John Cowan: We are born, and we die, in Pure Love

I received an email yesterday from my brother-in-law John Cowan, the widower of my dear sister Mary, who finally let go of this life on September 29, 2015, after suffering from some form of cancer for most of 40 years. Aspects of her story can be gleaned from The Grieving Time (I list my posts on Mary at the bottom of that long page).

Here is John’s email. I find it particularly compelling, given my — and others’ — ruminations on the connections between the newly conceived Deathing Project and the recently birthed Baby Picture Project.

Since much of his contemplation concerns his own small child self, I asked him to send me his chosen Baby Picture, as well as a recent photo of him — he chose a photo with Mary by his side.

(I will repost this piece on the Baby Picture Project blog.)


Dear Ann,

Ever since you launched your Baby Picture Project (BPP) I have been thinking about the reactions people have had after participating in the project and it is nothing short of wonderful. This has led me to wonder what is it about searching for a picture of yourself before you were damaged by the world that is so wonderful. And what is it that changes when we see and hear another person share their picture and story around that? It is not a coincidence that one of the classes that I am taking for my graduate degree in Theology (same degree that Mary pursued and received) is covering the different narratives of the New Testament and one in particular that we are studying is Matthew 18:1-5. In this narrative the disciples ask Yeshua what greatness in the kingdom/queendom of heaven looks like. Yeshua then calls over a child and puts him in the center of the group and says, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom/queendom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in heaven.” Wow, I thought this is uncanny, have I stumbled on to something? I then began to think about what are the things that the world does to us from a very young age and how do I get back to this “childlike” state? As I was meditating on this it occurred to me that one of the traits of children, of me in my Baby Picture Project photo was that I had spiritual poverty. That is, I had no pride of intellect, I didn’t know anything and I didn’t try to make anyone think that I knew anything; I was nothing except in awe of the universe. Valetin Tomberg in his Meditations on the Tarot says that spiritual poverty is necessary to become a “cup” a receptacle for the revelation of Being. So I made a list of what characteristics I thought were in this child, especially the BPP child that lives in me. Here are some of those:

  • Joy – active, dancing
  • Contemplation
  • Enjoyment, every day is Spring
  • Visions
  • Satisfaction
  • Wonder and Awe

On completing this exercise, I began to wonder what happened to that little child within, where did it go? I began to think that the root of this childlike way of being was Pure Love. We are born into this world as embodied Pure Love and slowly that Pure Love is attacked by the world around us and it shrinks back into our heart, some it is more shrunken than others. The point is that it is there, it has not gone away and will bloom if we only feed it. The BPP is one way of rediscovering this Pure Love and once we do we have to hold on to that and begin to do whatever we can to let go of all the ways of the world that we have adopted and have believed define who we are. Some examples of these things we can let go of included:

  • Pride & arrogance
  • Grasping and holding (attachment)
  • Wealth
  • Recognition & accomplishment
  • Envy
  • Anger
  • Images (my image of God)
  • Appetite
  • Striving

As we shed these false self attributes we may find others that lie below the surface and so the work of letting go is not simple it takes discipline and community. I believe however that the BPP can help in this process, it can help us to shed these false images of ourselves and of others. No more will we look at someone and see someone with labels (e.g., overweight, old, ugly, beautiful, smelly, and the list goes on). Instead we will see the child within, (see the first list) and when this happens this Pure Love will change the world because it will awaken the Pure Love in everyone who we meet.

In terms of the dying experience, when we get close to our own death if we are fortunate to have that opportunity, the Pure Love that has been hiding for so long starts to come out because many of the doors and locks that kept it in hiding have been knocked down. Being around someone who has done this as you know is life altering. My prayer is that we find a way to use BPP to open up each persons Pure Love and than as community we encourage everyone to give that love away. If your work is with the dying then take this love and merge with those who are dying, if it is with children then give your love to them. We don’t have to do anything but we need to be present so that this Pure Love will flow from above to below. As it says in the Emerald Table, As above so below and it hath power to melt every subtle thing.

Love, John

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