To Pick Off Caterpillars

A question is raised about those angels who live with us, serving and guarding us, as to whether or not they have less joy in identity than the angels in Heaven have and whether they are hindered at all in their [proper] activities by serving and guarding us. No! Not at all! their joy is not diminished, nor their equality, because the angel’s work is to do the will of God and the will of God is the angel’s work. If God told an angel to go to a tree and pick off caterpillars, the angel would be glad to do it and it would be bliss to him because it is God’s will.

-Meister Eckhart, Sermon 23

I’ve been fortunate enough to have Eckhart’s sermons for assigned reading in one of my classes recently. Although the course is not at all designed to be spiritually edifying, I have found many of the readings to be numinously delicious. The above quotation is taken from one of my recent readings, and it presents an idea that challenges me to love Love better.

The end of the passage is the meat of the idea: to follow God’s will is intrinsically valuable. Often times I find myself forgetting this truth. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that often times my conception of God is incompatible with this truth, so I don’t even think about it. But even on my more orthodox days, I do not seem to act like following God’s will is valuable intrinsically.

I would not, in other words, be happy to pick caterpillars off of a tree. I might say to myself, “There are so many ‘more important’ things to do than to pick caterpillars off of a tree.” More important for whom? For me. The truth is that I am so sold on Love’s love for the world that I have taken the actualization of love to be intrinsically valuable. But is not the actualization of love inextricably linked to Love Itself? Is it not the case that I cannot be involved in such a process without loving Love? How, then, can I be wrong in my reluctance to pick off caterpillars?

These questions are asked within the paradigm of the unorthodox God. If loving Love, however, is about a personal-ish relationship, then it makes sense that Love’s will would be valuable for its own sake. Buying flowers, for example, is not valuable for me at all. In fact, I rather dislike it (because it requires spending money). If, however, I am buying those flowers for someone I love, then I value them.

With this, example, then, I can see that its not necessarily following God’s will that is intrinsically valued by a willingness to pick off caterpillars. Rather, the willingness is motivated by an intrinsic valuing of pleasing God. (Doing the will of God and pleasing God are probably connected anyway so this point might be pointless.) Because of my relationship and love for God, pleasing God should be valuable by itself.

If that’s the place where I need to be, I have a long way to go. How can I change what I love about Love? How can I, on other words, get closer to the ideal of loving the opportunity to please God? I’m not exactly sure, but it probably has something to do with learning to worship with my entire being. Fortunately, I don’t have to figure this out by myself.

(A parenthetical point: Upon further reflection, it appears that the unorthodox conception of God that I sometimes hold can be combined with a more orthodox understanding of God, a conception of God as a being with whom we relate. It seems compatible that God could be both Love and then some-being else. Why limit God to love only? That’s actually kind of an exciting discovery since this combination of conceptions seems to more accurately reflect the way God has presented Itself to me. I’m not particularly interested in making God in my own image, so having my conceptions of God fit the way God has revealed Itself is obviously baller. On second thought, my experience of God also does to some extent fit with Marion’s God. There’s some more thinking and praying to be done about this, but progress has been made.)

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