We can now give an outline of the disciplines of communion.
The first thing, before love is even mentioned, is humility, and what humility becomes when it is exercised towards another person, that is, respect. Respect rejects all self-interested curiosity, all possession of souls. Some people undergo a strict regime of self-denial to free themselves from carnal desire, only to fall prey to a more exquisite desire, that for souls. This must be identified and overcome, especially if there is any pretension to spiritual fatherhood.
This art and science is essentially the inspiring of the other person, bringing them to birth, without either entrapping them or attaching them to oneself. Respecting the other as an equal rules out all fusion, all promiscuity, in short, all sexual involvement, of the sort we see in the political or religious preacher whipping up the emotion of the crowd as if he owned it, or in the amorous tendencies of the licensed guru.
While irony may be wounding and should be avoided, humor is often necessary for self-deflation. Respect is born of humility, it is the chastity of the whole being. St Isaac the Syrian says, ‘When praying to God, imagine you are an ant crawling on the earth… Approach God as if you were a little child. Elsewhere he says it is necessary ‘to become as if you were completely unknown, even to your own soul’. It is then that I understand that I am owed nothing, that everything is freely given.
Fallen human beings are always expecting everything from others and turning them into scapegoats. At the moment of the fall, Adam, far from repenting, accuses his wife, ‘The woman gave me fruit of the tree …’. In effect he accuses God himself,’… the woman whom thou gavest to be with me’ (Genesis 3.12).
Only if I come to terms with my condition as a creature, my humble place in the order of being, shall I understand that I am owed nothing, since I have been given everything. God gives me existence, and existence is grace. God gives me the world and other people, and when the world allows me a glimpse of its beauty, and when another person allows me a glimpse of his face, my heart swells with gratitude; all is grace. We say exactly the same in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. If we understand that everything is the gift of God, then all debts are forgiven, and our respect is turned into wonderment.
Spiritual attentiveness, when directed towards someone else, becomes actual astonishment, awakened consciousness, revelation. We experience an intense amazement that other people exist in the warmth of God’s light.
Think of the peaceful but heartrending, almost intolerable love that we feel when we see a child asleep. How can such beauty exist? How, through the flesh of a man and a woman, could God create this beauty that is neither fleshly nor spiritual, but total, a beauty beyond the reach of any ill-will; that is capable of utter self-abandon, for the child sleeps as only the saints know how to pray.
Later, in adolescence, in adulthood, the beauty will disintegrate; heaven and earth will come into conflict. It will be a long struggle to reconcile them. But now, all is given; we see a true face of eternity flowering gently on the darkness, like a water-lily on the water. Perhaps one day the grown-up will be reunited with this first face. Just after a person’s death, God often gives him back the face he had as a child, asleep. When we have learnt to die to self in order to be reborn in Christ, we too recover that face; children and wild beasts come up to us. But then our eyes are open.
~Olivier Clement, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology