How do we help people to love what is lovely? Very simply, we cause them, ask them, help them to place their minds on the lovely thing concerned. We assist them to do this in every way possible. Saint Thomas Aquinas remarks that “love is born of an earnest consideration of the object loved.” And: “Love follows knowledge.” Love is an emotional response aroused in the will by visions of the good. Contrary to what is often said, love is never blind, though it may not see rightly. It cannot exist without some vision of the beloved.
As teachers we therefore bring the lovely thing—in this case, God—before the disciple as fully and as forcibly as possible, putting our best efforts into it. But we never forget that in the last analysis, as we have already learned from Emily Dickinson, “the soul selects her own society, then shuts the door.” Though we act, and as intelligently and responsibly as possible, we are always in the position of asking: asking them, asking God, and responding to their responses.
God has placed the only key to the innermost parts of the human soul in its own hands and will never take it back to himself or give it to another. You may even be able to destroy the soul of another, but you will never unlock it against his or her will. The soul, to continue the words of the poet just quoted, can “close the valves of her attention, like stone.” She can even lose the key, and have to have help finding it. She can even refuse the help she desperately needs. But she will never cease to need to love, which is deeper than the need to be loved.
A popular saying is “Take time to smell the roses.” What does this mean? To enjoy the rose it is necessary to focus on it and bring the rose as fully before our senses and mind as possible. To smell a rose you must get close, and you must linger. When we do so, we delight in it. We love it.
Taking time to smell the roses leaves enduring impressions of a dear glory that, if sufficiently reengaged , can change the quality of our entire life. The rose in a very special way—and more generally the flower, even in its most humble forms—is a fragile but irrepressible witness on earth to a “larger” world where good is somehow safe.
This simple illustration contains profound truths. If anyone is to love God and have his or her life filled with that love, God in his glorious reality must be brought before the mind and kept there in such a way that the mind takes root and stays fixed there. Of course the individual must be willing for this to happen, but any genuine apprentice to Jesus will be willing. This is the very lesson apprentices have enrolled in his school to learn.
So the question for the first part of our curriculum is simply how to bring God adequately before the mind and spirit of the disciple. This is to be done in such a way that love for and delight in God will be elicited and established as the pervasive orientation of the whole self. It will fill the mind of the willing soul and progress toward an easy and delightful governance of the entire personality.
—Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy