“I know what it is to get angry, and I know the pleasure of being praised. I am often on the verge of tears or laughter. But beneath all these emotions, what else is there? How can I touch it? If there isn’t anything, why would I be so certain that there is?”
I sat one morning in meditation listening to those words spoken by Benedict Cumberbatch in a sound clip from the movie Walk with Me about the life of Thich Nhat Hanh. Here’s a link you can click to listen to the words too: Meditation
The verses absorbed me. They touched my soul. They resonated like the sound of a wind chime vibrating within my heart. A gentle breeze stirred in my belly, flowing up through my lungs, rising in my throat, and into my brain. Then someone or something circling above my head exhaled love like an invisible puff of incense streaming through my body all the way to my feet.
I was certain this experience was real because it touched me physically on the inside, brailing these words without sound upon my heart: “You are my Beloved upon whom my favor rests.”
My eyes filled with tears of joy. In that moment, I felt God’s garment swaddling me in Unconditional Love. I was coming home—returning to that inner place where the Divine Spirit and I dwell as One.
God’s Primal Love—The First Love
Henri Nouwen says we are touched by “primal love” when we become aware of the Creator’s Divine Presence. Primal love is much like the first love we experienced when our mothers and fathers cradled us in their arms at the moment of our birth. It’s the sound of our parents’ lullabies rocking us to sleep. It’s the “you don’t need to work for my love—I love you here and now, just as you are.”
Nouwen says primal love is the unconditional love of the God who created us, who is as close to us as our breath—the Holy Spirit flowing in and through us. And as we become aware of this moment-by-moment experience of Presence, we come to know Divine Love’s inner touch. The Spirit’s gentle guiding hands become like the fingers of a father and mother pointing us home to our hearts where God dwells. There, we hear the silent voice of the Infinite.
I write about this God often. But, how can something as intimate as a relationship with Divine Love really become mine when I haven’t fully accepted it from within?
Like Nouwen admits in his book, Home Tonight, I too often resist God’s primal love. Intellectually I know this “first love” comes from the ultimate life-force we call God, who has loved me unconditionally before others knew or loved me. I know this primal love is an Everlasting Love. It never has nor will it ever abandon me. And I know we all are the children of God, forever loved by and through our personal relationship with the One who forms us with Eternal Love.
Yet I still doubt.
Human Love—The Second Love
I mistakenly expect the human love of parents, siblings, and friends to provide me with what only the first love can. I expect I’ll be affirmed, loved, and encouraged by those closest to me. And, at times, we do love each other unconditionally. But being perfectly human, we fail each other.
And so, I have suffered because of these misplaced expectations. I have projected limited human love onto God’s limitless primal love.
I then become the prodigal son. I run from the indwelling presence of God who silently whispers, “I will never abandon you. I am not a work-for-my-love God. You and everyone I have created with my love is safe within me. Come home. Return to that place inside of you where my Everlasting Love abides.”
The Twin Seeds of Trust and Gratitude
Nouwen says returning to our spiritual home is not something we do on our own. It requires the powerful grace of God—the inner work of the Spirit.
We can however, create a garden space in our hearts for the Holy Spirit to lead us home by planting the twin seeds of trusting God’s unconditional love and nurturing an attitude of gratitude.
I trust God is real not because I understand the immensity of the Creator’s Unexplainable and Extravagant Love, but rather because I have experienced that love. And others tell me they have too.
The Creator’s primal love touches us in ordinary moments that become extraordinary. Gratitude is the grace that fills our heart when we experience the love of spouses, children, grandchildren, and friends, knowing they are the reflection of the first love.
I want to come home. I want to let Divine Love hold me, guide me, and give me the grace to return each time I wander from Holy Presence.
“Come home,” is the cry of my heart. May it be your heart’s call too.
—brian j plachta