Knowing as we are Known

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To whom shall I compare the people of this age? Who are they like? they are like children in the market place. They sit and yell at each other. They say, “We piped for you and you didn’t dance! We wailed in lament, and you didn’t weep.! John the Baptist has come neither eating bread nor drinking wine and you say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look! A glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax-agents and sinners!” But wisdom is justified by all her children.

Luke 7: 31-5

When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am an adult, all childish ways are put behind me. Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror, but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.

1 Cor. 13: 11-12

Both of today’s readings speak of the difference between the knowledge of the child and the wisdom or love of the “adult”. In the gospel Jesus describes the childish mode by which “the people of this age” make judgments of others. They look and judge both John and Jesus in light of their demands and expectations. They can’t learn from either of them, because they already know and have judged what they see. As the Buddha would say, they judge what they see out of their own cravings and aversions. “When I pipe for you, you must dance; when I wail, you must weep.” In other words, I’ll approve of you when you ratify what I already know, believe, and desire. What this perspective cannot do is to receive who the other actually is and, with a presence to the other that respects its mysterious otherness, allow itself to be formed and changed by the encounter. To live more fully from one’s capacity to learn and be formed by the world’s inner truth is a manifestation of growth in wisdom.

This deeper mode of transcendent and receptive presence to the world is what we sometimes call “seeing with the eyes of love.” St. Paul says that the spiritually immature see the other as “a dim reflection in a mirror,” but that as we grow in wisdom we come to know “as fully as [we are] known.” The mystical tradition speaks of seeing “with the eye with which God sees us.” The eye “of the ego” is an eye that sees the other in light of its own needs, demands, and expectations: its own cravings and aversions. But the “eye” if love, of the spirit, is the eye that sees, and so loves, the other in what does not conform to its prejudices and biases. It is to love (and so really know)the other as (s)he is, in the way that God knows and loves us. Love, as it is used in the Christian scriptures, is love of the other as they are, which means in their foreignness to us, in those times when they fail to meet our expectations. As Soren Kierkegaard so succinctly puts it: “The task is not to find the lovable object, but to find the object before you lovable.”

To love another in spite of his weaknesses and errors and imperfections is not perfect love. No, to love is to find him lovable in spite of and together with his weakness and errors and imperfections. . . . It is a sad upside-downness, altogether too common, to talk on and on about how the object of love should be before it can be loved. The task is not to find the lovable object, but to find the object before you lovable — whether given or chosen — and to be able to continue finding this one lovable, no matter how that person changes. To love is to love the person one sees. As the apostle John reminds us: “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

We foolish people often think that when a person has changed for the worse we are exempted from loving him. What a confusion in language: to be exempt from loving. As if it were a matter of compulsion, a burden one wished to cast away! If this is how you see the person, then you really do not see him; you merely see unworthiness, imperfection, and admit thereby that when you loved him you did not really see him but saw only his excellence and perfections. True love is a matter of loving the very person you see. The emphasis is not on loving the perfections, but on loving the person you see, no matter what perfections or imperfections that person might possess.

Christianity teaches us that the perfect person is the one who limitlessly loves the person he sees. We humans always look upward for the perfect object, but in Christ love looks down to earth and loves the person it sees. If then, you wish to become perfect in love, strive to love the person you see, just as you see him, with all his imperfections and weaknesses. Love him as you see him when he is utterly changed, when he no longer loves you, when he perhaps turns indifferently away or turns to love someone else. Love him as you see him when he betrays and denies you. Love the person you see and see the person you love.

Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love

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