Oh yes, there was much 80s music through the duration of my PhD studies! Here’s another 80s classic that has played through my head constantly the past 4 years – Huey Lewis and the News – The Power of Love!
This song particularly came to mind when I was stuck in a mental loop over the question: what kind of THING is love?
Is it an action? An emotion? An event or a kind of power or metaphysical entity?
Well, in the end the answer came not from books but chatting around the kitchen table one night with my two boys. We were talking superhero characters (do boys ever grow out of superhero mythologies?!) and naturally the conversation turned to the question ‘if you were a superhero what would your superpower be?’
I declared proudly that I already have a superpower!
What Mum? What is it?
My superpower is love, I say.
‘Oh but everyone has that’ says my 10 year old!
Well, yes actually, I had to admit that I was in full agreement – everybody is born with a capacity for love as an innate human superpower, it’s just that we tend to lose what we don’t use.
So that’s when I began to really understand Huey’s wisdom:
First time you feel it, it might make you sad
Next time you feel it it might make you mad
But you’ll be glad baby when you’ve found
That’s the power makes the world go’round
There are three more scholarly opinions that I will happily point you towards to back up Huey’s more colloquial wisdom. First is Barbara Friedrickson. As a researcher of human emotions, she argues love is a ‘prime emotion’ which is triggered by experiences of connection. In Love 2.0 she says,
First and foremost, love is an emotion, a momentary state that arises to infuse your mind and body alike. [Moreover,] love is the momentary upwelling of three tightly interwoven events: first, a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second, a synchrony between yours and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviours; and third, a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.
Second, I held the wisdom of Franz Rosenzweig in my mind through-out my pondering on this thing called love. Rosenweig drafted his monumental work, The Star of Redemption in the trenches of World War II, and you can feel the desperation in relation to question of love. He says,
Love is completely fulfilled in the moment in which it exists. . . . Thus love is not an attribute, but an event.
Finally, several things fell into place in my thinking about love when I read Thomas Merton’s essay On Love and Need. I read Merton quite late in the piece, in terms of my thesis research, and it was a beautiful gift to do so. In Merton I discovered a fellow traveller and lover who brought strands of my intuition in his words.
In reality, love is a positive force, a transcendent spiritual power. It is, in fact, the deepest creative power in human nature. Rooted in the biological riches of our inheritance, love flowers spiritually as freedom and as a creaturely response to life in a perfect encounter with another person. It is a living appreciation of life as value and gift.
All of these wisdoms – the boys, Huey Lewis, Friedrickson, Rosenweig and Merton – came together in my thesis in the following paragraph:
Love is a continuous present movement towards the good of an-other in response to connection with that other. If the connection is lost or interrupted, the love may or may not be sustained, but it will need to be re-fired by another, and then another connection – imagined or actual – if it is to continue to result in a movement of some kind. This movement is not an attribute or an aspect of love so much as a constant activity or action. It is difficult to choose a suitable word for the movement of love that is wholly in the moment, essentially generative and making way for more moments to come, to arrive from the future fantasy about permanent connection, in to the here-and-now of actual connection. Whether love is a praxis, an energy, an event or a power each of these words for the movement of love are adequate enough, but more satisfactory when held together, along with other grasping definitions. It is enough, though, to make a start, and to get on with the conversation.
Of course, as a work of Christian theology, when I was asking the question about definitions of love, I was trying to make sense of the biblical material on love, particularly on the passage from 1 John 4, where John declares that God-is-love. But I’m gonna leave that for another post, and another 80s tune. Keep your ear to the blog-o-sphere for my next post with the Bangles: Do you feel my heart beating? Is it burning… an eternal flame?