Meet Fury the cat and Rocky the dog practicing cross-species contemplative face-licking. I bet you never heard of that. Well here’s the story.
Rocky is still a puppy, and he loves to play-bite the face of Fury and drag him across the room by the face. I know it doesn’t sound like brotherly love. But there is never any harm. No blood is drawn. Rocky just likes to demonstrate his mastery over Fury, as kids and especially boys often do.
Fury protests and then does the same thing to Rocky, sinking his teeth into Rocky’s ear or face and pulling. (Fury doesn’t know he is one tenth Rocky’s size, so don’t tell him). Sometimes they growl or screech out a loud meow, so you would think they are hurting each other. But seeking to master each other is play for them, a kind of cross-species brotherly love.
How can you tell it is brotherly love? What comes next is contemplative face-licking. Fury snuggles up to Rocky, sometimes just resting against his side, and then begins to lick Rocky’s giant brown face. Rocky not only puts up with this, he looks like he is in some kind of nirvana state when being licked. Doesn’t that look like brotherly love to you?
So why call this act contemplative? Contemplatives seek to practice the presence of God, who is love, which evolves into love for God, self, and neighbor. (If we are lucky, we also get to experience cross-species love of dog/cat/bird/tree/nature, etc.) We experience the love because contemplative practice reminds us of our innate oneness, and oneness heightens our solidarity with each other.
Rarely do we see it happen in American culture, but I believe God intends to transform us into beings who can play-fight with each other to demonstrate our desire for mastery, and still lick face in the end. Can you imagine politicians arguing policy and then hugging, or religious foes debating doctrine and then laughing together? If our contemplative practice of God’s loving presence was changing us, really transforming us, our sense of oneness with all beings could help us end the idea-battles with a “cross-species” embrace. (We are really the same species but we sure forget that in our self-righteous sparring).
I know in the current cultural climate this sounds absurd, and yet ever day we are watching this happen at the Olympics in Rio. “Foes” battle it out to demonstrate their mastery, and then they finish the race or event by hugging each other. Sometimes in those hugs we can see their true sense of solidarity, respect, and compassion for each other. There is that moment of recognition of each other in each other’s faces. It seems to say, “I know what it is like to be you.” One minute they are trying to defeat each other and the next they are, well, face-licking.
How can this be? Oneness transforms the battle for mastery into solidarity. I believe you can see the very Spirit of God hovering around those Rio moments. Who else can bring such immediate transformation?
Thomas Merton, the monk and contemplative author, put the principle of oneness simply: “once one finds the place at the center where one is being created by God, one finds the place where one is connected to everyone else, everything else in the cosmos,” (“Catholicism,” DVD directed by Matt Leonard, Word on Fire, 2011). When we come down into the center of our beings we find we are connected to everyone and everything. This is the basis of our solidarity.
Martin Laird, an Augustinian monk, expresses the truth in a similar way: “…silent communion with the ground of all being becomes the most natural and simple way of being in solidarity with all humanity and holding all our needs before the Creator of all,” (Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 72). Again, oneness brings solidarity.
So if you would like to experience the transformative solidarity of brotherly/sisterly love, even after we engage in battles for mastery, I have two challenges. Become an Olympic athlete. Or join us contemplatives in practicing the presence of God each day. (Makes being contemplative sound like the easier choice, right?)
In case you should want to learn even more about experiencing the contemplative path, join us for “The Heart of Mindfulness” day retreat in New Orleans this Saturday at Parker United Methodist Church, or just come for any of our weekly contemplative groups, or register for our 7th Annual Contemplative Workshop with Rabbi Rami Shapiro leading us into “The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness.” (Details for any of these are on our website for the School for Contemplative Living at http://www.thescl.net).
So go ahead and try to master your brother or sister. Just try to learn from Fury and Rocky how to finish the battle!