Christians are called to cultivate radical love.  The word radical is of Middle English origin, coming from the Latin radicalis meaning – ‘of or going to the root/origin; fundamental; existing inherently in a thing or person.’  So, radical takes us to the root of love, a deep experience of love.  Jesus is quite explicit that his call is to a radical, universal love when he states the greatest commandment: To love God with all our heart, mind & soul; and to love our neighbor as our self.  As humans we have a natural tendency to be selective, to discriminate based on our feelings toward another person.

As we become mindful of radical love I invite you to imagine three people: someone you are close to and for whom you feel great affection – a friend, someone you are averse to – an enemy (an individual you are not on good terms with – your feelings toward them disturb your happiness), and someone to whom you are indifferent – a stranger (your feelings are neither positive nor negative).  Hold a clear picture of each of these three individuals in your mind.

Begin by focusing on your friend, allowing your feelings for this person to arise.  Recall a time when you felt a joyful connection to this person; then sit and enjoy the positive feelings of love you feel toward this person as they wash over you.  As you bask in these feelings, notice how concretely you identify this person as a ‘friend’; be aware of how much you want this person to be happy – as you are happy with them. 

Now shift your focus to individual you are averse to, allowing your feelings for this person to arise.  Perhaps this person has hurt you.  Without judgment toward yourself, let yourself experience all the negative feelings you have toward this person.  As you experience these feelings, take notice of how concretely you identify this person as an enemy – someone completely at odds with you.  Be aware of how unimportant this person’s happiness is to you. 

Finally, focus on the stranger.  You may experience indifference – a lack of any feeling toward this person.  Sit with the feeling of apathy, noticing the substantial connection between the feeling and the label of stranger. 

Next, reflect on the basis for your decision to categorize these three persons as you did.  What caused you to label the first individual as your friend?  How much of your decision was based on the things this person does that make you feel good?  Then do the same with the enemy.  How much of your decision was based on the things this person does or doesn’t do for you?  Notice how much the category depends on what this person does or doesn’t do now? (Hence the lack of relationship and feeling toward the stranger.)  If the label of enemy or friend were universal experiences of these individuals, then everyone would feel the same about them.  The fact that that not everyone categorizes these individuals the same is proof that these categories are subjective; they are based on our personal feelings. 

Recognize that like us, each of these individuals wants happiness and love.  That each of them has the capacity to develop love and compassion toward others.  Each of these individuals shares the same divine nature; each has been created by and is loved by God.  Each is our neighbor. 

Our feelings could be likened to the mint plant.  If mint is cultivated without a container it quickly spreads and becomes a ground cover.  When we are not paying attention it springs up under the fence in our neighbor’s yard.  The root of the mint plant is hearty, just like our feelings.  As we strive toward radical love, we must carefully cultivate our feelings, taking note of their origin.   

This week’s reflection draws from the practice Friend, Enemy, Stranger, by Susan J. Stabile in Growing in Love and Wisdom.