This article was also published earlier as a guest post for Fr. Stephen Freeman on his blog Glory to God for All Things.
St. Augustine said, “Love and do what you will.” This statement describes a way of being that offers us both freedom and joy. We are to love and be transformed by love. We are not able to love fully without the strenuous work and pain of allowing God to heal our fallen and wounded hearts. But as we grow in our capacity to love, learning to love as God loves, our desires begin to naturally align themselves with God’s will. We will no longer need to seek guidance from exterior rules of behavior. We will no longer need our elaborate lists of what is a sin or what is not a sin under various circumstances, because the law will be written on our hearts. (Jer. 31:33, Ps. 40:8, Heb. 10:16) This process in our lives parallels the shift from the Old Testament law, which prescribed godly conduct to Israel in great detail, to the New Testament commandments of grace: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matt 22: 37-40)
In a one-storey view of the universe, God is not separated from our daily lives, as if He lives upstairs and we live downstairs, so that we can visit the upper floor once a week or whenever the mood strikes us. Instead, every aspect of our lives is shot through with grace. We are no longer alone in the basement wondering what is going on upstairs, but we are being transformed by Christ’s presence from moment to moment. He is very close, within our own hearts.
Living in a one-storey universe does not mean, however, that God is simply extending his rule-book to prescribe the right and wrong choice in every action we take during the day. It does not mean that God is standing over my shoulder waiting to see if I will misstep in eating one bite too much at breakfast, dallying one moment too long over my e-mail, or saying the wrong thing to my child as I tuck him into bed. Love and do what you will. The one-storey universe means, rather, that we have been freed from the path of fear, freed from wondering about every trivial decision in our lives. Would God approve more of me eating all my cereal or of leaving some in my bowl and feeling a little hungry? Eat the cereal with gratitude to God and love in your heart, and it does not matter how many bites you take. Fasting and ascetic labors are a means to an end, an exercise to strengthen our will when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matt 26:41). We should not fret over them to the extent that we become distracted from the greater spiritual work of cultivating gratitude and love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Often, our temptation is to live our lives in our heads rather than in our hearts. We agonize over finding the correct path. What career does God want me to take on? How many children does God want me to have? What car does God want me to drive? Love God and your neighbor and pursue whatever career path you wish. Love whatever number of children you have and raise them as best you can. Drive whatever car suits your needs and finances, but drive it with love, gratitude, and consideration for the other people on the road. The good news of the one-storey universe is not that God has scripted our lives for us, but that He can use any of our choices for our salvation.
A number of years back, I bought the worst car ever—it was in terrible shape mechanically, and I paid twice as much as it was worth—all because I had been praying for a sign to help me choose the correct car, and the salesman mentioned that he had been praying to the Virgin Mary for his mother’s health. In hindsight, I can say now that it was not a sign, not God’s will for me that I should spend our family’s limited resources on that broken car. But at the time, the responsibility of finding our first family car was new and daunting, and I hid behind the idea of blindly following God’s “will” rather than admit how frightened I was. It could have been an opportunity for healing if I had prayed instead for help in understanding the source of those fears and for the courage and resources to learn a little about cars.
It is much easier to live in our heads than in our hearts, to focus on the exterior actions we should take in life rather than the interior condition of our souls, because our hearts are where we hide our fear, our anger, our pain. Every one of us lives in this fallen world and hides unknown depths of pain that desperately need to be healed. The process of opening our hearts to love makes us vulnerable and uncovers old wounds that we would prefer not to examine. But a heart that is whole is capable of feeling joy and love in ways that we with our crippled hearts can only dream of. This on-going work of examining our hearts and opening them up to be healed by God is what salvation looks like. Often, we are spurred on to begin this difficult process by a particular grief or crisis that can turn our world upside down or our hearts inside out. But in whatever way we come to Him, God wants to give us the most profound love and joy. Heaven begins here and now, this very moment, with the transformation and healing of our hearts. Then we will be able to love and do what we will, to have perfect love and freedom in Christ.