“In The Divine Heart, Colette Lafia invites us to enter the vastness and intimacy of God’s love, offering seven simple yet powerful ways to deepen our awareness and open our hearts. This small book with a big heart shows us how to live in the flow of Divine love.” — Richard Rohr, author of The Universal Christ, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation
“During these turbulent times, we need the steadying voice of feminine wisdom more urgently than ever. In this luminous book, spiritual guide Colette Lafia offers the fruits of her tenderly cultivated inner life to feed people of all genders who thirst for a direct encounter with the embodiment of love, which she recognizes as our own true nature.” — Mirabai Starr, translator of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, author of Wild Mercy
In The Divine Heart, spiritual director Colette Lafia shows how we can live in an ever-flowing love relationship with God, realizing that God is in us and we are in God. Beautifully expressed, sharing examples of her own journey, The Divine Heart offers seven “invitations” that can awaken us to this abundant flow of love at the core of our being.
Weaving prayers and practices, along with relevant contemporary and mystical teachings, Colette Lafia invites us to explore how connecting to Divine love helps us trust our own spiritual experiences and inspires us toward hope, healing, and wholeness.
The Divine Heart is a timely offering, outlining ways we can integrate loss and pain, and renew ourselves in the power and presence of love.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Monkfish Book Publishing Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Colette has a passion for helping people connect more deeply with the presence of the sacred in daily life. She designs and facilitates workshops and retreats for an international audience, has an active practice as a spiritual director, and is an adjunct faculty member at Mercy Center.
Colette Lafia is the author of Comfort and Joy: Simple Ways to Care for Ourselves and Others (Conari Press, 2008), named one of the best spiritual books of the year, and Seeking Surrender: How My Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught Me to Trust and Embrace Life (Sorin Books/Ave Maria Press, 2015).
Please visit www.colettelafia.com.
Read an Excerpt
Beginnings: The Flow of Divine Love
On a warm Sunday afternoon a few years ago, following an extremely busy week, I relished the opportunity for unstructured time. At last, I could slow down and go to my art studio to take care of simple tasks like recycling papers, shelving books, and tidying up. My husband was outside tending our garden, trimming overgrown jasmine, pulling up the weeds that had popped up everywhere after the winter rains, and planting petunias in porcelain pots. As I settled into peace, making order in my studio, I enjoyed listening to the rustle of his activity.
I began placing pastels into a small basket and tightening the caps on the acrylic paints, when a flash of inspiration coursed through me. With my fingers tingling, I spontaneously pinned seven large sheets of paper on the wall and drew images and wrote the words that were pouring through me. After perhaps thirty minutes, I felt complete—my fingertips stained, my heart still racing. I looked at the papers and saw a series of abstract drawings with a word scribbled in large charcoal letters on each. On every piece of paper was a single word—“Receptivity,” “Delight,” “Expansiveness,” “Acceptance,” “Vulnerability,” “Mystery,” and “Gratitude”—covered with smudges, marks, thin lines, spirals, and circles intimating revelations yet to be discovered. I paused, looked again with soft-focused eyes, and envisaged the common thread: the unfolding intimacy of my relationship with the Divine.
From that moment of grace, I began to write this book, and as I’ve continued exploring these qualities of love, I now see each as an invitation to uncover the depth of love, and awaken to our connection and union with the Divine, and with everyone and everything else.
“The Shape of God”
While working on this book, I enrolled in a two-year, spiritual-formation program in the Christian contemplative and mystical traditions at the Living School in New Mexico. During a symposium presented by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and globally recognized ecumenical teacher, I was struck by his words, “If we don’t get the shape of God right, everything wobbles.”
By “shape of God,” Father Richard was referring to the Holy Trinity. From what I understand, he sees the Father/Mother as Fountain Fullness, a flow of infinite love that fills all things; the Son/Word as Incarnation, the outpouring of love and the reality that spirit and matter are inseparable; and the Holy Spirit as Indwelling Grace and Energy. When I asked him to explain further, he simply said, “Think of the Trinity as the dynamic flow of love.”
Love is always present in all created things and always offering itself. God is, thus, a relationship, one in which we can participate in every moment. Divine love is utterly dynamic. Hearing Father Richard, I felt affirmed in the direction I was being guided.
In this book, I use the language of relationship to write about Divine love. And I invite you to join me in entering and living within this relationship of and with Divine love—and with everyone and everything in your life. St. John of the Cross called Divine love “the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter.” We grow up hearing “God is love,” but how do we cultivate this utmost important relationship.Awakening to Love
I desired you before the world began I desire you now As you desire me. And where the desires of two come together. There love is perfected. — Mechtild of Magdeburg
Our lives are made up of raw, “in-between” moments, intimate and unfolding, those moments when God catches us unadorned. They happen of their own accord, carried on the wings of grace, when we’re undressing, when we lie awake in bed in the early-morning silence, when a child reaches up to hold our hand. They take place when we help our elderly parent with grocery shopping, or when we’re lost in the reverie of watching the ocean waves. They happen when we receive the Eucharist at Mass, or when we melt into a lover’s kiss. These moments create markers in our hearts, moments of recognition when we’re struck by something unexpected, and they leave us awakened and touched deeply.
When I was seven, God came to me in an instant. It was a hot, humid summer afternoon in Biscayne Bay, Florida, the air was thick with moisture, my skin covered with sweat. Wearing a red plaid polyester short set my mother had bought for me at Kmart, I was running through the grass in our backyard kicking a rubber ball into the air, catching it, kicking it, and catching it again. I loved being outdoors, alone, away from the noise of my brothers and sisters and from my alcoholic mother hiding in the bedroom.
Just then I heard a seagull’s plaintive call and I looked up, barely able to see the gull’s white, flapping wings soaring by. Suddenly, I was overcome with a sense of vastness—as though I was that seagull flying freely in the infinitely blue sky—one moment heard, the next moment gone. And there I was, my little feet planted on the ground guided by my soaring spirit. From that day on, I knew I was a part of something bigger. I began sensing the presence of God everywhere, in things large and small. God was in my rubber ball, my messy family, the crystal blue sky, the seagull, God was in everything. That day, touching the vastness of life, my heart grew.
When I was twenty-three, God surprised me again. I was living in San Francisco studying for a teaching credential. I didn’t have a car, so I took public buses. On a September afternoon on my way to school, riding the local Mission District bus that seemed to be stopping and pausing at every corner, I got hotter and hotter to the point of exhaustion. The bus was overcrowded, grocery bags lined the aisles, the air reeked of tortillas, sweat, and shampoo.
I was standing in the back, holding on to the overhead handle as the bus bumped over what seemed like every pothole. My heavy backpack resting at my feet, I looked down the aisle, packed with people and shopping bags, and suddenly my heart expanded into waves of love that were flowing in and out of me. Everyone and everything was absorbed within this singular vision, and I had the overwhelming sense of not being separate from anyone—of being connected to all in God’s love. In the thick of the clatter, rumbling, and strong smells, my heart burst open.
The framework I’d confined myself within—the boundaries that had held me apart from others—dissolved. A gentle breeze swept through me and, it seemed, through the entire bus. I knew in the depths of my being that we’re all expressions of Divine love, no one more and none less than another. I prayed this realization would stay with me and be consecrated.
God Is a Love Relationship
My experience of the Divine entering the ordinary moments of my life created in me an inner stirring. It felt active and alive, like a fluttering white butterfly or a bright green plant stem pushing up from the dark soil. Something had awakened in me—a profound sense of Sacred presence and the awareness that I was not separate from the Sacred. I felt a longing for deeper union with God, for a growing awareness that I am living inside of this Divine love, and this Divine love lives inside of me.
As the years went by and I moved through a series of jobs from nonprofit director to elementary school librarian, staying steady in a loving marriage that faced infertility, my urge for more intimacy with God continued to grow. I wanted to live out the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” My burning question was how—how to nurture Divine intimacy.
Last winter, the answer came. I’d returned home from a long day of work, then grocery shopping, and finally a last-minute yoga class. I sat on the edge of my bed, drained and ready for a warm bath, and I prayed, Dear God, let me not forget that you are with me through all of this.
As I slipped out of my clothes, my eyes landed on a single pink rose in a slender vase my husband had placed on the dresser. My gaze lingered, and I felt an invisible unfurling of something within me. In the stillness, my heart cracked open and God’s boundless love flooded my being. I knew I was returning home to the place where the Divine has always been and would always be waiting for me, inside myself. Everything I needed, I could see, is already in the beautiful bud of my heart. God’s generous love is always there. We’re born knowing this, and although we might forget, this is our spiritual heritage and our spiritual intuition.
At that moment, I heard these words clearly within me: “God is a love relationship.” Like the rose on my dresser opening to the light, my heart was opening to the Divine. This unfurling, like the petals of the rose, seeks and needs to open. That is its purpose and its destiny, and in that moment it was both obvious and a revelation. We are, in every moment, living a Divine love relationship.
The Divine Unfurling
Over the next few days, I watched layer upon layer of rose petals slowly appear in the vase on my dresser, bringing the deep pink flower into inexpressible magnificence. As it opened, I felt as though I were glimpsing the Divine love relationship I was already living—tender, dynamic, and delightful. I felt God’s love blooming within me, and I was flowering in it. I could sense the Divine intimacy I am always living, as is everyone else. In a moment of despair, getting ready to bathe before dinner, I found what I’d been longing for—the Divine home of my heart, the access point for God’s intimate love. For me, the rose became a symbol of this unfolding. From bud to flower, our hearts open and reach out to the Divine. This intimate heart recognizes it’s a dwelling place for the Divine and that it lives and grows within the heart of God.
In moments like seeing the seagull, riding the city bus, and sitting on the edge of my bed, exhausted, I discovered that my love relationship with the Divine is a living, searching, learning journey. This unfolding dynamic keeps growing and changing, as I discover new ways to navigate the world. I now know that I am connected to a vast, expanding love that is within and around me. As intimacy with the Divine grows, so does a more intimate relationship with myself, with others, and with nature, art, and sacred ritual. Each is an encounter of the heart, with Divine love at its core.
And when I’m mindful of it all, I can see the cross-fertilization of the sacred with my ordinary daily life. My love relationship with the Divine brings me closer to the particulars of my own life, and at the same time, my intimacy in all my relationships brings me closer to God. Love for the Divine and love within are reciprocal, and I know I’m a full participant. As the thirteenth century philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”
Each of our experiences of the Divine is uniquely personal, a truth we must honor and claim, and yet, at the core, we share the same bond to Divine love. This is a love relationship not unlike those we long for with our spouses, parents, and friends, a connection that nourishes and holds our very souls. Every day we’re called to live in and experience this unfolding intimacy with the Divine, and it makes my soul feel light, like lace on a veil. As I feel this lightness, I hold the Divine close, closer than my own breath. I find shelter with God—the Divine, Holy, Sweet One, Comforter, and Friend, the One Who Loves Me Into Being in Every Moment.
Seven Ways to Invite Divine Love Into Your Life
“If you have never experienced human love, it will be very hard for you to access God as Love. If you have never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanly in the deepest way.” — Richard Rohr
During the epiphany I experienced that Sunday afternoon with pencils, pastels, and charcoal, I discovered these seven ways of inviting in God’s love. Underlying each is a question similar to one posed by James Finley, another core faculty member of the Living School: “How do you give yourself over to that which is giving itself to you?”
The First Invitation – Receptivity
When I was a child, my parents brought me to Mass every Sunday. When I turned seven, I was able to receive the Holy Communion. Each week, I eagerly awaited walking up the aisle to receive God’s life into me. I would kneel in silence as the host dissolved slowly on my tongue, feeling union with the Divine, who was alive inside me. This kind of receptivity, grounded in what Finley calls “childlike sincerity,” allows us to hear what cannot be known without Divine presence and to receive the love God continuously pours into us.
The Second Invitation – Delight
When we enjoy the sensations of life, God is there. We feel Divine love when we run in the sand, laugh in the rain, or drink in the night air. “Here we go, God,” I say as I get on my bicycle and head off to work. The trip takes me through Golden Gate Park, and as I ride along, the fog-filled air cooling my face, eucalyptus and cypress trees towering above me, I’m filled with wonder and freedom, in awe of the power of creation. The world is God’s fingerprint and footprint, as St. Bonaventure, the thirteenth-century Franciscan, tells us. Every day, we can allow ourselves to sense the landscapes of our heart and live fully in the world with Spirit as our guide.
The Third Invitation – Expansiveness
Through expansieness we open to the depths and breadth of our inner landscape, especially the realm of the heart where “with God all things are possible.” When we join our heart with God and allow it to keep opening and expanding, we can feel our own heart-center grow in resonance with the heart of God. The more deeply Divine love grows in us, the greater cosmic love expands. We learn to live in the world with all beings as a sacred and holy place. Leaning into grace, we trust that the love we encounter will keep opening. As my mother told me when she was ninety, long after she’d gotten sober and found her own love within, “To love God is to be open to letting God love you.”
The Fourth Invitation – Acceptance
Can we allow ourselves to be accepted by God, by others, and ourselves without pretense or posturing? Can we be held completely by Divine love, just as we are? We’re being kneaded and formed by God’s loving hands. The more we’re willing to meet all of ourselves, the more we can be touched by Divine love’s tenderness. We pray for the grace to accept God’s unconditional acceptance of us, God’s compassion, loving kindness, and mercy. We hear the encouraging words, “There is no place I cannot reach,” and are called to live in accord with the words of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, “The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. That faith that one is loved by God although unworthy—or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth!”
The Fifth Invitation – Vulnerability
To have a personal relationship with God, we must reveal to God, and thus ourselves, our most vulnerable, hidden places, filled with fear and uncertainty, as well as sweetness and longing. Allowing ourselves to be more and more exposed takes courage and honesty. In spiritual direction, we say, “Come as you are. All of you is welcome.” Hear God saying those words to you, and feel yourself held in Divine love, as you are, completely. This is necessary to be in a loving relationship with the Divine.
The Sixth Invitation – Mystery
Inherent in all our love relationships—with the Divine, creation, one another, and ourselves—there exists wonder, magnitude, and the power of mystery. I met my husband on a winter’s night at a café in Montréal. As our eyes met, we stepped into each other’s hearts. Mystery is what we are and what life brings us. We are born touched by mystery, living in relationship with God’s mysterious love, an embrace that envelops us wholly. Deep calls upon deep, as we become more present to this sacred love, guided by Spirit each step of the way. We follow the scent of our instincts towards the heart’s awakening. Opening to the unknown takes faith and presence moment after moment. The mystery of God is experienced only by participation.
The Seventh Invitation – Gratitude
Gratitude enriches the soil in which Divine love grows. As our heart awakens to unity and connection, gratefulness flows. When the loving soul gazes into the eternal mirror, we can hear the words of Mechtild of Magdeburg, “Lord, between you and me all things are beautiful.” As our heart awakens to the mutuality of Divine love, the trajectory of our life shifts. We find ourselves enjoying our love relationship with God—walking through the park, sitting in the car together traveling to work, gazing at each other in the silence of night basking in gratitude for the intimacy unfolding. We spread out in the sweetness that seeps into the sublime and the ordinary, and hear the call to gratefulness, the psalms of thanksgiving throughout our lives.
Being in Relationship
To be human is to be in relationship with self, others, and all of creation. We do not and cannot live alone, even if we’re on a remote mountaintop. Relationships are living organisms, like flowers, requiring care and attention. They dwell at the very core of our being. I’ve learned about Divine love through relations with my deepest self, my husband, siblings, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbors, those I see for spiritual direction, and the Earth herself.
Like all relationships, our connection with the Divine flourishes with love and attention. God invites us every day to come closer and closer, and as we do, we touch the root of all our relationships and taste what it means to trust.
How to Use this Book
I wrote The Divine Heart for you to use in any way that serves you. It can be a book to pray with, to leaf through its pages while you’re on retreat, or as a source of reflections to share in community. There are seven chapters, each an invitation that can lead to a more intimate relationship with God, yourself, and others.
You might want to read the book all the way through and discover what stirs in you, or pray with each invitation for a week, a month, or longer before moving on to the next. We are all on a journey, and need different things at different times. Listen to the still, small voice within, and honor its message and gift of resonance.
Please approach each invitation as an exploration, a finger pointing to the ineffable, while allowing your heart to open and bloom in God’s abiding love. My hope is that this small book will help you awaken, little by little, to God’s love, to grow in it and learn to dwell in the joys and pleasures it brings.
Each invitation shines light on the connection between intimacy with the Divine and intimacy in daily life, and is supported by reflections, texts, prayer suggestions, and journaling encouragement. As you write your experiences down, your journal might become a personal prayer book, filled with questions, reflections, and supplications that might serve as markers along your sacred journey.
The Divine Heart offers ways to come to know the Divine as an intimate relationship, your daily companion, the ground from which all relationships deepen and grow. Awakening to this intimate companionship reveals how home is our heart, our rose, the place in God where we are called friend, embraced as fully as sunlight fills the sky. This is the limitless bounty of love.
There are no prerequisites. No degrees, lineage, or credentials are needed. There is no perfect discipline, nor does any one person or approach hold the key for you to enter this relationship and receive God’s love. No one else can open the door to your heart, and no outsider is gatekeeper. Only God; only your deepest Self. We each enter this intimate relationship with the Divine in our own way. We’re all born with an inner knowing, an indwelling Spirit, and we are always participating in God’s love through our very lives.
This relationship has known me my entire life. Union with God is my origin; yet, at the same time I’m constantly discovering, awakening, and allowing this sublime something to reveal itself. It’s a mystery that knows me so deeply, it’s intertwined with the strands of my hair, the ones I pull back and braid, then let loose to brush against my cheeks.
I long wondered, What will teach me how to be in an intimate relationship with the Divine? And now I know. It’s my heart, God’s Spirit, and silence. I must be as receptive as Mary at the moment of the Immaculate Conception—fully open, available, and willing, filled with the power of “yes” and a trust in unfolding grace and intimacy. I know I must never stop praying, and do my best to live in a state of prayer.
Cultivating a relationship with the Divine is a personal journey, yet not solely interior. It also reaches out to the world and opens like the petals of a rose. It is the love story we’re all living. I never cease to be astonished it.
Keeping a Journal
Taking time to keep a journal can deepen your intentions and integrate your experiences. Journaling can help you observe and give form to your own unfolding relationship with the Divine—sensations, images, and thoughts that might, at first, seem ephemeral. If you’d like to keep a spiritual journal, here are some tips.
Select a format you like: The size, shape, paper, and binding should please you. Find a blank book that feels comfortable and inviting. Then select drawing and writing tools you like—pens, pencils, markers, pastels, crayons. I recommend you take them out of their packages and keep them handy on a tray.
Find a place to keep your journal: To integrate journaling into your daily life, it can help to keep your journal in a place that is easy to access—on a table, a bookshelf, a desk—so you can write or draw in it any time of day.Make a commitment:To honor your intention to journal—to remember and integrate your ongoing relationship with God—you need to make time for it, even a few minutes a day. Making time is, I believe, the most important item on the list. For many, it helps to make writing a ritual. I write first thing in the morning along with my cup of tea. In addition to the importance of the sacred and mundane content, frequency and ritualizing can contribute to the experience.
Follow the prompts in this book (and elsewhere), ones that inspire you: Always allow inspiration to be your guide. Only respond to the prompts that speak to you. Draw and write. By drawing, I mean making marks on the page—lines, shapes, or colors, whatever comes through you. They might have symbolic meaning, or they might mean nothing at all, just something that came through your hands and your heart.
Begin each session with a ritual: You can light a candle, make a cup of tea, say a prayer, or connect with your breath in a few moments of silence. The process of journaling and journeying is yours, and if you find ways to make these sacramental, it will encourage your Spirit to open and integrate your experiences of the Divine as they unfold.
Claim the Love Story You Were Born For
We’re all created from and for love. Being in the flow of God’s love is, for me, the very purpose of life. As a spiritual director who companions people on their search for deeper connection with Divine love, I’ve learned to be fully present as we discover sacredness in the struggles and joys of our daily lives. I’ve sat with women and men of many faith traditions and those with none at all, each sincerely desiring a relationship with the Divine, and I honor all their experiences. We are all loved, and profoundly worthy of love.
Love is a becoming, an experience, not a static phenomenon. It is in perpetual flow, something we can experience in the ordinary and nitty-gritty details of our lives. I invite you to join me on a journey toward ever-increasing intimacy with the Divine, to delighting fully in its fragrance and warmth, touching the sweet nectar at its core, and stepping into this Divine love in every aspect of your life. This is where we belong. It is our true home. This journey isn’t linear, but it’s a spiral, and as our heart opens, mutual intimacy deepens. Our longing for God and God’s longing for us becomes one—the experience become reciprocal. Claim the love story you were born for. Enter and deepen this birthright of your relationship with the Divine—with the intimacy of God’s love.
Table of Contents
Part I Beginnings: Awakening to the Flow of God's Love 1
Part II Seven Ways: Inviting Divine Love into Your Life 10
1 Receptivity: Listening and Responding 20
2 Delight: Feeling Life's Wonders, Savoring Each Moment 40
3 Expansiveness: Trusting Our Heart's Capacity 60
4 Acceptance: Embracing Life and Who We Are 78
5 Vulnerability: Becoming Open-Hearted 94
6 Mystery: Dwelling in the Mystery of Love 113
7 Gratitude: Relaxing and Enjoying the Relationship 133
Part III Living Love 152
About the Author 163
What People are Saying About This
“During these turbulent times, we need the steadying voice of feminine wisdom more urgently than ever. In this luminous book, spiritual guide Colette Lafia offers the fruits of her tenderly cultivated inner life to feed people of all genders who thirst for a direct encounter with the embodiment of love, which she recognizes as our own true nature.” Mirabai Starr, translator of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, author of Wild Mercy
“In The Divine Heart, Colette Lafia invites us to enter the vastness and intimacy of God’s love, offering seven simple yet powerful ways to deepen our awareness and open our hearts. This small book with a big heart shows us how to live in the flow of Divine love.” Richard Rohr, author of The Universal Christ, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation
“In these seven invitations, Colette Lafia leads us into the depths of the heart: our own heart hidden within the Divine Heart. With wisdom born of life experience, she is a loving and compassionate guide.” Veronica Mary Rolf, author of Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life and Revelations of Julian of Norwich
“A generous offering of insights and encouragement that lend themselves to pausing and resting in God’s presence, a state of sustained attentiveness infused with love. Colette Lafia includes a host of practical suggestions to help us carry this Divine love into the graces and challenges of each day.” James Finley, PhD, contemplative teacher and author of Merton’s Palace of Nowhere
“Beautifully written and deeply contemplative, The Divine Heart is more than just a rich and nuanced meditation on the heart – although it certainly is that. It’s a love song, inviting us into ever deepening intimacy with the One who is the source of all Love.” Carl McColman, author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Eternal Heart.
“Colette Lafia’s new book is intimate, accessible, and consoling. The Divine Heart offers us profound insight and a way to deepen the path of love in our own lives. Its design is the ripened fruit of slow thought and attentive action. A continuing student in the school of her life, Colette has proven a reliable study partner in the school of my own inner experiences. I do not doubt her book will earn your gratitude.” Jonathan Montaldo, coeditor of Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton and The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals
“The Divine Heart offers simple yet profoundly elegant pathways to deepening one’s love relationship with God, and Colette Lafia lays out each step on the path with exquisite promise. Recognizing that we navigate the depths of our spiritual lives directly in the midst of life as it is, Colette brings God to life for those seeking to deepen or establish living with greater humility, reverence, and faithqualities that can serve us immeasurably in the world and times we are navigating. Readers can trust that each of the seven pathways that are laid out in The Divine Heart lead to the very center of what matters mostlove in life and love for life.” Kristi Nelson, Author of Wake Up Grateful and Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living