Every day I usually do quite a bit of reading. Most of it is fairly interesting. At one level, it could be said this is what I do for my job and that would be true. In an odd way what I do for my job is not unlike what someone who works in a factory does for his or her job. Reading is the routine of my job. It is just different than what others do as routine for their jobs.
Certainly not everything I read is of equal value (to me, at least). And not everything I read is equally engaging to me. I do feel lucky, however, in the sense that most of what I read probably has something to do with life (at least, as I want to try to live it). For an atheist most of what I read might be pretty silly. I am ok with that. I know most of what I believe theologically cannot be proved. It really could be an illusion…and I am ok with that gamble.
But I am convinced there is a difference between life and a meaningful life. I want to opt for the meaningful life. And I am sure for myself, a meaningful life cannot be merely in the moment. Real meaning has to be meaningful today and tomorrow. It cannot be whimsical, momentary, or even episodic. It needs to be enduring.
Occasionally, I read something that jars me. It makes me double back on some of the things I may have felt like I already knew. Thomas Merton, my favorite dead monk, routinely does this to me. Only yesterday I encountered one of those simple statements from Merton that made me go, “Whoa…I have to think about this.”
In one of my favorite books of Merton, No Man Is an Island, he says, “Our ability to be sincere with ourselves, with God, and with other men is really proportionate to our capacity for sincere love.” This is one of those sentences which has me saying, “I understand all the words, but I am not sure I understand its meaning.” Sincere love is a weighty concept.
Actually, the idea of love is a weighty concept. And then add the idea of “sincere” to love and my head swims. I think the thing that unnerves me to begin with is the idea that there must also be “insincere love.” When I know both options, sincere and insincere love, I wonder which one of the two I most often am offering? Do I go around insincerely loving and simply calling it “love?”
What is my “capacity for sincere love?” Whew, talk about a weighty question! I think I have a sizeable capacity, but maybe that is because I am usually in a safe, easy environment. When you do not have many enemies or when your enemies are fairly benign, love seems pretty easy. That reminds me of Jesus saying something about how easy it is to love friends.
Can I increase my capacity for sincere love? I think so and I am sure Merton thought so. We increase our capacity by practicing loving. I am not sure I practice enough. It is easy to do when loving is easy. But I think I need to practice it when it is not so easy. In this sense, it is a bit like running or any other discipline. You need to do it regularly; do it when you don’t want to do it; sometimes do it when it hurts. And then slowly you begin to realize you are growing in your capacity.
You become capable of things you once could not do. I can imagine that I and you can increase the capacity for sincere love to the extent that we actually are able to
So I think I will begin today. I will increase my capacity for sincere love. I am sure there will be countless opportunities. It will be easy with my friends. But then, there are the ding-a-lings and they won’t be so easy. I will not be smug, however, because for someone I probably am the ding-a-ling! And I will give them a chance to practice!