PRAYER: Love—A “Yes” To Belonging (Part Five) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

An Approach to Life in Fullness

Love—A “Yes” To Belonging (Part Five) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer


Peace is the fruit of love.  The “yes” to our belonging to God’s great household is the seed from which peace unfolds.  D. H. Lawrence suggests this in a poem which he entitled “PAX,” the Latin word for “peace.”  There is a close link between the Roman concept of pax and pietas.  This poem hinges on the link between the two.

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
To be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world,
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

When we read this poem aloud, it has the power of an incantation.  Its repetitions seem to put us under a spell – not a spell that binds us, but a freeing spell.  “At one… at peace, in peace and at one… at home, at home… at home.”  This incantation makes us relax.  It makes us settle down into “a deep calm in the heart.”  It is like a homecoming to “the house of life,” to “the house of the living,” to “the house of the God of life,” where we belong, where we are truly at home.  In all their calm, these lines are alive with dynamic power.  They have fire in them.  Even the yawning of the cat is a “yawning before the fire.”  The yawning of any self-respecting cat is part of a whole ritual of stretching and arching that is full of vitality.  When we yawn not with boredom or fatigue but with “a deep calm in the heart,” it is a “yawning before the fire of life.”  “Life” is a key word in this poem.  Five times “life” and “living” are repeated.  The calm of true peace is not a dead silence but the live stillness of a bright burning flame.

“All that matters,” absolutely all, “is to be at one with the living God.”  And “the God of life” is present in “the house of life” as “the fire of life.”  (Placed at the beginning, middle, and end of the poem, these three phrases are given prominence.)  Fire is often an image of love.  But here it is not the raging and consuming fire of passion.  It is the calm, life-giving fire on the hearth that makes everyone in the house feel welcome and at home.  How are we, then, “to be at one with the living God,” if this is all that matters?  By allowing that hearth fire to warm us to the bone; by letting that warmth make us feel at home; by simply being “at home, at home in the house of the living.”  There is no split between Heaven and Earth in a world warmed by love.  The house of life “is” the house of the God of life.

God’s presence in the Earth Household is

a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

The image of the pater familias gives meaning to these lines and protects them at the same time from a pantheistic misunderstanding.  The world is no more one with God than the household is one “with the master of the house, with the mistress.”  No more, but no less either.  It is not a matter of being one, but “at one,” through that love which only the notion of pietas can begin to convey.  Yet, what reverence it inspires to be aware of this at-one-ness.  If we think of the Earth House Hold as our Heavenly Father’s “own and greater being,” this will make us look at every pebble, every burr, every wood louse with reverence – and act accordingly.  It will cause love to take its likes and dislikes as lightly as true faith takes its beliefs and true hope its hopes.  After all, what difference should likes and dislikes make when “all that matters is to be at one with the living God”?  Those we like and those we dislike are equally “at home in the house of the living.”  We all belong together.  We can all live together in peace, as soon as we follow our deepest longing and come home to our heart.

Here, once more, we touch upon the mystery of the heart.  The heart is home.  “It all depends on what you mean by home.”  And one of the characters in Robert Frost’s “Death of a Hired Man” answers:

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.

The other one replies:

I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.

On both counts the heart is home.  In both senses, the heart is where we belong.  We belong there as to our proper place, no matter how estranged we have become.  And when we are there we belong, because what makes home home is that each belongs to all and all to each.

“Home is where one starts from,” says T. S. Eliot.  And this is one way of saying that love is not only the end, but the beginning of all.  What we find, when we find our heart (and remember, gratefulness is the key), is God’s own life within us.  It has been going on from “before always,” as C. S. Lewis likes to put it.  Faith, Hope, and Love are ways in which we explore the life of the Triune God.  In Faith we live by every word in which the eternal Word is spelled out in nature and history.  In Hope, we let ourselves down into the Silence of the Father, from where the Word comes forth and to where it comes home.  In Love we begin to understand, in the Spirit of God’s self-understanding, that Word and Silence belong together in action.  We come to understand that Belonging is a name of the Triune God.  Our heart is rooted in that ultimate belonging.  We do not have to earn this, nor do we have to deserve it.  It is gratis – pure grace, pure gift.  We need only enter into this fullness through gratefulness.

But this gratefulness itself is simply one way of experiencing the life of the Triune God within us.  This life springs forth from the Father, the fountain and wellspring of divinity, the ultimate Giver.  The total self-gift of the Father is the Son.  The Son receives everything from the Father and becomes the turning point in this divine tide of giving.  For in the Holy Spirit the Son returns the Father’s ultimate giving as ultimate thanksgiving.  The Triune God is Giver, Gift, and Thanksgiving.  This movement from the Father through the Son in the Spirit back to its Source is what Saint Gregory of Nyssa called “the Round Dance of the Blessed Trinity.”  This is how God prays: by dancing.  It is one great celebration of belonging by giving and thanksgiving.  We can begin to join that dance in our heart right now through gratefulness.  What else could be called life in fullness?

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