A Shared Quest for Understanding


 When I was eight years old I moved into a neighborhood where a nasty, foul-mouthed kid lived across the street. Well, he didn't like me either.  So we sparred. 

 As I recall, we used to shout obscenities across the street while standing in front of each other's respective houses. We constantly used to hurl insults. I used to call the little guy a 'little shrimp.' I got ‘Baby Huey' in return. I did not like being called ‘Baby Huey.’ The shrimp, likewise, was not especially keen on my appraisal of him. These, however, were mild denunciations compared with most.  

 I guess it was our way of 'getting to know each other.' We fought in order to test each other - to find out what each of us was made of. It was, I suppose, a little like throwing a stone at a girl you had a crush on. You couldn't say directly how you felt. So you threw a rock.  

 Similarly, I tried to belittle the rotten kid across the street because I knew there was actually something about him that compelled my attention. There was something formidable about him - something intriguing. But I couldn't have acknowledged my interest then, or have even understood it! So I swore at him. 

 I don't remember how or when we eventually became the best of friends and spiritually inseparable but the magic of friendship happened and has not changed for fifty years.

 Our differences in temperament are huge. This friend from childhood has always been able to argue anyone into the ground. As he put it to me once:  "I can argue without getting hurt." I have yet to meet a sharper and quicker mind than he possesses. He's been a lawyer for many years now and thrives on combative situations. I am made of entirely different material.

 I trained to become a hospital chaplain, partly because of a Roman Catholic Sister who had observed my manner when I visited a hospital patient. She took me aside to inform me that I had to become a priest. She told me that I had a 'gentle way about me.' (not on display as an 8 year old neighborhood warrior!) The nun changed my life. 

 A lawyer I could never have been. Likewise, I'm sure that nobody who has ever met my friend has ever thought for a moment that he should have become a priest!   

 Well, we two friends may be different but something deeper brought us together and has kept us together.  

 What created the relationship and has sustained it, is a shared quest for understanding. And I'd like to say in a more precise way that that quest involves a shared sense of a certain 'motivating feeling' that is deeper than mere emotion

 This feeling is a deep yearning for Being, a taste for the Infinite, or, a thirst for God. The kind of understanding that arises from the shared sense of that 'certain feeling' is priceless and incomparable.  

 I somehow can tell immediately whether another human being has tasted this 'level of feeling.' If she has, I know there will be understanding. If, however, I discern that that 'certain feeling' is not there, well, there is nowhere to go. You can at best share pleasantries with someone who is a stranger to this feeling, but it's not going to go further than that.

 An awakening to what Professor Needleman calls 'authentic feeling' or 'genuine feeling' needs to be there as the basis or foundation of relationship. 

 The early Christian monks of the desert were much concerned with cultivating this sense of 'true' or 'authentic feeling.' To become oriented in this way, the monks practiced 'continuous inner prayer' or, as it's been called, 'the prayer of the heart.' These early Christians understood, according to Needleman, that the ordinary mind is "distracted and filled with illusions." (Jacob Needleman, Consciousness and Tradition, p. 37) 

 The ordinary mind is simply out of touch with this deeper 'feeling.' So a huge effort must be made to find the inner capacity for 'feeling' and to nurture it.

 And so it was understood by these Christians that, if they were to become vehicles of Divine energies, they'd have to settle their restless minds into their hearts. They understood that their restless minds were not to be in control of their lives. Something deeper had to open up to that level of a finer feeling than emotion

 I first became aware of this difference between 'mere emotion' and 'true feeling' through the Eastern Orthodox Bishop, Anthony Bloom. It appears that Fr Bloom lived in that place of 'true feeling' almost continually.

 Needleman, upon visiting Anthony Bloom some years ago in London, felt the presence of this 'feeling' in Bloom so profoundly that he became somewhat disoriented in response. He could barely recall his first conversation with Fr Bloom. He had been moved to a place within himself with which, at the time, he was unfamiliar. It took another visit and some time to collect himself before he could piece together what had happened between them. 

 It is apparent that what was unique about the encounter between these two men was an acute shared sense of 'true feeling.'

 In Seattle two years ago, Professor Needleman told me personally and directly that when he met Fr Bloom he felt that he had met a 'true man' or a 'mensch,' as he called him, a person of great dignity and honour.  

 Might therefore the definition of a 'true man' or 'true woman' be that his or her presence radiates this 'genuine feeling?' In a few days, I'm travelling to Oregon because that is where Jacob Needleman will be, a man who is finely tuned to this particular Divine energy. 

 Professor Needleman is as 'true a man' as I have ever met. I wish to be with him because of the quality of his interior life. I would not travel to Oregon for a sports event or for anything else, frankly, that I can think of. I'm going because of Jacob's presence as a human being who, like Anthony Bloom, radiates love from the core of his being.     

 As Needleman puts it so finely: "Man must struggle to discover the central impulse of love that calls him to be what he is." For 'an impulse of love' is exactly what this feeling is!

 The struggle of the desert Christians and for us as well, is to find that impulse of love so that we might exclaim with our whole beings: 'He is my being' or, 'Love is my being.'  

 Just before my friend and I parted the other day he became completely attentive. His presence was powerful. He was giving everything he had in honour of our long friendship.

 For a while, I had been listening to a very able lawyer talk about his work.  And then he shifted into a state of undivided attentiveness. My friend plays the lawyer game well but is so much more than that role. He is a dear brother and friend. 

 I was reminded in a powerful way through the quality of his attentiveness of why it is that I regard him as one of the best friends I've ever made.

 One day, as old and very refined gentlemen we plan to rock together on a porch somewhere looking out upon a lake. 

 We are likely to remain sitting there for a very long time, touching the stars through conversation.

                                Some years ago - Shrimp and Baby Huey








Oct 5, 2012, 10:27 AM