding who could have ever known. We shared emotions, tears and stories, but not without the glory. Please believe me, please do—in my depths I know this to be true. From your love first I reached for your heart.
To not write these next lines would not be me. From our relationship I’ve experienced places I never thought I would see. One from the cross, one from the star: what we share is beautiful and painful—at the core it’s who we are. In a sea so red that only God could ever part, I am forever thankful that I reached for your heart.
The shaking was so devastating, just what could I do. But a muse gave me a tune that I decided to sing to you. I held your hand and energy began to flow. Your loneliness, pain and sadness I could never know. And as I shook with you, I just held on. But it was too much when I reached for your heart.
And so I wonder, I reflect and I think. Though many times we have been in a desert there has been just enough to drink. Your faces in my mind will remind me of a journey of its own kind. Though you might not see me for in distance we must part. When you feel that embrace it’s me, I reached for your heart.