The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
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A monk asked his abbot, while they were walking beside the Sea, “Father, why don't you, like many other teachers, urge me to imitate Christ?” “Because it's futile to urge you to imitate Christ,” replied the abbot. “Why's that so?”, inquired the monk. The abbot said, “Stand here and try to imitate that Sea.” The monk spoke, “That's impossible.” “Likewise,” said the abbot, “as futile it is for you to try to be Christlike through imitating Christ.” “How, then," asked the monk, "shall I grow in Christlikeness?” “To be like the Sea, you enter the Sea, live with and in the Sea. You no longer strive to be like the Sea."
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The concept of imitating Christ is common in Christianity. A devotional classic to exert a strong influence in this direction is an anonymous work, The Imitation of Christ, often attributed to Thomas a' Kempis.
Yet, Christlikeness arises, not from trying to imitate Christ, but the experience of Christ. In the Gospel of John 15, Jesus is seen teaching the Abiding Life. He compares himself to a vine and his followers to branches. He says in verse 4: "Stay inside me, as I stay inside you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit without staying inside the vine, so neither can you unless you stay inside me."
In verse 9 Jesus speaks of his loving his followers as much as his Father loves him. He says, “Stay in my love.” To remain in Jesus is to remain in his love; to remain in his love, is to remain in him, to stay in love.
If our Source loves us and Merton is right that true love wishes the other to be fully himself or herself, not an imitation of anyone or anything, the same would apply to the Divine. The Divine has no interest in making little Jesus-Automatons or Buddha-Replicas.... Christlikeness, Buddhalikeness, Krishnalikeness, Spiritlikeness, ... for it is of love, honors the uniqueness of each person, each creature. This means a person living his or her expression of the universal Self, the one Soul. We are not to impersonate the Sacred, we are to embody the Sacred.
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So, Thomas Merton, in The Wisdom of the Desert...
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?”
We cannot bypass ourselves in our spiritual pilgrimage, for intimacy with the Holy requires intimacy with ourselves, our true selves. Intimacy creates likeness.
And the Hasidic Jewish tale...
A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. While waiting for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began imagining that God was going to ask him, "Why weren't you like Moses?" or "Why weren't you like Solomon?" or "Why weren't you like David?" When God appeared the rabbi was surprised. God asked, "Why weren't you like Zusya?"
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