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Just as You Are: Opening Your Life to the Infinite Love of God

Just as You Are: Opening Your Life to the Infinite Love of God

by Paul Coutinho

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Stop spinning your spiritual hamster wheel.
Start living in the limitless love of God.
Many of us go through life thinking and acting as though we can somehow, in some way, earn God’s love and favor. If only we do this, or that, or both, or more, God just might offer us at least a small bit of Divine approval or acceptance. Eventually


Stop spinning your spiritual hamster wheel.
Start living in the limitless love of God.
Many of us go through life thinking and acting as though we can somehow, in some way, earn God’s love and favor. If only we do this, or that, or both, or more, God just might offer us at least a small bit of Divine approval or acceptance. Eventually realizing the impossibility of “getting right” with God through our own efforts, and tired of futilely going ’round and ’round in spiritual circles, we may even be inclined to permanently turn away from the Divine.
 In Just as You Are, Paul Coutinho, SJ, helps us move forward in the confidence that God already loves us and simply asks that we embrace this amazing love and live in it on a daily basis. A native of India, Fr. Coutinho combines Eastern sensibilities with Ignatian principles and practices to show us how to open our lives—now and always—to the infinite, unfathomable love of God. Filled with thought-provoking stories, inspiring anecdotes, and memorable metaphors, Just as You Are makes clear that experiencing the joy and freedom of the Divine journey is the only “work” we need to do.
Being in love with the Divine is God’s gift that is always available to anyone who is looking for it.
We have all had a taste of Divine love and our spirits hunger for more. But then other voices muffle the unconditional gift of Divine love—voices that speak of fear, guilt, anxiety, and unworthiness.
 Falling in love with God begins with an infatuation that penetrates those negative voices, and we respond to this either by being more and more attracted to the Divine or we are repulsed by the experience. We come closer or we fight to get away. In either case our focus is the Divine energy that is drawing us to itself.
 The Divine seducer never gives up but continues to draw us in many different ways to a deeper union and communion with the Ultimate. But when all is said and done, the falling in love will be up to you.
 So if you really have the will to experience life as one who is in love with the Divine, it will happen. If you want it, you’ll find it. In fact, love will find you.
Are you willing?
Are you ready?

Product Details

Loyola Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: A Note to the Reader

When I wrote my previous book, How Big Is Your God: The Freedom to Experience the Divine, all I wanted was to share my spiritual journey and the gifts and blessings that God had showered on me. I imagined that only those who knew me through the retreats and different programs I lead would be interested in reading that book. But upon its publication I began to receive feedback from so many people around the world telling me what a difference it has made in their lives and how it has helped them in difficult and trying situations, I realized that a true spiritual experience is universal. Even though so many of my stories were from a different culture and a different time, people in this day and age and from diverse cultures have identified with those stories and experiences. I realized that in spite of my weak and imperfect self, God’s gifts and blessings were meant to be shared with others.

And so, I decided to continue to do that by writing this book.

It was many years ago when I first realized that God was trying to teach me this lesson of sharing my spiritual gifts. I had joined the Jesuits soon after high school. Two years after I finished my novice training, the novice director asked me to give a retreat to the new novices. Can you imagine that? Two years after being a novice myself and here I am being asked to give an Ignatian retreat to other novices. Now, I was not a priest at the time. I told these young men that I was going to give them an Ignatian retreat. What does that mean? It means I give the retreatants a talk on some spiritual theme and then afterward meet with them individually to reflect on how God affected them in their prayer and help them discern this.

Every one of those novices came to me and shared wonderful stories about what God was doing in their lives—except one. This one Jesuit novice looked me in the eye and said, “When I heard that you were going to give this retreat, I was very angry.” I asked him, “Why?” He said, “Because you are not a priest! How can you give a retreat?” I thought to myself that this young novice must not know that St. Ignatius, the founder of our order, gave retreats as a layperson, long before he became a priest. You don’t have to be a priest, you don’t have to be a nun, you don’t have to be a religious to give a retreat.

But then the novice told me that he had opened his Bible and found a passage that helped him tremendously, and now he was ready to give himself fully to this retreat experience. And so I asked him, “Tell me! What was that passage that made such a radical difference?” He said, “You know the one from St. Paul, where he says, ‘God uses the foolish things to confound the wise’? That one.”

Now trust me, it took me about fifteen years to learn what God was trying to teach me through that novice. Until I was ordained, my ministry was work and I had to do it. I developed and used my gifts, my talents, and my thinking—all for the kingdom of God, of course. I did it all for God, without counting the cost, but I did it my way. The day I was ordained, I began to find that God put me into situations where I had to fall back on weakness and foolishness. I had to fall back on weakness and foolishness so that God’s strength and God’s wisdom were able to come through and affect the lives and hearts of the people I ministered to. I finally realized that I was just a channel for God to reach out to people. I continue to develop my gifts and talents but now it’s to be a more effective instrument in God’s hands.

So this is one of the reasons why I continue to direct retreats, give talks, and write books about deepening a relationship with God and about experiencing the Divine. It is in my weakness that God’s strength works; it is in my foolishness that God’s wisdom has a chance to affect peoples’ lives. And it is with that kind of attitude that I am sharing this book, Just as You Are: Opening Your Life to the Infinite Love of God.

Another reason I want to share my journey through my speaking engagements and writing is to deepen my own spiritual gifts. I believe that those gifts and graces that we share with someone, in one form or another, are the only ones we own, and they become the platform for bigger and greater graces. Those that we do not share we tend to lose forever. St. Paul tells us that gifts and graces are given to us for the growth and development of humanity (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12–13). And so here I wish to share with you more of my spiritual journey, new stories, and further wisdom from saints and sages who have inspired me and others throughout the ages.

When I look at the path my life has taken, I cannot but feel a very special closeness with the Divine. This relationship has kept me adventurous in the way I live my life and gives me the freedom to make mistakes. As this relationship deepens I also experience my own identity as it is revealed in the Bible and by the many mystics. My first experience of the Bible was Psalm 8. It was my favorite song in childhood that I sang with so much devotion:

Great is your name Lord, its majesty fills the earth. . . .
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
The moon and the stars which you arranged,
What is man that you keep him in mind,
Mortal man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god.
With glory and honor you crowned him.
Gave him power over the works of your hands.
Put all things under his feet.
—Psalm 8:2, 4–7 (song lyrics)

Whenever I begin to write about God or talk to people about God, somewhere in my subconscious the words of this Psalm begin to resonate. And I always try to ask myself: what kind of a relationship with God am I introducing to people? In my previous book I explored how a person can move beyond the mere practice of a religion into having a living relationship with God—how to open oneself to an ever-­greater experience of the Divine. Here I am writing for the reader who wants to go even deeper—even more fully into union and communion with the Divine. To fall in love with God. To be seduced by God, to romance God, and to grow in one’s love with the Divine.

Falling in love with God begins with an invitation, a Divine seduction that has an irresistible attraction. Many years ago I had a dream that I consider a landmark in my spiritual journey. In the dream, it was a gorgeous day and I was standing in front of this familiar mountain in India, Duke’s Nose. I soon found myself climbing the mountain. But as I got closer I began to see someone on the very top of this mountain. I first saw the outline of a figure, and yes, it looked like Jesus. My heart skipped a beat, my eyes stayed focused, and my feet picked up a steady quick pace toward Jesus, a stately figure dressed in red with his hair moving in the wind. The sky was a rich blue and there was a gentle breeze across my face. Everything seemed so mellow and so very peaceful. I reached the top of the mountain and I looked into those loving but piercing eyes of Jesus. I was ecstatic. But he did not let me stay for long. Jesus in my dream pointed to a path in the other direction, and I soon found myself on a winding but beautiful road. I carried the image and the experience of Jesus in my heart and set out on a new quest and a new beginning.

My God does not let me build the structures on the mountain that Peter wanted to build after witnessing the Transfiguration. Every time I reach a peak in my relationship with God, my spiritual journey is directed to another winding path, to a greater height toward the Divine.

This journey is also one with challenges and obstacles: to fall in love with God is like going through a furnace, where one is purified by the fire without being consumed. You may experience misunderstanding, alienation, and pain from those who are closest to you. You may let down your family, lose your friends, and disappoint your heroes. You may begin to ­second-guess yourself and even feel totally lost and abandoned as God at one point or another will draw you into the desert in this journey. The desert is a place that systematically strips you of all your securities—your personal psychological defenses, the masks that you wear, your culture, your religion, and even your relationship with God. In the desert you begin to experience your true self as you are drawn closer to the original face of the Divine, a face that goes beyond images, labels, theologies, and even religion.

Being in love with the Divine is God’s gift that is always available to anyone who is looking for it. We have all had a taste of Divine love and our spirits hunger for more. But then other voices muffle the unconditional gift of Divine love—voices that speak of fear, guilt, anxiety, and unworthiness.

Falling in love with God begins with an infatuation that penetrates those negative voices, and we respond to this either by being more and more attracted to the Divine or we are repulsed by the experience. We come closer or we fight to get away. In either case our focus is the Divine energy that is drawing us to itself.

The Divine seducer never gives up but continues to draw us in many different ways to a deeper union and communion with the Ultimate. But when all is said and done, the falling in love will be up to you.

So if you really have the will to experience life as one who is in love with the Divine, it will happen. If you want it, you’ll find it. In fact, love will find you.

Are you willing?

Are you ready?
Part 1
Seduced by God
God—an Experience

God is not a religion, not a theology, not a belief—God is an experience that takes you into the fullness of life. All experience is discovering the fullness of God, discovering the original face of the Divine, beyond all the titles and images. Through experience, I find my own identity in the Divine and see the Divine presence manifested in all of life.
We know that God—what we attempt to refer to when we use the word God—is always bigger than anything we can know about God and deeper than any experience that we have of the Divine. And so we ask ourselves, “Do I have a relationship with God, or do I have religion? Has my experience of God or my relationship with God changed in the last five, ten, or twenty years? Have I seen the face of the Divine?” If we cannot answer yes, then in all likelihood we know about God, but we don’t know God. Maybe we do not have a relationship with God. We probably have a theology, or a ritual, or an idea from our parents or the church. But we do not really know God. An experience of God, on the other hand, gives us knowledge that touches our hearts and transforms our lives more and more into our divine identity. We feel more and more interconnectedness with all of life.
There is difference between the Eastern and the Western understanding of knowledge and truth. The Western understanding of truth is a set of beliefs, a philosophy—something that you can think and know about. The Eastern understanding of truth is an experience. This experience can contradict your philosophy, can defy science, can even challenge the Scriptures, and yet, in the Eastern view, your experience is both knowledge and truth.

In Sanskrit, a classical Indian language, the word for experience is anubhav. It means “toward life’s Essence” or “toward fullness.” So experience is that which tends to make me a whole human being or a more fully human being who lives the fullness of life. The pathway to anubhav is sat-cit-anand.

Sat means “truth,” but Mahatma Gandhi expressed sat as the Divine being and essence. In his philosophy, satyagraha, a word popularly translated as “nonviolence,” is actually an earnest invitation to oneness in the Divine. In Gandhi’s struggle with the British in India, he invited them into a relationship through our common identity in the Divine being and essence. Later he tried unsuccessfully to pass on the same belief to Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in India. During one of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots, Mahatma Gandhi went on a fast unto death. When people begged him to give up his fast, saying that they would be willing to do anything that he would suggest, Mahatma Gandhi said, “Are you a Hindu? Then go into the streets and look for a Muslim orphan child. Take this child into your home and bring it up as a good Muslim. If you are a Muslim, then take in a Hindu orphan child and bring that child up as a good Hindu in your Muslim family.” Gandhi was trying to teach people our oneness in the Divine being and essence. This is the challenge and the reality of sat.

Cit, “pure consciousness,” is a means to attaining sat. Cit is not attained through the thinking mind or the feeling heart but through the Divine Spirit who dwells at the core of every human. Pure consciousness goes beyond the senses and perceives sat, the Divine being and essence in all of creation.

The sign that one has experienced sat is anand, which means “eternal bliss.” It has no beginning and no end; anand just is and is experienced at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances. It is that peace that the world cannot give and an inner contentment that no one and nothing can take away.

And so every time we go to pray, every time we seek a deeper relationship with God, we need to have anubhav (the experience) of sat-cit-­anand. Our work, our ministry, our relationships with people and even reading this book ought to bring us closer to the fullness of life.

How does one attain anand? By listening. This is a listening not with the thoughts of the mind, not even with the feelings of the heart, but through pure consciousness, by being present to life and allowing life to happen to us.

There is a legend about an island that existed a long time ago. On that island was a temple that had a thousand different bells that would ring with the gentleness of the breeze and the fury of the storm. The sound of these bells always brought one to a state of pure consciousness, to the core of one’s being, to the experience of total peace and tranquility. As legend has it, the island temple slowly sank into the sea over the years. But the bells never ceased to ring, and anyone who knew how to listen would hear the bells and have the same experience of anand.

A young man, inspired by this story, traveled many miles to an island rumored to be near the sunken temple so he could experience the bells for himself. Every day he walked to the shore to listen for the bells, but all he heard was the sound of the wind, the waves, and the many sea birds. He tried to push every sound out of his mind to focus only on the sound of the temple bells. He spent many hours a day, for many, many weeks straining to listen for the bells. But he couldn’t hear them. He prayed and fasted and tried harder every day to push out all other sounds and focus only on the sound of the bells. He learned new techniques, read books, and consulted the priests on the island. None of this helped him hear the temple bells. He decided that perhaps he was not worthy of hearing the bells. And eventually, he began to believe that maybe the legend was just a good story and not really true.

On the last day of his trip, having resigned himself to his fate, he decided to go one last time to the seashore. Only this time rather than straining to hear the bells and fighting all other sounds around him, he noticed the palm trees and enjoyed the wind rustling through their leaves. He heard the sound of the waves dancing over the waters and breaking in a melody that calmed every nerve in his body. The sound of birds emptied his mind and heart of the tension he had been holding. For the first time since he came to the island, he was relaxed and happy. As he basked in this newfound tranquility he heard the tiny sound of a bell. Then more bells, and the sound grew louder and clearer, until slowly but surely he heard the beautiful ringing of the temple bells.

Falling in love with God will happen if we just let life happen to us. When we stop struggling to find God and instead allow ourselves to experience life, we will be drawn into the Divine presence and essence.
Involution and Evolution

I have a favorite quotation from Kabir, the great Indian mystic. He said, “I laughed when I heard the fish in the water say that it is thirsty. How can the fish in the water be thirsty?” Kabir continues, “But it is easier to understand fish in the water being thirsty than a human being not experiencing God. Because God is closer to a human than water is to fish.”
In the Eastern tradition we talk about involution and evolution. The movement of God in our lives and what I would like to call God’s seduction is part of the whole flow of the universe between involution and evolution. Involution is where God, the Divine, empties itself into creation. The spirit—Divine Spirit—becomes matter. Evolution is the process of matter finding its identity by moving back into the Spirit. We are spiritual beings, come into this human or earthly existence, looking for our identity and our authenticity as being spirit, divine, and holy. So our origin is divine, our existence is divine, and our end will be divine.

The Bible tells us in Genesis that God breathed his Divine breath into us and we became human. This means that our human condition is not something like: The Divine is “out there,” and I’m here trying to plug into the Divine. No, I’m in the Divine. And, like the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, the Divine is poured into everything: “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Everything is charged with Divine energy. Everything is charged with the Spirit. God is right here. We just need to be able to recognize it.
We need to experience the universe coming from God, living in God, and ending in God. God is part of this whole reality, and we are part of this whole reality, and all that we need to learn is how to experience this reality. Because we’re already living in what Teilhard de Chardin called the divine milieu.

There’s a story that Anthony de Mello, the celebrated retreat leader, would tell about a fish that was swimming frantically from side to side in the ocean. Another fish asked, “What are you doing?” He answered, “I’m looking for the ocean.” “You’re in the ocean.”

So what are you looking for—God? You are in God. What are you looking for—the Divine? You are in the Divine. We’re all living in this Divine atmosphere, breathing this Divine love, and everything is vibrating and pulsing with the Divine life.

The problem is in our perception. We are looking at the world with a distorted vision. We are looking at the world and life not as it is, but with our prejudices, with our beliefs, with our upbringing, and with our past experiences. If we let go of all that, peel it off part by part, we will be able to see ourselves in the Divine and as part of the Divine. One of the miracles that Jesus worked over and over again was to make the blind see. And it was not just physical blindness he healed, but he restored the ability to see ourselves as we are. Paul was struck blind after his experience on the road to Damascus, and when something described like fish scales fell from his eyes he had a new vision—a vision that was spiritual and divine.

So in the process of my growing awareness—the more I live life, the more I reflect on life—the more I recognize that I am in love. I don’t have to fall in love: I am, in fact, enveloped in love.
Are You in Love—or Is It an Infatuation?

Being infatuated is not the same thing as being in love.

There is a difference.

When we are infatuated with someone, we have two ways of responding: we either repulse the person we are infatuated with by being mean or distant, or we manipulate the person in various ways to try to draw that person to ourselves. And we sometimes even martyr ourselves just to win the favor of our infatuation. At the same time, we want to lead this relationship our way, as opposed to letting ourselves be led by love. We are so obsessed by this other person that we tend to be blind to everything else. This process can be very self-destructive.

On the other hand, falling in love is letting ourselves go, letting love decide, and letting love carry us.

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s initial relationship with God was one of infatuation. He was drawn to God by reading the life of Christ and the heroic lives of the great saints. He was enchanted by the life of Jesus wanting to establish a kingdom and was envious of the saints who were pillars in this kingdom. He wanted to win the admiration and love of God by outdoing the saints. He began to imitate them in their extreme ways. In his infatuated state, he was in competition with the other suitors of God. He took the lead in this relationship and was trying to draw God into the relationship his way, on his terms. And Ignatius wanted this at all costs.

Infatuation is not love. In fact, infatuation can lead you to suicide because when you are infatuated, nothing that you do is good enough, and what glares as you try to purify your life is the negative. And suicide is the temptation that Ignatius had. After his spiritual reading and reflection, as his infatuation took root, he went through a period in which he intensely berated himself for all his past sinfulness. He didn’t feel worthy enough for God or for this life, and he contemplated ending everything. All that he experienced was darkness and being abandoned by God. He was in deep spiritual desolation.

It was only when Ignatius stopped leading God his way and allowed God to take over that he had his revelation at the River Cardoner in Manresa—an experience that forever changed him, where he fell completely in love with God. There in this little Spanish town, Ignatius was suddenly drawn into Divine love. Now there was no competition. Now there was no definition of what the relationship should be. Now Ignatius was just in it, loving. And love drew him and freed him to be the person that God created him to be.
I, too, was infatuated with God before I fell in love with God. When I was infatuated with God, I thought I had to do many and challenging things to prove that I was in love with God and to get God’s attention. I wanted to be someone who God would notice. But whatever I did, it wasn’t enough. I joined the altar boys when I was twelve and traveled fifteen miles every morning to serve the first Mass. I was part of the Sodality of Our Lady and gave myself to the pious practices and social service without counting the cost.
When I joined the Jesuits, I opted for the most menial works and took up the biggest challenges. I was infatuated with God and not in love with God. The truth was I hated myself and could not love God. I remember a time when my superior asked me to take care of a companion who was in the hospital. I was by his bedside any free time I could find. Right after breakfast, I was on my bicycle racing to the hospital to make sure he had had a good night’s sleep and had a good start to the new day. After lunch I was back again to see that he was comfortable. I sacrificed my leisure time and my recreation to be with him and make sure he was not alone. On the day of his surgery, the Jesuit in charge of the sick could not be present, so I stayed close to him. I nursed him, fed him, cleaned him, and bathed him—I did everything I could for him. And all this I did unconsciously for the admiration of my superiors and companions and to draw God’s attention to myself.

But when my Jesuit classmate came home from the hospital, he inexplicably began to spread all kinds of negative rumors about me. I felt that I was judged unfairly, felt totally rejected, and was the laughingstock of my other companions. I was deeply hurt. But at that time I was sure that God was aware of the way I martyred myself for this companion and all for the love of God. You see, I was looking for a martyr’s crown. I was expecting a great reward in heaven.

When I look back at this experience, I feel that I deserved what I got. Why? Because Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. At that time, when I was infatuated by God, I did not love myself, and so I was incapable of loving my classmate or anyone else. All the things I did for this young man and for the rest of the world in the name of God were acts of love—not love. And acts of love, not love, got me what I deserved. Everything I did was to use the other person to show the rest of the world how wonderful I was—acts of love to prove to myself what a good person I was, acts of love to use others to gain a great reward in heaven. Acts of love can, therefore, cause deep depression or even make a person suicidal.

Since I did not love myself I could not love anyone else. I looked for ugliness and negativity everywhere. I was sensitive, caring, smart, and athletic and yet did not feel worthy of anyone’s friendship and love. I was talented and yet thought others were better than me. I always seemed to focus on something that did not go well in my life, however small or insignificant. I was incapable of friendship, of loving, or even receiving love, because I did not love myself. In my relationship with people and even in my relationship with God, I was loving for the scraps, the crumbs, anything that would fall from the table. Whatever might satisfy me for the moment but ultimately would leave me empty, feeling degraded, resentful, and far from happy. How I craved for someone who would love me just for myself. I remember praying in one of my dark and desperate lonely moments, “Lord, take away all my talents and gifts and send me one person who will love me for myself.” I cried while praying many nights, feeling alone and lonely.

And then one day in probably the lowest period of my life I discovered my mantra. It was given to me: “I’m important, I’m precious, and I have something beautiful to offer—that’s me.” Once I found my mantra—important, precious, and beautiful—everything changed. My whole life changed. I didn’t have to prove to God who I was; I just knew. I’m important, precious, and beautiful, and not because I say it but because the Bible tells me so. God did not create trash when I was created; God made me in God’s own image and likeness. I am the Divine breath (Genesis 1 and 2). And in Isaiah 43, God says, “I have called you by name: you are mine. . . . You are precious in my eyes . . . I love you. . . . I have created you for my glory.” Isaiah 49 says in no unclear terms that we are so precious that God carved us on the palms of God’s own hands. And Jesus assures us that we are more precious than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. I used so many passages in the Bible to discover and assert my own personal identity. And then slowly but surely I didn’t need to rely on the Bible to tell me this because I began to experience it. I experienced it again and again, and I now feel it at the core of my being—important, precious, and beautiful.

Today I don’t have to prove my love for God. I don’t have to do anything to be in love with God. Whatever I do is not necessary; the relationship doesn’t require validation or justification. This loving relationship just is. That’s the difference. I’m no longer infatuated with God, I’m in love.

So, infatuation is not love—though it can lead to love.
Stories of Being Seduced by God

If we focus not on ourselves but on the movement of God in our lives, we can see how falling in love with the Divine begins. Like all things, it begins with God’s initiative. It begins with something I like to call God’s seduction.

Jeremiah, the Brokenhearted Prophet

It seems that Jeremiah was not allowed to enjoy his youth. The Bible tells us how God broke into the life of this ancient Jew and called him to be a prophet when he was very young and minding his own business. God reveals to the youthful Jeremiah that he is loved in a special way and part of the Divine plan long before he was even born. God speaks to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you,”—and Jeremiah is seduced. At this revelation Jeremiah is love-­struck and anything that he does to resist the Divine offer to this special relationship only throws him deeper into the arms of God. He complains that he is just a kid and not a gifted speaker—and God promises to put words into Jeremiah’s mouth and promises to be with him at all times. The seduction deepens.
As soon as Jeremiah sets out on this Divine mission people make fun of him, he is put in prison, and at one point he is even thrown into a pit to die. He was often bitter about his experience and expressed the anger and frustration he felt. He cursed the day that he was born and wished that his mother’s womb were his tomb. Here are Jeremiah’s own words:
You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.
I am a daily laughingstock,
everybody’s butt.
Each time I speak the word, I have to howl
and proclaim: “Violence and ruin!”
The word of Yahweh has meant for me
insult, derision, all day long.
I used to say, “I will not think about him,
I will not speak in his name any more.”
—Jeremiah 20:7–9, Jerusalem Bible

Once again Jeremiah tries to resist God’s way of drawing him into the Divine experience through this mission. But the more he struggles to resist God the more entangled he gets in the Divine web. He continues to exclaim:
Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones.
The effort to restrain it wearied me,
I could not bear it.
—Jeremiah 20:9, Jerusalem Bible

What does Jeremiah get in return for being in this seemingly treacherous mission? He sees himself as clay in the hands of the Divine potter, who is shaping and forming him slowly but surely into the Divine image and likeness. As he reviews his life, Jeremiah confesses and proclaims that God never abandoned him in all his trials and desperation. He has no doubt that he had a special share of Divine life and love. Jeremiah invites the rest of the world to believe and experience this tremendous love of God for us as individuals and for the whole of humanity in any and every situation of our lives.

 The Lord appears to him from afar:
With age-old love I have loved you;
 so I have kept my mercy toward you.
—Jeremiah 31:3

Have we sometimes felt like Jeremiah, brokenhearted? We are drawn into situations and ministries that seem beyond us and something we never would have looked for. How many have sacrificed their entire lives to take care of an ailing or aging parent or loved one? How many have given their best to the jobs and ministries they are in, sometimes at the expense of family, friends, and their own personal needs and interests?

We do the best we can to carry out what seems to be God’s plan for us and yet our best does not seem good enough and we feel inadequate. When we feel punished, or mocked, or even abandoned, may we also feel the steadfast love of God drawing us into the same everlasting love that seduced, sustained, and transformed Jeremiah.

Adam and Eve, the First Seduction

In most ancient traditions and cultures the serpent is a symbol of wisdom. The book of Genesis talks about a serpent in the story of Adam and Eve, and we are told that the serpent possessed secret wisdom that no other creature had. In the story, the serpent seduces the woman, Eve, into eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent proposed that it was a source of wisdom that God wanted to keep from them. It’s a familiar tale, but let’s challenge ourselves to look deeper.
The feminine intuition recognized that the fruit from the tree of wisdom and knowledge “was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6). Eve shares the fruit with the man, Adam, who eats as well. This results in our first parents becoming aware of their nakedness. And what is nakedness? After they made the decision to eat the fruit and not trust in God, nakedness was their natural state, living with no masks and no pretenses. They lived comfortably together, seeing themselves as God’s own image and likeness and the Divine breath.

But the seduction of wisdom in defiance of God comes with a price. In the story, Adam and Eve make loincloths for themselves to cover their nakedness. Skins were put onto humanity’s nakedness—skins that created Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female. Our true selves are covered with separations, distinctions, and pretenses. Following this path of wisdom has other consequences as well; namely, judgment, punishment, alienation, and suffering not by our adversaries but at the hands of those we love most.

True wisdom, which is the gift of God, helps us see ourselves more and more as we truly are, and this knowledge of our true identity gives us a growing inner freedom. But this knowledge is also countercultural and sometimes antisocial, and it often makes those we love most and are close to very uncomfortable. To avoid being ridiculed or ostracized by others—or to avoid the chance that they, too, may be seduced—our loved ones will stay away from us or punish us and make us suffer. As God draws us in, it is not our enemies, but those we love and cherish most who resist us and alienate us. This is the paradox and the price that comes with growth in wisdom.
Yet, true wisdom continues to seduce us. It challenges us to keep seeking greater and greater wisdom, until we come to the tree of life. It is then we will experience the fullness of wisdom and find our true identity in the Divine.

It is our human destiny to be seduced by God. That’s why we begin to fall in love with God in the first place, because God actually seduces us. God invites us to eat from the tree of knowledge—to have a Divine experience—and that experience shows us our nakedness or transparency. Or to put it another way, our inherent thirst and craving for the gift of the tree of life—our human desire to live fully and infinitely—creates in us restlessness with our current state, a deep, burning fire challenging us to continue seeking that deeper consciousness. We keep seeking the greater and the better, and we are drawn deeper and deeper into the Divine love.

So this is God’s pattern, I believe—one of seduction. It starts right from the Bible book of Genesis; Adam and Eve were seduced and experienced themselves as the likeness and image of the Divine. And so will we if we let ourselves be seduced like Adam, like Eve, like Jeremiah.

Abraham, the Settled One Uprooted

Scripture scholars tell us that Abraham was a tribal chieftain who had everything going well in his life. He had his land, his people, his culture, and he spent his life being good and doing good, faithfully worshiping many gods. Yahweh gently came into this good life and seduced Abraham with the promise of a land for him and his descendants that would stretch as far as one can gaze to the north and south, east and west, a land flowing with milk and honey. His descendants would multiply like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. He would be a blessing everywhere he went, and all the families of the earth would bless themselves by Abraham.

Abraham fell for this Divine seduction. He left the security of his land, his people, and his culture. He abandoned the many gods that he worshiped and had found comfort in all his life. He was drawn to encounter the one true God.

Abraham was infatuated by the Divine promises. But the path to the land flowing with milk and honey was through the desert. God led Abraham into the desert, and it was here that Abraham found himself stripped of all his securities. This was where Abraham was confronted with himself, where his whole life was challenged, and he was not sure whether he was going to live or die.

In his nakedness he encountered his true self and experienced God without all the comforts of Divine gifts. But once Abraham fixed his eyes and his heart on God there was no turning back. He was seduced and his infatuation kept him going as his faith in God deepened.

God now demanded of Abraham the sacrifice of his son Isaac, “the son of promise” and God’s own gift. What a price! And Abraham could not refuse. He now fell in love totally and unconditionally with the Divine. The transformation from infatuation to love was complete. The Divine was the absolute, and Abraham found his identity in this absolute God. This Divine love spared Isaac and transformed Abraham into our father in faith and the father of a holy nation.

Have we not felt like Abraham at times in our personal lives? We spend our lives doing good. We follow all of God’s commandments. We reach out to those in need. We sacrifice ourselves so that our families are settled and happy. And it seems that God is not satisfied. More is demanded of us. The signs of God’s presence in our lives seem to be destroyed. Our faith is challenged, we feel forsaken and abandoned by God, and we find ourselves in the desert, stripped of everything except our true selves. And our relationship with God is also stripped of everything, of all labels and theologies. But we may take heart knowing that it is here that we truly encounter and fall in love with the original, absolute face of the Divine. Also, we realize that with God there is always a better than the best. When we think we have given our best to God, more is demanded of us. By the same token, when we think we have received the best from God, there are always better gifts that surprise us.

Moses, the Curious One

Moses’ life can be summed up with one word: curiosity. When Moses was a baby and Pharaoh’s daughter saw his papyrus basket floating down the river, she was curious. She looked inside and saw the baby Moses. Moved with pity at the sight, she took him into her home. Even though Moses lived in an Egyptian home he was brought up knowing he was a Jew. His heart was with his people who were in slavery at the time. He must have struggled with his identity—outwardly he was part of the Egyptian family but his heart was still with the people of God. As a grown man, he kills an Egyptian who was beating up a Jew. And then in the aftermath, when some of his own Jewish people were ready to betray him, he had to flee.

God seduced Moses by working on his curiosity. While traveling in the desert, Moses encountered a bush that was burning but not consumed by the fire. His fascination drew him closer to the bush, and then his heart was trapped. God spoke out of the bush and told Moses to take off his sandals; he was on holy ground. At this point Moses could have run away, but his curiosity got the better of him. He draws still closer and begins to converse with God.

Moses had worshiped the God of Israel up to this point in his life without really knowing who this God was. His curiosity drew him into a deeper revelation and a closer relationship with God. Now he falls in love with God whose name is “I am.“ Moses was seduced by God, his infatuation drew him to the burning bush, and now he intimately converses with God and falls in love with the Divine. And he himself is burning with this Love of the Divine, without being consumed.

But this gift comes with a price. Moses is sent back to Egypt to set God’s people free from the tyranny of the Pharaoh. He realizes his weakness more and more as he carries out his mission and yet cannot resist God’s continual seduction. God overcomes Moses, and Moses overcomes the Pharaoh.

After he completes his mission to free Israel, Moses continues to be seduced by God, who said, “I am is with you.” Moses finally gets his people out of Egypt—and now they rise up against him. “Why did you bring us out here? We were better off in slavery and bondage than here in the desert.” And faithful Moses is drawn deeper into I am. In his total dependence on God, Moses is sucked into the very being and essence of the Divine: at Mount Sinai God draws Moses into a divine cloud and overshadows him.
Having fallen in love with God, Moses’ work does not become easier. He has to deal with a stiff-­necked people who refuse to be seduced as he was. And his self-­doubts do not allow him to go into the Promised Land with the Israelites, but they do not stop him from drawing ever deeper into the Divine presence.

How often in our lives do we find ourselves in situations that are on fire with the love and the presence of the Divine but never consumed. It attracts our curiosity. Do we run away? Or are we ready to remove our sandals, empty ourselves of our selfish egos, and allow the Divine energy and presence to take us into itself. If we stay and follow, like Moses, our weakness does not stop us from taking on the strongest people and the most challenging situations. Instead, it is through our weakness that God works. It is in our weakness that we, like Moses, find our identity in the Divine. In the process we are taken into the cloud and overshadowed by the Divine presence. We have fallen in love with the Divine and there is no turning back.

Mary, the Blessed One Who Believed

The Gospel of Luke tells us how at the Annunciation Mary is seduced by promises brought by the angel Gabriel. “Hail, full of grace! God has found favor with you. Will you bear God in your life?” Mary seems infatuated by this greeting and cannot run away. She asks the angel how this would happen. She would be overshadowed by God and her son would be Divine. She is told that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant even in her old age; God’s seduction gives Mary tangible signs that the angel’s message is true. Mary’s response is not a yes or a no, but a surrender to life experience: “Let life happen to me according to God’s word.” Then when Mary allows herself into this love relationship, the angel leaves her. She feels totally abandoned with the Mosaic law ringing loud in her ears: either a quiet rejection by Joseph her future husband or a public stoning to death.
Mary is love-­struck and runs to the hill country to her cousin Elizabeth, both to help her in the time of her pregnancy and to seek confirmation and support on her new journey with God. As soon as Mary arrives, John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb while Elizabeth pays Mary the best compliment when she exclaims, “Blessed are you who believed.” This belief in the ways of the Divine keep purifying Mary all her life. She returns to her home, and of course Joseph is ready to dissolve their engagement and send her away quietly. In the face of rejection from someone so close to her, Mary is forced to abandon herself to the Divine.

This rejection continues as she travels with Joseph to Bethlehem, where one door after another is slammed in her face. There is no room for her to lodge and no proper place for her to give birth to her firstborn. She was told that her son would rule the earth but is not even provided with a decent place to give birth.
After Jesus is born, God continues to seduce Mary, first through the shepherds and then through the Magi. The shepherds tell Mary about the angels who appeared to them in the middle of the night telling them about Jesus the Messiah, and the Magi reveal to Mary their experience of following a star that led them to the manger. She understands none of this but ponders all of it in her heart while she has to pick up her little baby and flee to Egypt. God probably became more real to Mary as she finds no secure place except in the heart of God or God in her heart.

Jesus grows and his relationship with the social and the religious leaders of his time throws Mary more and more into the arms of the Divine. When he is just twelve, he stays behind in the temple as his parents travel on unaware, and when Mary complains about it, all he says is, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Mary does not understand any of this. He grows up and he spends his time with those condemned by the society and religion of his day. His life and preaching is against the religious powers that lead his people. Mary arrives with Jesus’ relatives, who think he has gone crazy and want to bring him back home (Mark 3:20, 31–35).

Jesus continues to live a life that is an expression of his Divine seduction and Divine identity, and this brings him to the cross. Mary does not understand any of this but keeps living her first response: Let life happen to me according to God’s word. Good things happen in the life of Jesus, and Mary is there taking in the good without clinging to any of it; painful things happen, and Mary hears the crowds scream for the death of her son—“Crucify him! Crucify him!”—and she feels the pain but does not cling to it. She is now standing at the foot of the cross. Her mother’s heart is broken, but in her romance with God her divine spirit gives her the strength to take it all in with the sure hope of the resurrection of her son.

Mary is now one who has attained total union with the Divine and experiences inner freedom and the fullness of life. She finds her identity in the Divine, and like her son Jesus, lives in that truth.

Don’t we at times in our lives feel like Mary—be?wildered, rejected, with no secure place or thing to cling to, save our belief in God’s love? Haven’t we all been broken down at one time or another by life’s uncompromising events or the judgmental actions of others? And how many of us have felt the sting of death claiming someone we love too soon? But we find our inner strength when we have the courage to say like Mary, “Let life happen to me according to God’s word. I believe.” When we cease to cling to our own expectations and conclusions and begin to flow with life, then we begin to let God’s life live in us.
God’s Pattern

So from these stories we can see this is God’s pattern, seduction. But it is seduction of a different kind. To be seduced by God is actually an invitation to die—it is an invitation to let go and an invitation to give up. God is calling us, wooing us, into a new relationship, and for this relationship to deepen, our old selves and our identity as we know it must die. What you might be thinking now is: “Maybe I’ve made a mistake reading this book. Why would I—why would anyone—want to fall in love like that?”

Because, to not allow oneself to be seduced by God is to forgo the incalculable gift of experiencing Divine life. It is to pass up what it means to truly be human—to refuse to be seduced by God is to forgo knowing your real identity. Not letting go, not giving up, and not dying to self leads to misery. We merely exist; we do not live. God is seducing us so we can live our life fully, live our life happily, live the abundance and the fullness of life. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (10:10).

So we ought to ask ourselves some important questions:

“When have I experienced God’s seductive invitation in my life?”
“What was it that first enticed me into a deeper personal relationship with God?”
“How have I responded?”
“How did this response affect my personal life?”

When you are being seduced by God, there is this burning desire inside of you: I want to, but I am afraid. I try to pull back, but I can’t. You can’t pull back because God is that kind of seducer. And once you start falling in love with God, once God crosses your path, it’s very difficult to stay away. How long can one resist God’s power? God is more powerful than you and me, and if given a little chance, God will take everything. God will take everything we currently cling to in order to give us back everything that is our right—peace that the world cannot give, freedom that no one can grant, inner joy that no one and nothing can take away.

Our first step is to open ourselves to experience. To be seduced by God, to respond like Adam and Eve, Jeremiah, Moses, and Mary, our attitude must be a burning desire to experience wholeness, to experience fullness, to experience ultimate truth. And yielding to this seduction is the first sign that we are falling in love with God.

Meet the Author

Fr. Paul Coutinho, SJ is an internationally recognized Ignatian scholar, author, and speaker who brings an Eastern flavor to Western spirituality. A native of India, he frequently leads retreats, gives spiritual direction, and trains people to lead the Spiritual Exercises. He is the author of How Big Is Your God? and Just as You Are.
He holds master’s degrees in both clinical psychology and religious studies, and he has a doctorate in historical theology from Saint Louis University, where he specialized in Ignatian spirituality and is now a visiting theology professor.
Coutinho currently creates and runs programs in Ignatian identity and mission for Saint Louis University’s Mission and Ministry office, he is the editor of Ignis—the South Asian Ignatian spirituality journal—and also shares his gifts as the director of Ignatian Spirituality Programs for South Asia. He resides in St. Louis and divides his time between India and the United States.

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