Non-Dual Thought and Life: Love does not Condemn

More on Non-Dualism

Non-dual thinking is a way of seeing the world through the experiential knowledge imparted upon us by the presence of great love and great suffering in our lives.

I know at least one person who sees the world in a non-dual way. Her name is Jennifer Haines, and she has been a part of the Catholic Worker community in Denver for about 30 years. As Jennifer would say it, she came about her life and her life’s work “by accident.” In the 80’s she felt called to Denver to protest the nuclear weapon production at the Rocky Flats nuclear plant outside of Arvada. While she was there, she became a member of the Catholic Worker community and apart from her time spent in and out of prison, has found her calling to be the spiritual center of the community ever since.

Jennifer was raised as a Quaker, but has now taken vows of celibacy, chastity, and poverty as a lay-catholic contemplative. During the 80’s, Jennifer was arrested several times for trespassing on the Rocky Flats grounds. Each day, during this time in her life Jennifer went to Rocky Flats to pray. Certain times, Jennifer deliberately chose to walk past the gates where she knew that arrest would await her. What I find most compelling about her story is the way that she describes her prayer from those days. I certainly expected that the content of Jennifer’s prayer was aimed at the closure of the plant and the disassembly of the American military machine.

But, as Jennifer recalls, her prayer was about the manifestation of peace on earth. She says that she prayed for the workers and their families. She prayed that they might deeply know the peace, and joy, and love of God, and she says that she never felt God’s presence more closely than when she crossed the boundaries, and entered into the facility praying for all of those that were working there.

Recently, during our liturgy on a Thursday night, one of our community members was fresh off of a conflict with police that saw several of our friends arrested for occupying vacant land in Five Points. The New Testament reading from the day happened to be from a section in Romans 8, where Paul begins with the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Our friend reflected, “Who can be against us? A bunch of people! Seems like the whole world can be against us.”

An appropriate silence fell over the room, and like an old sage, Jennifer gently responded, “No hardships, distress, persecution, lack of food and clothing, or threats of violence can cut us off from the love of God. And what is more… that love enables us to love our oppressors, even when they can’t stand us.”

Non-dual thinking is a way of seeing the world through the experiential knowledge imparted upon us by the presence of great love and great suffering in our lives.

Another brief image of non-dual consciousness… I went to see the movie, “He named me Malala” this week. The story of the Pakistani teenage girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking up about equality and women’s education in her country and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her fight for equality.

In an interview, Malala… who is currently 18 years old… is asked if she feels angry and desires revenge towards the man who shot her. She replies, “I’ve never felt angry. [My tradition] teaches me humility, compassion, forgiveness… It doesn’t matter [what happens to me.]”

Non-dual thinking is a way of seeing the world through the experiential knowledge imparted upon us by the presence of great love and great suffering in our lives.

As a way of seeing the world, non-dual thought envisions love in places where a dualistic mind-set makes it impossible to recognize the love that is present there.

Today we turn our attention to another story where it appears that love is absent, but we will rely upon our non-dual consciousness to recognize the love that is abundantly present.

What a Great Burden of Guilt We Have!

Genesis 4: 1-16

The Cain and Able story is one of the timeless tales of our great text because it is so much the story of each of our lives.

I’m currently right in the thick of reading the greatest commentary ever written on this story, John Steinbeck’s classic American novel, “East of Eden.” Throughout the epic novel, Steinbeck weaves his character’s lives in and out of this Cain and Able motif. Over time, the reader comes to see that each and every character seems to be reliving this old story. But what is it about this narrative that we can’t quite seem to shake as human beings?

At one point in the book, in a move of sheer literary brilliance, Steinbeck actually has three of his prominent characters read the Cain and Able story together and then begin to provide commentary on the story that is in reality the story of their own lives.

Early on in their commentary, the three characters astutely point out that God does not condemn Cain in this story. The text, which was written by a shepherd people, simply suggests that God might have preferred Able’s offering of lamb, to Cain’s offering of vegetables. It does not say that God despised Cain’s offering… even less so, does the text say that God despised Cain on account of Cain’s offering.

One of the characters in Steinbeck’s book poses the question, “Wouldn’t the god of shepherds find a fat lamb more valuable than a sheaf of barley?”

So maybe God was a lamb guy…. Can’t blame God for that. I spent five years of my life as a committed vegetarian, and I’m still on the vegetated spectrum for ethical, and health and financial reasons… but lets be honest with ourselves… we’d all prefer the fattened lamb to a dinner plate of asparagus. Couldn’t God just be a lamb guy?

God does not condemn Cain in this story. The text might suggest that God did not “regard Cain’s offering…” But it does not say that God despised Cain’s offering… even less so, does the text say that God despised Cain on account of Cain’s offering.

But Cain… poor Cain… he can’t bear what feels to him like rejection. He storms off in shame… in embarrassment… he withdraws… and his withdrawal turns to anger in the presence of his brother and he lashes out at the one who is closest to him.

Afterwards, God summons Cain, and when Cain is afraid that God is going to end his life out of punishment for his act of violence, God acts to preserve Cain’s life instead… Out of love, God acts to preserve Cain’s life. But Cain is still so broken up, and shattered by the shame he feels at his imperfection… that he goes out of the presence of the Lord and lives his life in the land east of Eden.

One of Steinbeck’s characters nails what is so universal about this story towards the end of their discussion when he says, “I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul… The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind… Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

Well there, you have it, that’s why Steinbeck weaves the Cain and Able motif into the life of every character in this book, which, after a forty-year career spent churning out the stories that made him the greatest American writer he called his “first book.”

The Cain and Able story is everybody’s story… it’s the cycle of rejection, anger, crime, and guilt that is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul.

What I want to direct our attention towards today is the sense of pain, and helplessness, and also Great Love that lies between the lines of this story and goes unvoiced in the Hebrew writer’s archaic method of storytelling.

The Hebrew writer doesn’t tell us what Cain feels, or what God feels as the story develops. Because I have been in Cain’s shoes, because I have been Cain… The cycle of anger, rejection, crime, guilt, and withdrawal is my cycle… I can tell you what Cain feels in this story.

Cain is overly attached to the work that he offers, and he feels shut-down when his brother’s work is celebrated over his own. The insecurities that he has about himself and his form of life become consuming when his offering is not “regarded.” In an act of complete vulnerability, Cain places his imperfections right out there in the open… and ultimately, when he does so, he is forced to realize that he can’t really make space in himself for his own imperfections yet. He’s in the beginning stages of his development, you see. He doesn’t have the strength for integrative wholeness just yet. His imperfection makes him sick. He’s disgusted with himself… and it causes him to behave out of body and he lashes out at the one closest to him, which drives him further into his deep shame and guilt. Ultimately, he can’t stand the thought of himself… much less the thought of being seen as he is any longer… because he associates all of this with putting himself out there, and offering what he has… he decides he wants nothing to do with that anymore and withdraws completely… he goes “away from the presence of the Lord,” the text says, “and settles in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

Poor Cain… the hell of the rejection that he lives in is his own rejection of himself.

I haven’t been God… so I can’t tell you exactly what God feels as this scene unfolds. But I sense that Great Love lies between the lines in this story because I have been in the presence of people who know God intimately, and see the world through the kind of non-dual consciousness that great love and great suffering produce.

I remember my Ignatian spiritual director, once teaching me to pray, “O God, may I open myself to receive all of the gifts that you desire to give to me.”

I remember my friend, Brother Emmanuel, from the Taize Community, saying, “God wants us to be happy.”

I remember Jennifer praying that those working to create weapons of destruction would come to know the peace, joy, and love of God, and that they would be able to share deeply in that love with their families.

I remember Malala… and the family members of victims from last spring’s Charleston shooting… offering forgiveness to the shooters.

I can’t tell you exactly what God feels between the lines in the dialogue that is left out of this story… But I can tell you, that this particular story, and the whole ark of the story of our faith from creation to reconciliation bears witness to the reality that Love… True Love… Great Love… does not condemn.

God does not condemn Cain… and God does not condemn us either. The guilt, shame, and rejection that we feel is our own rejection of ourselves, but Great Love awaits us.

God doesn’t want us hiding in the land east of Eden. God desires that we would accept ourselves… every bit of ourselves… exactly as we are… and dwell fully in the life of the Beloved Community that is here for us now.

Non-dual thought envisions love in places where a dualistic mind makes it impossible to recognize the love that is present there.

O God, may we open ourselves to receive all of the gifts that you desire to give to us. Amen.

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