The space between
I looked into the eyes of my cousin a few days ago and realised with a shock that he didn’t recognize me at all. He was like a brother to me when I was small and we spent a lot of time together. They live more than four hours away from us and the last time I saw him was about a year ago. Early onset Alzheimer's had taken its toll this last year. As we were having coffee he kept looking intently at me and asked his wife repeatedly what my name is. It was clear that he was looking for a memory that he knew should have been there. Every time we told him who I was and that we were close to one another, he said laughingly and relieved, “Oh yes! Why didn't you say so from the beginning?” But then he immediately forgot again and only the puzzled look remained. But when I looked into his eyes I felt the connection. And I think he could feel it as well and it was rich with memories and love. The only difference was that I could connect the feeling and memories to the person in front of me but he could just feel without connection and he was very puzzled by it. When we got up to leave, I gave him a handshake. His eyes lit up in recognition and he said puzzled, “You shake my hand like Stephan … I can feel it … but I cannot understand … I don’t know who you are …”. I gave him our usual brotherly hug and then we looked each other directly in the eye. He relaxed, smiled, laughed and thanked us profusely for coming without knowing our names. The memories and the love filled the space between us. It enveloped the pain for a moment and made it bearable. I was light-headed-drunk on the wine of love when I turned my back to him and walked away sobbing. The moment was more real and more satisfying than I have ever experienced with him. Without him even knowing my name. The connection we made was precious. As my wife and I walked away crying, we knew that we had experienced a new way of connecting - in spite of us. Without ego-constraints. It happened in the midst of the pain of this brokenness, without definition or judgment or the need to feel accepted or recognised. If I ever knew that God is real and alive, it was at that moment. When who I am, or what I look like, or what I do makes no difference, I may be more open to look for a subconscious connection, for a bond that supersedes any recognition. And I found a moment of being. He was and I was and God was … in the space between us. It is possibly what happens between two people who are deeply in love. My wife and I can just sit together and have the most profound fellowship without talking. We have practiced for nearly fifty years to accept one another without conditions, so both can feel safe enough to be real without trying to be anything else. When the ego is out of the way, we experience the richness of what we have built through the years in the space between us. I remember
how our children always just wanted to be on the bed between us. They could feel the love that was already there. Within the pain, my cousin and I touched the Love - the undefined inner life of God. For a moment we were on holy ground for we were in the midst of the Trinitarian dance where ego and recognition have no place. Only connection and love can exist there. And then I read Richard Rohr: “The inner life of Godhead—this is a mystery that stretches language to its breaking point. The all-important thing is to get the energy and quality of the relationship between these Three—that’s the essential mystery that transforms us.” I realise that during the last couple of years, I have been growing slowly in my experience of the “inner life of Godhead”, learning how to recognise the energy and quality of the love between the three persons of the Trinity. As I discovered my own center - my real self - and lived more and more from it, I grew in recognising the center in others, and it revolutionised my relationship to God. The connection between centers is what we feel when the ego-constraints and the need for performance are removed. I look back and realise how I used to relate mainly to the persons - to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - separately and how deeply my experience of the Creator was bound to my definition of their roles as I objectified each as a single person. That was how I learnt to relate to everyone around me ever since childhood. There is a definition of personhood, of each person’s role and of how much we are accepted and loved by these persons, that deeply influences our own feeling of safety and how much love we are able to give in return. This is especially true of those who do not look or think or speak like we do. Anne Hillmann describes this so well: “The root yearning hidden beneath all human desires is for a Love that has long been calling us. Love's whispered call is not only personal; it breathes through the soul of every human being. We are all being carried on the same tide, drawn by the call and our own yearning as inexorably as the moon draws the movement of the waters. Our response is to let go of our definitions and wake up to this whispered call that comes to us from every human being. We should only let go of our moorings and give over to the tide of our yearning that will reveal the space between.” When great pain or great love or overwhelming beauty arrest our busy-ness for a moment, we can learn how to relate to the space between. We can objectify great beauty or become victims of great pain; we can take great love and squander it on self or we can search for the space in between and discover a whole new world of connection. In this way we can redefine the word “encounter”. I think that is the journey of our lives.
My cousin and I had such an encounter. Thou encountered Thou. Subject connected with subject; God in me with God in him. Deep called out to deep, center to center and for a
moment we both rose from the ashes of our mortality.