I heard an interview today with a neurologist, a clever man with a PhD in neuropsychology, and a BA in Psychology and an MA in Theology. His name is Dr Jim Wilder.
I have O levels in Needlework, Cookery and Art. No degrees or diplomas or anything else, but I understood him. He also calls himself a neurotheologist, because he uses his scientific training to explore the thought processes of the human mind as it seeks or rejects God. The talk was good and thought provoking. And it made me cry. Me, grizzled old me.
Dr Wilder says that the OT commands to ‘cleave’ or ‘glue ourselves’ to God are calling us to develop what psychologists today would call ‘passive attachment’. He had my attention as soon as he said the word ‘cleave’. I love the OT verses about God being our Rock, that he is the quarry from which we were cut, I love the imagery, longing to be at one with him, and in the old King James version, I just gloat over all the ‘cleaves’ of Deuteronomy (4:4, 10:20,11:22 and so on). If you haven’t read that version of Deuteronomy, I recommend looking up the word ‘cleave’ and making a bit of a study of it.
I so want to cleave to God, to be subsumed by him, to be overtaken and enveloped by him, to be unshakeably grafted onto him, to be transformed in his image so why aren’t I? Why am I still so very much me? Eh?
The question posed in the interview was more or less just that! Here it comes again: Why, ‘when Western Christianity emphasises the need for theology (knowledge) and the practice of Christianity (obeying), and we follow that teaching, do we fail to be transformed ?’ Because, he said, we miss out one very important aspect: our attachment to God.
We all need love from a very early age, and this need shows itself and is satisfied by our attachment to others. Psychologists call it ‘passive attachment’ and ‘faithful love’ (How wonderful that sounds!) Our characters and personalities are formed by who we are attached to. Any development or transformation depends on that attachment.
As a writer I see a clear delineation between character and personality – character is who I am when no one’s looking, a result of my thought processes and experience, and the values I hold, and what I do as a result. Personality is who I am when others see me, often a mood response to stimuli. Who we are attached to, shapes both. Who I have been attached to has shaped me so far, and who I attach myself to today will shape the person I will become tomorrow.
Who I have been attached to, loved, is reflected in my life and behaviour, in both who I am in private and how I act in public.
This is when it started to sting me…. I haven’t been attached to anyone since I was about 7 years old. I had attachment as a very young child, because I had a mother, but I don’t remember her now of course. Was the attachment good? bad? Indifferent? I have no idea, I think that by the time I was a teenager, desperate to love and be loved, the damage was done. I didn’t have a permanent figure in my life until I was 27, and by that time I might look for laughter and wit and kindness and fun, but I no longer looked for attachment. It was a boast of mine that I loved moving, loved leaving people behind to meet new ones, however much I enjoyed my friends, I never missed them. And here’s a terrible but very real confession, when my husband of 14 years died I hardened my heart and decided, yes, decided, not to miss him. Of course I did, and still do, but all my energy was turned to being free of attachment, and to cold survival. I turned all my emotional energy into denial. I had never learned to be attached and -surprise! surprise!- yet another person had left me, so I wasn’t going to learn attachment now, was I? I have left people behind all my life, those who didn’t die or walk away from me, I walked away from, whistling a jaunty tune.
My family, my daughter, my granddaughters, they are attached to me and my heart responds in huge love for them. But I understand now that this is because they, unlike me, have formed the attachment. I respond to that. I love only those who love me. I haven’t learned to love the unloving or to willingly attach to anyone else.
I may manage to love you when I’m with you, but when you’re not there… you’re not there. That’s still who I am. Hard hearted Hannah, eh? My heart will never be broken.
So, what made me cry today? As if my heart was breaking?
The interviewer asked “So… it is what we love that ends up shaping us and transforming us?”
And I started to weep. Is this why I am not experiencing the full richness of transformation? Because I don’t love God with a cleaving love, am not fully attached to him? But what can I do about it? It seems hopeless.
As I listened I remembered ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.‘ Yes! Yes! I do love him, I love him loads… but not with the wholeness of me. And the other great commandment ‘Love one another as I have loved you.‘ Oh, boy, that one I fail big time. It’s much much easier to not-love someone than to love them. Less work involved! I know it for a fact! Loving is hard labour and it’s going to hurt, one way or the other. Comes a time when they will die or walk away, or I will.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” What? Volunteer for all that heavy lifting? With my bad back? That’s bonkers. How the hell can I love everyone? I know me, and I tell you, I simply can’t.
Here’s something about attachment theory that psychologists have shown to be true, when we are attached to (love) someone, we are also attached to what they are attached to. When we cleave to them (faithful love) and others are cleaving to them, we become, all of us, a whole. When I love God, I love those who God loves. It’s an inevitable part of the process of loving him. It’s a biological fact, established deep in our cortex. So, who does he love? Everyone.
Everyone. He is love. And to be one with him, to cleave to him, means loving those he loves. Every blinkin’ one!
I realise now what I’ve missed out on, that great deluge, flood of love. For me the corollary of attachment transformation is that if we are not transformed, or being transformed, then we are not attached. We may think we are, but we aren’t. The simple biological fact is that what we are attached to influences our development. If Christ is not influencing my development, it is a sure indication that I am not attached to him. The estimable psychologist isn’t saying this, it’s me saying it – this is the conclusion I’ve reached.
That’s the thought that made me cry – I can’t love you, and you, and you, and that shouty bloke on the beach, or shadows from my childhood. I can be nice to you and to them and forgive and smile… but I can’t love others as I love myself. It isn’t in me. That’s why the tears started to flow, tears of sorrow and joy intermingled, as I realised that for this, as for everything else, I must depend on God. Tears of gratitude that it’s not hopeless because I CAN depend on him. That even this sad realisation is his gift. A lesson that must be learned after a long lifetime unattached.
If I am faithfully attached to God, it is inevitable that he will shape me, he will transform me. He will fill me with not my love (flawed, temporary, messy, conditional) but with his. HIS! The God who looked on Jerusalem and wept. The God who died for us. Each one of us. A billion deaths in one.
In a year’s time I am moving on, leaving friends here. I know now that – after today’s lesson – this will be painful. Love is painful, ‘parting’ old Bill Shakespeare said, ‘is such sweet sorrow.’
But I am always truthful in these blogs, I don’t sugar coat anything, and this means I have to admit to you, right now, that I’m still fighting this. I will be dragged into the state of cleaving, kicking and screaming. I am stubborn and slow and bloody-minded. You know it’s true.
So I say, do I really have to volunteer for all that malarkey? Is there no other option? Loving people? I mean, people? Smelly, messy, flawed, chaotic people just like me? Can’t I pick and choose? Did he say ‘Love a few people a little bit like I’ve loved you’?
Apparently not. ‘This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you.’
I can’t do that on my own. I’ve failed miserably for 70 odd years. So I’m desperately dependant on him to enable me. Desperately dependant. It’s a phrase I’ve heard often over the last few years but until now I didn’t realise how comprehensive, how relevant, urgent, sharp and painful and wonderful it is. Knowing now, at last, understanding at last, that for everything, everything, I am dependent on Him. And that’s the very best place to be.
I will fail. He will not.