Resurrecting LOve: Dispatches from the Front:

Love isn’t only a cemetery or a documentary film I’ve almost finished or a book I published or my feelings for my children.

Can I love Donald Trump?

Love means I have to fill in the blank with the name of anyone I might think of as “my enemy.”   I have to learn to love them too.

I hear that Sufis say that “the worst is the best.” Whether Sufis say that or not, Buddhists and Christians talk about it too, learning to love our enemies. Yes, even someone who seems like an impossible liar. What? Even free-form American 12-step programs say that we have to purify our hearts of anger or resentment, no matter how justified.  That doesn’t mean that all is forgotten, that no injury occurred. It does mean that my intention needs to be that I’m open to compassion, even though I might fail to have it intially. It means that I can pick myself up and keep moving in the direction of loving kindness, I can keep moving in the direction of compassion.

My preference is to write someone off, ignore them.   Not judging the person doesn’t mean giving up good judgment, or analyzing behaviour.   It does mean not nursing negative feelings, not assuming that so and so is the incarnation of evil itself. Of course it’s more colorful and terrifying to imagine an other as without redeeming merit, a danger to all. I always loved being scared out of my wits – riding the roller coaster, diving off the cliff, you name it, whatever was forbidden, the question was could I get away with it?   No.

Love is actually a choice, a direction I can move in, a breath that offers a moment of recollection, and a question:

What is my motivation? Am I in love or am I in fear? The honesty with which you or I or anyone answers this question determines one’s fate.   Be honest.

Justified anger is easy and seductive.   “But, but they, THEY…” we sputter. The most useful spiritual advice I’ve received to date is be willing to be 100% responsible for myself/for yourself.   Emotions – whatever they are, anger or ectasy, they’re mine, they’re yours. The poet John Donne was correct, we are not islands, however, I haven’t been able to change anything that I’m not willing to be responsible for.

If I claim that YOU, whomever “you” might be, caused my anger, created my upset, whatever it is that makes me uncomfortable, then I just gave away my chance to change. I gave my power to you.

In this time of uncertainty and heightened emotions, whether from the upcoming holidays, the joyous occasion of a healthy child’s birth, or the elections, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one, it can be hard to find that moment to breathe.   I’m off on the roller coaster of emotion that even a headline – true or false – can set off.

Breath is the antidote. Followed by another breath. In silence.   The putting aside of the world’s siren call of seduction. Whether it’s three minutes locked in a bathroom stall in a work place or in my own room 30 minutes before I have to leave, I can choose to be quiet, I can put a buffer between myself and the stories that activate my life.

“Darkness is invisible light” is a phrase I came up with many years ago while researching dark or black matter in science.   I’m not a scientist so this was a lay person’s attempt to grasp a concept that even science cannot measure. In some ways, even calling “it” dark or black matter is filler for the lack of being able to know what “it” is – that main stuff of which the universe is composed.   Percentages vary over the years, but the bottom line remains: most of what the universe is composed of is dark to us, beyond what the human eye can see.

I consulted an astophysicist at U.C. Berkeley as part of my research on the Black Madonnas years ago. Black or Dark Madonnas are a mainstream European Christian Catholic tradition that white America has generally ignored in its eagerness to import “valuables” from Europe.

I asked him whether or not my phrase, “ Darkness is invisible light,” was scientifically accurate.   He said that it wasn’t scientifically accurate in terms of how astrophysics would describe dark or black matter, still, he said it was roughly accurate, it was correct in a poet sense.   I’ve used it ever since.

As the darkness deepens this time of year, I find it especially useful to reflect upon the scientific reality that occassioned my poetic shorthand – we live in the dark. We think we “see” but in fact our eyes can only perceive a certain spectrum of light and that spectrum is only 5-7% of what the universe is made up of.   We can pick up the gravitational effect of dark or black matter, but we can’t get our instruments or our minds around “invisible light.”

The illuminated spectrum we see, we navigate by, what we describe as “real” is only a small percentage of what exists. 95% to 97% is “dark” to us. We says its invisible.

This is why I prefer to think of the Divine as “the Great Mystery.” I fall into human, anthromorphic descriptions of that Mystery too, as God, or God X or any of the ten thousand names by which that Mystery has been and is proclaimed by many.   Male/Female, you name it, I sense that all that is is beyond what can be named, hence my use of the word Mystery .

As I told my students at the Graduate Theological Union, it’s critical to remember that Christ was not a Christian, nor was the Buddha a Buddhist. The religious traditions that sprung up after the lives of Christ and Gautama Buddha, for example, the two I’ve studied the most, were started by their followers well after their deaths.   As far as I can tell, Christ and the Buddha came to love and be of service. They didn’t found institutions.   They illuminated the human capacity for love, compassion, understanding, wisdom and service.   They were activists even in their silence, in their retreat from the world, in their stillness, in the ways in which they nourished themselves even without food.

China Galland

Thinking about Love

30 November 2016



About China Galland

China Galland, M.A., is the prize-winning author of several non-fiction works including "Love Cemetery, Unburying the Secret History of Slaves" (HarperOne), "Longing for Darkness, Tara and the Black Madonna" (Penguin). She’s completing a documentary film, "Resurrecting Love," about an East Texas African American community’s struggle to reclaim Love Cemetery, the historic burial ground they own. "The Bond Between Women, A Journey to Fierce Compassion" (Riverhead/Penguin), was chosen as one of the best five books on Spirituality by the annual “Books For a Better Life Award.” Galland has been a Professor in Residence at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA, the largest consortium of Christian schools of theology in the U.S, as well as a Research Associate, and adjunct faculty. “Art, Darkness, and the Womb of God,” the graduate level intensive, grew out of her pioneering work on the Divine Feminine cross-culturally. She has been affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union for over 20 years. A riveting storyteller and public speaker, Galland has lectured at Harvard University, Columbia, Cornell, Bowling Green University, and Prescott College among others. She led pilgrimages to the Divine Feminine in Nepal, India, France and Spain, appeared on “Good Morning America,” Bloomberg TV, PBS, NPR, and PRI's "To the Best of Our Knowledge."
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