To know, to love, and to serve

Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.

Day by Day, from Godspell

Where do you find your spiritual life? Are you seeking understanding and knowledge? Are you more into loving Spirit in all its manifestations? Or are you more of a “get it done, create something good in this world” kind of person?

It was during my first visit to the Abbey of Gethsemane, the great Trappist monastery near Louisville, KY, that I learned a way of understanding the Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross. I had gone to Gethsemane on a personal retreat during a turbulent time in my life and my visit had many highpoints – one of them being meeting the Guestmaster in charge of guiding lay retreatants like me, Fr. Matthew Kelty. I went to Gethsemane a few months after moving out the Zen Buddhist Temple that had been my home for over two years. I was seeking direction and inspiration in my life. While inspired by some Catholic writers, I had been born Methodist and had a healthy curiosity about all things Catholic.

It was during a short conversation with Fr Matthew that he shared his favorite way of thinking about making the sign of the cross. “We touch the head, saying ‘may I know you,’ touch the heart saying ‘may I love you,’ and touch the arms saying ‘may I serve you,’” he explained. Immediately, this Catholic ritual which had only been a mystery to me made sense. Yes, of course, I want to know Spirit, to love Spirit and to serve Spirit. What I have come to appreciate in the years since my visit is that many traditions, if not all, also distinguish between knowledge, love (or devotion), and service as paths to Spirit.

On a pilgrimage to Buddhist temples in South Korea in 1990, I met Buddhist monks who were committed to each of these three paths. (Interestingly, though Buddhism is non-theistic religion, there is a strong tradition of devotional practice.) I was traveling as a Zen Buddhist and that put me strongly in the “knowledge” group: those who seek knowledge of Spirit through experience. But even for Zen monks, the day began (at around 3:00am) with devotional chanting practice and prostrations. I met lots of Zen monks during my travels, but also Buddhist monks whose practice focused on devotional practice, usually chanting, and some whose daily practice was doing 1000 prostrations. Others “served the dharma” by helping to run the large temples.

What’s your spiritual path? Do you seek intimate knowledge of Spirit, perhaps to become one with Spirit? Is your relationship more a heart-centered experience of love and devotion? Do you seek to love Spirit in all its manifestations? Or do you most enjoy serving Spirit through getting things done in the world, here and now? If you are interested in dialoguing, I’d love to hear from you. You may write me directly at bill@integralawakenings.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s to your ongoing awakening!


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