Chapter 2, pp. 24-30
From romantic movies, songs and novels to statements of aspiration or sermons, the word “love” is almost commonplace in our lives. It is hard to strip it from all the connotations that immediately jump to mind. Yet to begin to grasp the meaning of God’s perfect love that St. Silouan writes about, we must abandon all knowledge of past usage and start with a blank slate.
The chapter starts, not with definitions or theological arguments, but with lyrical expressions of the state of the soul that are reminiscent of the language of the psalms.
His opening lines talk of the unending craving for God’s love:
My soul thirsts for the living God. Time and again my soul seeks fulness of delight in the Lord
My soul yearns for the Lord and I seek Him in tears.
He follows with the mourning for Go’s love lost and the darkening of one’s soul:
…But now my souls is overspread with melancholy, and I am unable to lift an undistracted mind to God, and I have no tears wherewith to bewail mu evil deeds: my soul is withered away and spent with the night of this life.
O who shall sing me the song that I have loved since the days of my youth—the sing of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven…
He then focuses on the meaning and experience of the fulness of perfect love.
He admits that it is not easy to understand or describe it. For most of us who have heard and used the term repeatedly all our lives, it may be difficult to accept that we really do not understand this concept. Yet St. Silouan maintains that “no man of himself can know what is God’s love, unless he be taught by the Holy Spirit…” Hence, to even begin to understand, we must go to Him with complete humility “like little children—lowly and meek.”
Love is not a static state. It differs with the individual and his/her state of readiness and spiritual advancement and entails growth. As in the case of knowledge, Silouan speaks of a continuum of love with each level higher than the previous one. The love of those who:
- Fear of sin
- Have a tender heart
- Have a heart that dwells in joy
- Experience grace in body and soul—perfect love
Perfect love is not an addition to other noble attributes or something that we engage in at certain times, perhaps when we don’t feel stressed out, exhausted or absorbed by our work. It is a constant and all-consuming state of the soul.
“The soul that is fillest with love for God,” Silouan tells us, “is forgetful of both heaven and earth…” Even good thoughts or deeds are superseded by the love of God. No other thought can exist within us, no inner struggles or conflicts can derail us any longer.
...and the soul sheds many sweet tears and is unable to forget the Lord for a single second, for the grace of God gives strength to love the Beloved.
Perfect love purifies us and excises all passions, such as fear:
The sinful soul which does not know the Lord fears death, thinking that the Lord will not forgive her, her sins.
Perfect love is not simply a private and closed relationship between a person and his God. On the contrary, freed from worldly passions, we see the world and fellow men through new eyes. As soon as St. Silouan was able to experience the love of God, he suddenly looked at others as he had never looked at them before and his heart was filled with empathy and care for them.
By the grace of God I have experienced what the love of God is and what it is to love my neighbor; and day and night I pray the Lord for love, and the Lord gives me tears to week for the whole world. But if I find fault with any man or look on him with an unkind eye my tears dry up and my soul sinks into despondency.
God’s perfect love opens the world wide-open. Because we are not separated from it through fear, jealousy, hatred, desire to impressed or manipulate, we can embrace it and be one with it through love.
The Lord bestows such grace in His chosen that they embrace the whole earth, the whole world, with their love, and their souls burn with longing that all men should be saved and behold the glory of the Lord.
Instead of separation and alienation we feel that “If the Lord is ours, then all things are ours. That is how rich we are.”
Our happiness does not depend on prioritizing our needs over those of others, fighting for “me” time or “pampering ourselves.” This is why, ever since God gave him the Holy Spirit and through it the knowledge of God’s love, he grieved over “God’s people.”
Blessed is the soul that loves her brother, for our brother is our life.
And my soul weeps for the whole world