Love Your Enemy: From Theory to Practice

posted Sep 24, 2012, 9:12 AM by Interfaith WS

        For thirty-five years, Cathy worked as a legal secretary. Due to retire, she planned to spend leisure time in biblical studies and church work. Cathy came to my workshop called “Human Relationships and the Spiritual Way” to learn how she could reconcile the faults of “sinners” (“when I know they are wrong”) with the Christian precept “love your enemy.”

        “I’m a Christian,” she began. “I live it every day of my life. But the one injunction to love over enemies has always struck me as impractical for our day and age. Look at the world around us. Violence, drugs, and corruption are everywhere. How can you love people who live like that? I think the teaching applied to a period of time that was different from ours. Do you agree that now it is impractical and impossible?”

        Darshani:  No. I don’t agree. Not only is it possible today; it is imperative for our survival.

        The path of life has two roads. One is secular; the other is spiritual. The secular road is ego-centered; the spiritual one is Christ-centered. You have to decide which road to take.

        C.  I have made my decision. Long ago, in fact.

        D.  Let’s see. Let’s take a look at your friends. Who are they?

        C.  God-fearing Christians, good people who live by the Commandments.

        D.  Good. What do you get out of their friendship?

        C.  A lot of support. They give me solace and comfort when things go wrong, and they prop me up when I’m down. They’re pillars to lean on, shoulders to cry on.

        D.  Now I’m going to ask you to stand back from Cathy. Take an objective look at what Cathy just said. When someone deflates her ego, her friends prop it up again. Correct?

        C.  Yes.

        D.  Do you see, then, that the people Cathy calls friends are those who support her ego structure?

        C.  Sure. What’s wrong with that?

        D.  Nothing at all if you are not on the spiritual path. Everything is wrong with it if you are. What stands between us and God? Between our present state of consciousness and Christ-consciousness? Ego.

        Listen to these words from the Imitation of Christ in a chapter called “Peace is not to be placed in men”:  “Thou oughtest to be so dead towards persons beloved as to wish, as far as thou art concerned, to be altogether without any human fellowship. So much the nearer doth man approach to God as he withdraweth himself the farther from all earthly consolation.” Earthly consolation thickens the crust of our ego, the greater our distance from God.

        Let’s take a look at Cathy’s so-called enemies. Who are they?

        C.  Women and men who lie about me. To my face, they’re sweet. Behind my back, they run me down. People who have cheated me, disrespected me, and even humiliated me in front of others.

        D.  Okay. Now tell us this: do you believe that the Lord is omnipresent?

        C.  Of course.

        D.  What does that mean to you?

        C.  That he is everywhere.

        D.  Is he also in the people who vilify you?

        C.  Sure. He must be. But they don’t recognize him.

        D.  That’s their problem, not yours. They will carry their garbage to their graves. You don’t need to cart their garbage to yours.

        C.  I don’t know what you mean.

        D.  Christ said that when someone slaps your cheek, you should turn the other one too. He did not say, “When someone slaps your cheek, go get your friends to pat it.”

        Christian literature makes the point clear: When people vilify, cheat, slap, humiliate, frustrate, and lie about us, our task as true Christians is not to observe the law of tooth for tooth and eye for eye.

        C.  But I don’t do anything to them in return.

        D.  Yes, you do. Harboring negative feelings towards people is an action. Calling someone an enemy is an action. Returning hate for hate, in heart and mind, is an action. Resisting evil is not the Christ-centered path. It is the way of the ego.

        C.  What should a Christian do?

        D.  Sit quietly and send them a gust of loving wishes for their peace, good health, and long life.

        C.  But how will that change them?

        D.  Changing them isn’t our homework. Changing ourselves is. But what a surprise! When we return good for evil, evil changes.

        C.  But, to love people who are disrespectful, who cheat, lie, hate, rape – that’s asking the impossible.

        D.  Then Christianity is impossible. Any Tom, Dick, and Harry can love people who are good, honest, and easy to get along with. That is not the Christian challenge.

        Some years ago, I went to a large discount shop in New York with an elderly Methodist gentleman. The store was busy, and the salesgirl who waited on us was very rude. Her disrespect and impertinence irritated me, and I wanted to report her. My friend smiled at her and restrained me. Later that day, I asked him what his goal in life was. His answer shamed me: “To be a channel of healing and love for all those who hurt me.” John is a true Christian.

        C.  How did he reach that state?

        D.  Through steady practices in self-transformation.

        C.  I would like to try a few simple disciplines, especially to create real Christian love.

        D.  The key to transformation lies in the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving your Self is prior to loving a neighbor. We cannot put on a garment of love and make it work. Love is a noun, not a verb. Love is what we are, not what we do.

        C.  What does it really mean “to love yourself?”

        D.  Your Self is the ground and core of your being – God.  It is your spiritual heart, and love is its nature. It is in you – yet it is more correct to say that you are in it. It is your center and the center of everything in the universe from an atom to the solar system.

        C.  Why isn’t it more apparent?

        D.  When dross covers a light bulb in your bedroom lamp, your room will be dim. Remove the dross and you have light.

        C.  How do I get to that point?

        D.  Through the process of purifying your body, mind, and heart. I will share with you seven simple practices that can help. First you can purify your body through postures given in books on Christian yoga. Second, you can purify your mind with the powerful Jesus mantra that brought so many Christians to spiritual perfection: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” You will get all the guidance you need for this practice from The Way of a Pilgrim, a little book written in the nineteenth century by an unknown Russian seeker (published by Image books). This spiritual guide shows how the Jesus mantra brought the pilgrim to enlightenment.

        C.  What gives the mantra so much power?

        D.  A mantra is the sound body of God. As you call the name, you deepen your inner contact with the state of consciousness it represents. Also, our minds tend to wander like drunken monkeys. This restlessness prevents the light of God from shining through us. A mantra puts a check on that. It keeps our minds focused on God. You can say that a mantra acts like a spiritual subway strap.

        Third, read the lives of Christian saints for inspiration, especially St. Therese of Lisieux. Before the end of her short life, Therese said that the harsh treatment by her superior did much for her spiritual progress. The reason is that our acceptance of pain, mental and physical, brings us to much higher levels of consciousness than pleasure ever can.

        Fourth, whenever you see your mind resenting or hating, try to catch it in the act and look at it as though it were a third person. You might say to yourself, “There goes Cathy again. Like a pendulum, her mind is swinging nonstop between the fear of pain and the desire for pleasure. But “I” – the Self – am beyond both pleasure and pain, beyond the pendulum, and beyond Cathy.”

        Fifth, when you see or think of your so-called friends or enemies, mentally superimpose the face of Jesus on theirs. Try to perceive Jesus smiling or frowning at you, praising or rebuking, inflating or deflating your ego. That steady practice will take the edge off your value judgments.

        Sixth, for a few minutes every morning and evening sit quietly in a comfortable chair. Reflect deeply on one line from the prayer of St. Francis: “Where there is hatred, Lord, let me sow love.”

        C.  How will this help me?

        D.  What you meditate on, you become. This happens because the mind, which is subtle matter, actually takes the form of the object that it concentrates on. When it thinks of God or love, it becomes very fine and subtle because God and love are formless.

        Last, consider the fact that you cannot press into permanence anything, not a state of health or an attitude of mind – yours or anybody else’s.  A friend today can be an enemy tomorrow; an enemy today can be your friend tomorrow. To become a true Christian, one should not use the terms “friend” or “enemy.” The truth is that no one is either.