"What the Mystics Know — Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self" (excerpt) by Richard Rohr

"Once upon a time, a small Jewish boy went to his rabbi and said he didn't know how to love God. 'How can I love God when I've never seen him?' asked the boy. 'I think I understand how to love my mother, my father, my brother, my little sister, and even the people in our neighborhood, but I don't know how I'm supposed to love God.'
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Portrait of a Young Boy with Peyot by Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921) 

"Once upon a time, a small Jewish boy went to his rabbi and said he didn't know how to love God. 'How can I love God when I've never seen him?' asked the boy. 'I think I understand how to love my mother, my father, my brother, my little sister, and even the people in our neighborhood, but I don't know how I'm supposed to love God.'
"The rabbi looked at the little boy and said, 'Start with a stone. Try to love a stone. Try to be present to the most simple and basic thing in reality so you can see its goodness and beauty. Then let that goodness and beauty come into you. Let it speak to you. Start with a stone.' The boy nodded with understanding.

" 'Then, when you can love a stone,' the rabbi continued, 'try a flower. See if you can love a flower. See if you can be present to it and let its beauty come into you. See if you can let its life come into you and you can give yourself to it. You don't have to pluck it, possess it, or destroy it. You can just love it over there in the garden.' The boy nodded again.

" 'I'm not saying it's wrong to pick flowers,' added the rabbi. 'I'm just asking you to learn something from the flower without putting it in a vase.' The boy smiled, which meant he understood – or maybe he didn't. Just in case he didn't the rabbi chose the boy's pet dog as the next object of loving and listening. The boy nodded and smiled when the rabbi talked about his dog; he even said, 'Yes, Rabbi.'

" 'Then,' the rabbi went on, 'try to love the sky and the mountains, the beauty of all creation. Try to be present to it in its many forms. Let it speak to you and let it come into you.' The boy sensed the rabbi wanted to say some more, so he nodded again, as if he understood.

" 'Then,' the rabbi said, 'try to love a woman. Try to be faithful to a woman and sacrifice yourself for her. After you have loved a stone, a flower, your little dog, the mountain, the sky, and a woman, then you'll be ready to love God.’

"How lovely, and how true! Too many people have tried to short-circuit the process of learning to love God. Instead of starting with a stone and working their way up to God, they quickly pretend to have some immediate contact with divine revelation. I don't want to discourage anyone from running to God, but some people don't yet know how to run or how to love the stones. They don't yet know how to perceive, how to be faithful, how to sacrifice, how to see without trying to control. They probably try to control because, like the rest of us, they feel weak, alienated, and out of communion with reality. But control never works in the spiritual life. The 'undergoing' (passion) teaches more than the fixing and explaining (action).

"People with little or no patience for communing with stones, flowers, pets, or human beings will probably not have much more patience communing directly with God. . . . They will most likely distort the revelation of God and use it for their own purposes. The false, egocentric self, disconnected from union, will be unable to see things correctly or enjoy them for themselves. The fragmented person seems to fragment everything else. The reconnected person sees rightly and, not surprisingly, sees God, too."
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