A Dominican friar born in 1260 has become an important spiritual companion to me. Meister Eckhart was an enormously popular preacher in the fourteenth century. He got in trouble with the Church for speaking as a mystic--that is, for blurring the line between where the soul ends and God begins. Mystics live with a sense of union with God, and so such blurred language comes naturally to them.
Here is a Meister Eckhart quote that gives me something I can use all year long from this season in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth:
“What good is it for me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don't give birth to God's son in my person and my culture and my times?”
It is strange to me how easily we talk about the importance of seeing God in the poor and downtrodden yet how uneasy we feel focusing on the divine spark in ourselves. This is unfortunate, because until we know that presence in ourselves, we have difficulty seeing it in all other human beings. As a therapist, I have given up helping patients fix their self-esteem. Maybe this is because I’ve never had much luck propping up my own small, ego self. Instead we focus on awareness of the Great Self the mystics tell us dwells within us. Meister Eckhart would likely nod in shared understanding upon reading the words of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): “Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon God in yourself.”
For me this Christmas I want something deeper than simply pausing for a day to open gifts and thinking Hooray, Jesus was born this day--and after the holidays it’s back to the world of making money and becoming a success! I want to spend some time wondering about how my own humble labors can give birth to compassion on a daily basis. But is living each day with compassion what Eckhart means when he talks about giving “birth to God’s son in my person and my culture and my times?” That brings me to a second, 700-hundred-year-old gem from this beautiful soul: “You can call God goodness, you can call God love, but the best name for God is compassion.”