Fourth Sunday in Lent (almost)

I didn’t preach last Sunday, the fourth in Lent. And whilst I had planned to do the discipline of digesting the readings and writing few thoughts for the blog regardless, it didn’t happen and I let it go!

I have, however, been lecturing on LOVE in lent. Giving three lectures for the ecumenical council of Heidelberg/ East Ivanhoe. So it has occurred to me quite belatedly, to post a favourite snippet from last week’s lecture on “God is Love.” 

Here ’tis… Picking up from the observation that Augustine equated divine work of love with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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Saint Augustine was so moved by the image of Romans 5:5—the outpouring of the gift of God-who-is-Love into the human heart—that he functionally equated the gift of Love with the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is, for Augustine, they are one and the same thing—the Holy Spirit is Love.

. . .

In the tradition of Christian theology across the centuries, generally speaking there are two suggested locations for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. The first, which I would guess is the perspective most familiar to most of us, is that the Holy Spirit is present in the work of redemption. We receive the Holy Spirit in conjunction with receiving the testimony of Christ, as a seal of our salvation from sin in Christ. Hence, the Holy Spirit is primarily Christ’s spirit, as the son proceeded from the Father, so the spirit proceeds from the son.

There are a number of theological difficulties that. I believe that it has locked Christians into an hierarchical authority structure for both God and church. If there is no love outside of redemption then we are all doomed, so lets not go there.

There is another perspective that locates the Holy Spirit’s presence in the work of creation. At the foundation of the world as narrated in Genesis chapter one, the breath, ruarch, spirit of God enlivened the word of creation.

Some theologies, take this to be grounds for a kind of universalism. Love, the Holy Spirit, is the creative life-force, the universal energy that sparks life. I have many friends whose hold to this theological narrative. But if the weakness of love exclusively located in the Christian story is authoritarianism, for me, the weakness of love located in a single universal story is that it is in danger of ‘flattening out’ the rich diversity of human experience and difference is essential for love.

Love requires an ‘other’ to be in relationship with. Even when we speak of loving ourselves we assume we are talking about different aspects of our self. This relationship must be allowed freedom to from, or else it is not love, it is coercsion or control. Love is a connection with someone or something thing that is not our singular self.

Feminist Luce Iragaray, and actually Simone de Beauvoir before her, argued that articulation of the feminine is essential because of this of human tendency to reduce difference. If the feminine is not articulated then the default story is masculine. The same goes true for religious singularity. If only one religious story is spoken then only the most dominant story gets spoken. This is no ground for inter-faith dialogue. So, if we are to entertain a religious universalism, love demands that it is personal.

In Christian mysticism, the personal and the universal come together. In prayer, there is only the individual, perceiving body, and the experience of the moment or the encounter. So for the mystic, the separation of redemption and creation is not an option. These two possibilities of love in Christ and love in all creation find their integration and that was the subject of last week’s lecture.

So, in the wisdom of Catherine of Siena, the love mystics perceive:

All has been consecrated.

The creatures in the forest know this,

the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know

as does the heart full of

love.

Strange a priest would rob us of this

knowledge

and then empower himself

with the ability

to make holy what

already was.

 

To love in Christ is to come back to our true selves. Our true home. As Augustine said, ‘our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee.’ The love present in creation and redemption are one single thread of divine love in the universe, not two separate strands. They are the same because God is the same.

A Rule-of-Love

Painting by John Zurier, Sorgin.

Painting by John Zurier, Sorgin.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:9-13

Notes from a Sermon, 10 May 2015

Jesus commands us to abide in love and keep his commandments. But this is not, it seems, merely a pre-ordained set of rules, for Jesus clarifies, ‘I command that you love one another’ (John 15:15).

New Testament scholar Leon Morris has suggested that Jesus is emphasising a particular quality of love in this teaching to his disciples, rather than proscribing particular behaviour in a set of rules, which was how the old covenant commandments had come to be treated. It is not the command to love that is new, but rather the motivation and relational centre that is new, and which we recognise as Christians as ‘the new commandment’ to love one another as Jesus has loved us.’ Morris says, ‘the meaning appears to be to make the commandments one’s own, to take them into one’s inner being.’ Hence, the phrase ‘abide in my love.’

In the first letter of John the disciple whom Jesus loved (for that is most likely who the letter is attributed to) says that our love for Christ shall be known through our keeping the commandments. In particular John had in mind Jesus’ commandment that we love one another as he loved you. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ The way of Jesus is committed relationships. Hence, it is no surprise that the monastic tradition offers us some help here, with a handy bit of language to describe the call to live by the commandment to love.

Painting by John Burier, After Paulo Shiavo 2013

Painting by John Burier, After Paulo Shiavo 2013

When a group of Christian men or women set up a new monastic order, seeking to leave the everyday responsibilities of life behind in order to fulfil the commandments in a more direct way, they inevitably set a form of guidelines which will mark out their particular way of life, based largely on the charism of a leader, like Saint Francis, or Saint Ignatius of Layola, Saint Theresa of Calcutta. These guidelines for living are called a Rule-of-Life. The Rule of Saint Benedict for example, which Benedictine monks and nuns have followed for 15 centuries, has 73 chapters, each of which contain instructions on different aspects of community life meal times and manners, ownership of property and the hours of prayer and labour.

In addition here is another phrase – ‘the rule-of-love’. The rule-of-love is more or less the opposite of a rule-of-life: it prescribes the ethos and the value of the community rather than the specific habits and actions required to express faithfulness to God. A rule-of-love is a matter of the heart. It is internalised, whereas a rule-of-life is externally imposed for the sake of community.

The rule-of-life is a vision statement, whereas the rule-of-love is a values statement.

It is the rule-of-love that is essential in our present cultural context, where the understanding of love is changing so substantially and so rapidly. Love used to be held sacred in marriage for example. Now romantic love is held up to be the ideal, boosted by Hollywood driven fantasy’s of perfect bodies and perfect lives.

Love also used to drive our social institutions – think for example of the way ‘charity’ has changed it’s meaning over the last couple of centuries. It used to mean love, now it means handing over some money somewhat resentfully.

Love used to mean commitment and obedience even in the face of death. Think for example what it meant to love one’s country and head off to war! Now, the biggest obligation n of love is to ‘follow one’s heart.’

So, should it surprise us that Christian theologians and Church leaders and faithful followers across the globe are now in sometimes radical disagreement as to what is loving and what is not? Is a couple living together before they are married breaking Jesus command to love? Is a child moving across the globe where they have no capacity to care for their elderly father and mother breaking the commandment to love as Jesus loved? Is walking past a bigger in the street failing to love?

At the moment, when we are in dismay as to what the ‘rules’ are, we must turn to the rule-of-love and follow our hearts. God has placed love into our hearts by the holy spirit, so even if we don’t have socially established norms, even then we can abide in love and make a decision to love as Jesus loved. Because love is in us. All the time. In all circumstances. If we are abiding in Jesus love, through the holy spirit, we always have a choice to turn to that love and translate it into our own love for others.

Note. I came across the work of John Burier in a 
Huffington Post article which you can read here.

The Power of Love

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!

huey-lewis-and-the-news-the-power-of-loveYou don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life
That’s 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.

$(KGrHqZ,!ogFBvNMg+h6BQj)Bj,p2g~~60_35

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?

What is love anyway?

All through my PhD I had the same song running through my head. Unless you are a teen-child of the 80s you may not know it, and if you do, it’ll already be playing through your head! Howard Jones, ‘What is love’?

howard_jones_what_is_love_extended_version_1983_the80sman-e1365530516756

click to go through to youtube for this piece of 80s gold!

 

‘What is lo o o o o love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?’

It’s the question that arises when relationships turn to shit (excuse the language, but when relationships go this way only extreme language seems adequate). Did he ever love me? Did I make it all up? Is she even capable of love? What the f*&k is love anyway?

Whilst this seems to be an inevitable part of life, it is a problem for Christian theology. For love is inextricably central to theology – as Saint Augustine said, ‘if anyone cannot love God and neighbour-as-self by his understanding of Scripture, then (s)he has not yet understood them correctly.’ If Christian theology cannot be described as loving, then it cannot be Christian! Systematic thinking about God-who-is-love (1 John 4) and the Christ who was sent into the world because of love (John 3), cannot be anything but love, if it is speaking truthfully about its theos.

So, what the heck is a Christian theologian to do, when they are in those moments of life singing Howard Jones into a handkerchief?

This question was the driver behind 4 years of full-time theological research. It resulted in a proposal for understanding the function of the ‘what the f*&k’ stage in the normative human process of change, of growing up. A crisis of love is no cause to give up on love, only an opportunity (painful as it can be) to reassess our assumptions about love. What is love, anyway?

For love cannot be contained by human thinking, not even theological thinking. Love is a concept that cannot ever be fully spoken  or written or imaged or drawn or described by any human means. Poets and artists do the best when they evoke a sense of love which we can feel in our bodies and the centre of our being, remembering the energetic throb of the experience beyond words.

Furthermore, love cannot be contained in any one relationship, connection or context. Love can arise between a parent and child, in friendships, sexually charged relationships, and – I would argue – between a person and material things or ideas and imaginations that they passionate about! We need all of these in our lives and more – just one love is never enough! Many people point out that there is only one word in the English language for love, although it is describing a whole range of different experiences. I think that is an advantage rather than a problem – for love should be understood as a concept that has a family of meanings (Wittgenstein’s family resemblance concept of words) each one displaying a family resemblance but with particular expressions in each instance.

What resulted from my pondering of love as a key concept in Christian theology, and forgive me if this leap is too long here in this instance, is that love requires a great generosity on our part. Each and every time love is evoked, it has the capacity to take us beyond itself, into the heart of the family, toward the fountain of love at its source. Plato suggested that when we reach perplexity of intellectual knowing (aporia) we simply step over the thresh-hold of our limited understanding into a different kind of knowledge, perhaps hidden to scientific rationality, but by no means hidden to the priests and poets (says Plato). We enter into an ‘open-space’ of knowing where it is possible to encounter love – and God – beyond human form.

This gives a Christian theologian enormous freedom in the current climate of cultural change, where the established norms, forms and institutions of love are in radical transition. There is no need to pitch so-called ‘Christian’ forms of love over and against other forms of ‘un-Christian’ love in anxious competition. Neither does this mean the opposite, that because the cultural norms of love are changing, that Christian norms of love must necessarily fall into line! Because most Western Christians think through the frame of reference of the European Enlightenment, we have arranged our understanding of love along a linear spectrum, with a forced binary opposition between two Greek word-labels for love – agape and eros. In its most extreme form the former is exclusively God’s domain and deemed perfect, the latter is the Human realm and unavoidably feeble. This understanding of love was made popular through C.S. Lewis’s book, The Four Loves. Academically, the definitive argument is laid out in Anders Nygren’s Agape and Eros.

I am now happy to declare that I passionately refute such an arrangement of intellectual thinking about love!

I propose that all human forms of love (which in the first place cannot be reduced to the Greek eros) should be intellectually conceived as an arrangement around a sphere of open-space. There are an infinite number of particular love phenomenons. Each one is an invitation to go further, so open ourselves to the possibility that there is more, and especially that there is more that will never adequately be expressed in words. This is the open-space of both thinking and prayer, where divine love can be encountered beyond the need for form.

Love requires freedom. Freedom requires vulnerability. Vulnerability enables us to suspend judgment on individual expressions of love and enter into an enquiry of the mystery behind and beyond them.

sphere-of-hearts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m back

IMG_1340

Post PhD life!

Well, it’s been a while – and in truth a long road – but I’m back to blog at reddresstheology!

My PhD thesis has been submitted (cue: crowd roar) and I have spare headspace for the first time in 18 months or so. I am now awaiting examination (which will take a couple of months) and getting on to spruking my services and superior Phd intelligence (cue: rolling of eyes)!

So, stay tuned for a return to regular posts from me as I get myself sorted into a new post-PhD life, full to overflowing with exciting adventures.

Oh, and just in case you’re curious as to what I ended up writing about, here is my final thesis abstract. If you find the academic writing incomprehensible you’ve just discovered why I needed to take a break from blogging while I got this thing out of the way!!

Saint Augustine, the founder of Western theological hermeneutics, declared the double-love command of God and neighbour-as-self to be the key to Christian theology (On Christian Doctrine). Love is touted as central to theology, but love has a fluid range of meanings and its expressions are enmeshed within contextually specific forms. How can such a slippery concept form a stable guide for Christian theology, particularly in contexts where the sociocultural forms of love are in transition? 

Transparent Glass Sphere

The key image of my theological hermeneutic is a sphere of open-space.

This thesis develops a theological hermeneutic for contexts of change utilising liminality theory from the discipline of anthropology. First, it outlines the challenges for theologians in these contexts, and second, it directs attention to the theological resources required to negotiate these contexts. Central to liminality theory is a movement of ‘open-space’—a chaotic but creative opportunity where stable sociality falls away in order to be transformed into a new sociality, fit to express the complex relationship between the individual and the universal. By negotiating the cultural open-space via a spiritual open-space of contemplative prayer—an embrace of apophatic strategies for knowing without form and for the refinement of human wisdom—the theologian is equipped with the resources required to love in liminality. This can be translated into a theological method such as Rowan Williams has proposed, for theology as a conversation, where dialectical propositions are held as ‘thresh-holds’ to be traversed into a ‘liminal’ way of knowing, instead of limit-situations that are roadblocks to ‘rational’ knowing. Sarah Coakley’s methodological privileging of contemplation for the transformation of desire is shown to match liminality’s capacity for the transformation of sociality. This ‘contemplative communitas’ affects both an objective and a subjective transformation of theological knowledge.

Re-examining Augustine’s theological hermeneutic of love with these resources in place, it is argued that if love is to be a guide

I was getting my first hair cut in 6 months when I received news that the thesis had safely reached the Research Office in Wagga Wagga!

I was getting my first hair cut in 6 months when I received news that the thesis had safely reached the Research Office in Wagga Wagga!

for theology in contexts of cultural change, the conception of love itself must fall into liminality and be re-formed in the crucible of personal spiritual encounter with God-who-is-love. What results is a theological hermeneutic that loves from God, through self, to neighbour in continuous, life-giving connection.

 

 

 

 

Holy Spirit : Love

Pentecost Sunday 2014, St Martins Community Church

Readings: Acts 2:1-21, Romans 5:1-5

I have been part of many memorable Pentecost Sundays, with creative children’s talks bringing the dramatic story of Pentecost to life! One year particularly sticks in my mind when our quietly spoken, tree-hugging youth minister brought a leaf blower in to church. Who knew the Holy Spirit smelt so strongly of petrol! There was quite a kerfuffle when the started smoking, but luckily it didn’t blow up or we would have had the flames in church as well as the wind! After we’d all taken our fingers out of ears, this dear, gentle man quietly explained the gift of the Spirit and the love of Jesus who gave it.

The disciples were gathered together and the Holy Spirit was given to them, in a way previously not experienced by people on mass. It came like a rush of violent wind that in Victoria we might associate with footage from the Black Saturday bushfires. The Spirit entered into each one there and they began to speak in languages previously unknown to them. A large crowd gathered in response to the roar – it seems the wind was loud enough to be heard from several streets away, and it becomes evident that these languages that had been given were human languages from far and wide, so that everyone who came could hear about the gift that had just been given to the friends of Jesus in their native tongue, the intimate language of their mother’s voice. The crowd could tell the message they were hearing was about ‘deeds of power’ but they could not make out its meaning, and so Peter, standing with the eleven, proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to them, and about 3,000 people believe and were baptized on that day.

The disciples had been waiting for the Holy Spirit to arrive, as Jesus had promised that it would. I’m not sure they were expecting tongues of fire, but tongues of language should not have surprised them. In John chapter 14, we have recorded some teaching on the Holy Spirit by Jesus before his death. He said, ‘if you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth … he will abide in you.’ (v. 15-17) The Spirit continues the teaching ministry of Jesus, and enables his disciples to both fulfill and pass on what they have been commanded: to love one another as Jesus has loved them.

Since the gospel message of Jesus is Love and the Holy Spirit’s role is to guide Jesus’ disciples deeper into that message, Saint Augustine concluded that the Holy Spirit is Love. Like all of us, Augustine had his favourite passages of Scripture, and his suggestion that the Holy Spirit should be synced with the Love of God is directly related to one of them, Romans 5:5: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ That is, God’s own Love, the Love that is so integral to God’s character the author of 1 John says God is Love, Divine Love is poured into our hearts when we receive the Holy Spirit.

This is really important, because often we fall into the trap of trying to fulfill Jesus command to love through our own strength, but we all know that human love can be fickle and unreliable. It’s not that I think divine and human love are a different type of love, by the way. I think love is love, and human love is cut from the same cloth as God’s love, but God’s love is perfect in a way ours is not. Ours is partial and evolves in quality and capacity over a lifetime, whereas the love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts is perfect at all times and in all ways. Therefore, regardless of how well we have been loved in life – by our parents, siblings, friends, Lovers and fellow Christians, the gift of the Holy Spirit brings a bigger capacity for love, to keep loving even in the face of fear, failure, rejection, betrayal.

I watched the movie Philomena over the weekend. An old Irish catholic woman searches for the son that had been taken from her in the harsh, misguided years of Irish Catholicism which had no comprehension of healthy sexuality and no mercy to unwed mothers. In the end, we discover the most bitter betrayal – the nuns lied to keep mother and son from meeting, refusing the last wish of a dying man so that they never get to meet in this life. But, girded by her simple, life-lived faith, Philomena offers forgiveness to an old nun twisted by misguided zeal. Her journalist and atheistic companion Martin cannot comprehend her actions and, to my mind is quite reasonable in his exasperation: whereas Philomena leaves with a declaration of ‘I forgive you’, Martin says, ‘I cannot forgive.’ Indeed, how does Philomena forgive the obvious hatefulness in the person of God who kept her from her son? How is such love possible? Only through the gift of God’s own love for us into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, descending like a raging fire to ignite a love which transcends all hate, grief, brokenness and bitterness.

St John of the Cross, the sixteenth century Spanish mystic wrote a poem about it, called the Living Flame of Love, and since he wrote a theological exposition on the poem, we are in no doubt that he is speaking about the Holy Spirit. I’ve put copies of the poem around for you to read and take home, I’m just going to read the first stanza:

1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

The poem talks about the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit initially as a wound – being cut to the heart – but then the shock recedes and gives way to a sweet, delicate breathing or touch. A touch, that tastes of eternal life, and rights every wrong.

When I received the Holy Spirit at age 15, I experienced a warm, tingly glow enter into my body from the top of my head, and falling all the way down into my toes, like stepping into a hot shower. It was a moment that fundamentally re-oriented my life from that point onwards, but its not the experience itself that has shaped my life, it is the love of Jesus and walking in his way. There is no evidence that I can give you as proof on the inward encounter with the Holy Spirit, but there is, I trust, evidence of a life lived in, from and through the love of Jesus. The ‘proof’ of whether or not I have received the Holy Spirit, is in the quality of my love of God and neighbor.

Going back to the story of Pentecost, I think we can see the link between Love and the proclamation of the gospel message for ultimately, if there is no Love, there is no message. If our words about Jesus take on a harsh edge of judgment and condemnation – a role Jesus has reserved for himself – then they are not the gospel message. The only way we can hope to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit, is to speak about Jesus in a way that can only be described as loving.

Another mystic writing about Love and the Holy Spirit, who died a few decades ago as opposed a few centuries ago, is the Anglo-American Thomas Merton. Merton drew my attention to the fact that when the message of the Word of God loses its Love, the Word becomes mere words, meaningless chatter. I like that as a description of the crowd gathered around listening to the Word of God on the first Pentecost. At first, what they heard were a lot of words, which didn’t make sense to them, even though they were heard in their native language, the language in which they would express love and affection to their families! It was only when they understood the meaning of the message, that the cacophony of words became one Word, the Word Made Flesh. The One sent from the One who is Love.

And so this is where I want to finish today, with this reflection on our speaking and living the Word which is Love. The natural consequence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is to start speaking about Jesus, in the same way that we speak about all the people in our lives whom we love. I met a woman on a plane recently who’d just become engaged, she couldn’t stop telling me about the wonders of her man and was literally glowing with the warmth of love as she did so – that’s the kind of speech that comes from the Word Made Flesh.

The warning is, with the busyness and mundane duties of life, we all know that this woman radiating with the thrill of her pending marriage will not speak about her husband in the same way in a couple of years time. But hopefully, if the relationship progresses the way it should, there is a different kind of tenderness to her speech, a gentle peacefulness that comes from love refined. And if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, maybe that’s the kind of love that will characterize your speech about Jesus – the deep tenderness for the One who has been with you through thick and thin.

In the chatter of the world, our speeches about Love and Jesus as likely to be quiet moments of connection, like the one I had with this woman on the plane, rather than grand speeches to crowds of thousands. And because our message is love they are more likely to be conversations rather than monologue proclamations, it is likely your actions will do the preaching for you. There is no need for many words, no amount of scholarship and logic is going to convert a determined atheist, we simply offer a testimony – in our loving speech and actions – to the One Word, the Word Made Flesh, the Word of Love.

On Life and Love

On Life and Love

Sermon for St Martins Community Church Collingwood

theotokos and child 867, st sophia istanbul

Mothers Day (11/5/14)

There is an image that I want to work with today, and it is this image of space: round, circular, almost fluid but with a definite skin, like a one of those ginormous bubbles that warps and wobbles as it wafts through the air. Would you like to outline it with me, like I’m doing, doesn’t matter what size your space is, just use your hand to imagine its roundness, no sharp edges, plump like a balloon.

In the Orthodox tradition of theology, there is an icon of Theotokos – the God bearer, in which you can see this space in Mary. In Orthodox theology Mary is honoured, not as equal to God herself, but as the ultimate model disciple, the one who said Yes to God, and welcomed God into her inmost place. Mary’s love for God brought life and that life brought love into the world. Mary’s womb is a picture of this space, a safe circle of love in which God the Son is given human life. Again, use your hands if you want to, imagine what that space is like, imagine it in yourself, for even if you don’t have a womb, you have a space like that in which God dwells if you have said yes to welcoming Jesus into your life as the Son of God. That is the space into which God has poured God’s own love for you into your heart, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5).

So, briefly, let me make a few points from the passage from 1 John chapter 3 and makes some links with the whole of the bible story.

1 John 3:1 – See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Why are we God’s children? Because we have been loved!

In the first place God loves and therefore brings a people into being, and it has always been thus:

  • in creation – In the beginning God-who-is-Love created the heaven and the earth (as described in Genesis 1 and 2)
  • in the creation of Israel – In sermons we have recorded in Deuteronomy, Moses urged the new community to obey the commandments of God so that they might live long in the land. This is the first time the commandments were summed up in the shema – to love God and neighbor as self. Keep loving well and you will live well.
  • and then in Christ – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)
  • and finally in life after Christ – As Paul teaches in Galations, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

God’s cycle of life unfolds thus: Love leads to life and life leads to love and on and on it goes.

1 John 3:10 – This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

If we have life as God’s children, then we will love – love and life go together. We know this by what Jesus taught us: love one another as I have loved you, by this everyone will know that you are my disciples (John 13). Which is a renewal of the two greatest commandments from the Jewish law and the prophets which Jesus came to fulfill: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love Your neighbor as yourself.

As a consequence of the new life we have as Christians, we love, and that in fact is proof of life from God. Life leads to love. Indeed, to return to the image of Mary’s womb, we labour love into life.

1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death to life because we have loved one another

Love leads to life and life leads to love. And on and on it goes.

Interestingly, this life begets love thing is not just a test for Christians. There is a wisdom proverb that suggests this is true in a similar way for all of God’s creatures: ‘He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.’ (Prov 21:21) It’s a fact of life, that those people who believe in love, find love! Though sometimes that requires them to find love in the least likely of places and sometimes it requires bloody hard work!! But why would we assume love does not require self-sacrifice and commitment?

1 John 3:15 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

So, Love and life go together, it is the very cycle of life, the thing that keeps us all going, and it sits within us, in this space, this round bubble of beautifulness, the womb like void of our inmost parts, the pause at the end of the outbreath.

Can you visual again that roundness we outlined with our hands, do it again if you feel like it, pretend it is the lightest of balls, filled with delightful, oxygenated breath. We are going to locate that space in the cycle of our breath.

Pay attention to your breath for a moment. Everyone in the room can do this – if you are sitting near a little one or anyone else who might be struggling to understand my instructions, you could help them to do this with you, even babies can become conscious of their breath, if you do it with them. Take a deep breath in, slow it down a bit, and then a big breath out. Don’t force it, just notice what happens in the cycle. You breathe in – out – and then, notice, notice what is there just at the end of the outbreath – there is a little pause, a little space. Breathe in naturally, just let it happen because you will keep breathing whether you like it or not. Breathe in, and out and there, notice there is a little, natural gap, a waiting, a pause before the cycle of life begins again.

In the cycle of the breath, there is space, a beautiful, womb-like space of rest, and that, is the space where love happens.

Love requires space. If I love you but in my insecurity I move in too close, what will you feel? Smothered. But if I love you and in my insecurity I guard myself too closely and keep my distance what will you feel? Lonely. Love is like fire, it needs air to burst into flames, but too much or too forceful and the flame will blow out! The difficult, painful lifetime work of love, is learn how to negotiate this space.

In silent prayer practice, which by the way, is a very ancient way of praying for Christians and one which we would do well to recover in our time, as a tonic for our chronic addiction to busyness and noise, we learn how to expand that space at the end of the outbreath, so that is grows, not unlike Mary’s womb. It becomes the welcome space for God, the God-shaped hole if you know that phrase, sometimes I think of it as a vast cathedral filled with prayer or even a dance floor where my spirit is deeply moved. In silent prayer we get to know ourselves and our limits. We know where we end and God begins and that space where paradoxically we are fully ourselves and might encounter God fully in Godself, we learn how to love God without smothering or withdrawing. We can sit still and just be.

That is how we must learn to love. Its not a passive thing, if we are to love like Jesus then we must pursue justice and righteousness and serve one another in love, so learning how to maintain an inner stillness before another person involves outward activity. But we must learn that if we stay with whatever is present in the space, the cycle of life and love will continue, and we will be ok.

Mother Theresa, one of the twenty-first century’s greatest example of mother-love. She loved hundreds of thousands of children, knowing every day that there would be no end to their suffering. I can only imagine the burden of going to bed each night knowing that the children you love will be hungry again tomorrow. Your children will be sick and in danger of physical harm again tomorrow. Indeed, Mother Theresa struggled with depression, her love was a burden! And yet, through prayer, through seeing Jesus, through seeking out Jesus in the face of every child, she could get up in the morning and do what she could. She didn’t try and solve everything, and she didn’t hide herself away, she just loved any child that came into her view that day, loved them as if she were loving Jesus himself. We don’t know at least two spiritual tricks Mother Theresa had to keep herself in the cycle of love and life: she knew this space and she prayed to Jesus there, and she loved each person in front of her as if they were Jesus.

Love is never easy, that’s why we who love in the name of Jesus are all called saints.

A final, personal example. It is mothers day and I am here with you without my children, as are many of you – both children who have been born to you and longed for children who have not been born. As we speak, my sons and my own mother are standing in the rain on a soccer pitch in the suburbs, playing sport on a Sunday which was definitely not part of my perfect family plan of years gone by. My sons also have a step-mum, whom they love, who they will phone at some point in the day, to wish her a happy mothers day. And they also have a God-mother (who coincidentally doesn’t have biological children of her own) who they have made a card and gift for and we will make sure they see her at some point in the day today for a special mothers day hug. Now, even just scheduling all those things into the day is a piece of work, but I can tell you it takes a lot more than that for me to facilitate a phone-call from my children to the woman who replaced me as wife! How is that possible? How is it possible to keep loving even when life is not as we would have it?

I do it by breathing. I find that space at the end of the outbreath and I let it calm me. I let whatever is there in that space be there, and I let life continue – the breath in comes regardless of whether the pause in filled with joy or grief. The breath will leave my body eventually even if I try and hold everything in. A funny thing happens when we accept the life for what it is: broken, a work in progress, full of contradictions, we learn that vulnerability is essentially to love, there is no love without risk, but big risk – embracing life in all its glory, results in big love! My life is overflowing with love today – not much of it easy, some of it distinctly uncomfortable, but it is love none-the-less, and the cycle of life and love goes on.

Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ concept and the language of love

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations: The German Text, with a revised English Translation (Blackwell; Oxford, 2001) third edition.

I wont pretend to have read all of Philosophical Investigations thoroughly (though it was surprisingly easy to read) but I have skimmed the whole and digested the relevant bits as required for my research.  It became evident very early on in my PhD research that doing theology at this level is very difficult without a background in philosophy!  (Those first year BA lectures in 1989 where I zoned out and wrote bad poetry have come back to haunt me!)  Hence, I have taken crash courses in Wittgenstein, Hegel, Heidegger, Riceour, Plato and more!  Yes, it has been as hard going as that sounds and I have frequently felt overwhelmed!!

Anyway, I need to get into Wittgenstein because he presents a solution to the problem of the language of love.  Love is sometimes described as a game.  Now philosophers are not known for their frivolity, but with Wittgenstein, it is true: to speak of love is a word game.

The problem is that l-o-v-e, this four lettered word in the English language, basically defies empirical definition.  When employed as a noun it denotes different emotional and relational states of the human person.  When employed as a verb it denotes a range of actions towards others and within ourselves.  The phenomena of love is essentially multiform and complex.

I love my family, chocolate and Jesus – each of these experiences has a distinct feeling about them and the actions flowing out of my feelings are different for each one (except for the occasions when I eat my children!)  And yet, you seem to understand what I mean when I say each of these things.  I have deep commitment to the well-being of my family; I enjoy chocolate more than any other food; Jesus makes my world go around!

Affection, attraction, interest – these attributes of human relationship figure strongly in the experience of love, but without further clarification, these words do not get close enough to confining the dazzling array of  feelings, actions and propositions that love can entail.  However, that does not mean that we don’t know what we’re talking about whenever we deploy the word; on the contrary, we know what we mean, it’s just that we mean a lot more than the word can literally say!  The word evokes meaning, depending on its context.

In this sense, the word functions similarly to a whole range of abstract language that I am interested in for my research – beauty, God, prayer, mystical experience – and its not confined to English.  This category of words which defy empirical definition preoccupied the mind of Wittgenstein and, upon reflection, he came up with an illustration of what was going on based on the word ‘game’.  He shows how some words gain their meaning not through reference to a concrete absolute, but through a process he named ‘family resemblance’.

Here are the key paragraphs – #66 and 67 –  in Wittgenstein where he explains his concept of family resemblance in word games, which I think explain how we should understand the word ‘love’ in the English language (you can skip Wittgenstein if you want to short cut to my conclusions, but he is fun!)

Consider for example, the proceedings that we call “games”.  I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on.  What is common to them all?- Don’t say: ‘There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games'” – but look and see whether there is anything common to all. – For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that.  To repeat: don’t think, but look!- Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships.  Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear.  When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost.- Are they all ‘amusing’?  Compare chess with noughts and crosses.  Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players?  Think of patience.  In ball-games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared.  Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis.  Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared!  And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.  And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.

I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc., etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family.   And for instance the kinds of number form a family in the same way.  Why do we call something a “number”?  Well, perhaps because it has a – direct – relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this may be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things that we call the same name.  And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre.  And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.    But if someone wished to say: “There is something common to all these constructions – namely the disjunction of all their common properties” – I should reply: Now you are only playing with words.  One might as well say: “Something runs through the whole thread – namely the continuous overlapping of these fibres”.

So, as Wittgenstein says, there is something that runs through the whole thread, whenever we use the term ‘love’.  It is a poetic word: a word that alludes rather than proscribes; a word that suggests rather than stipulates; a word whose meaning grows within its context.  When writers employ the word they rely on the ambiguous nature of the language to fill their work with colour; to paint a picture in the imagination; to evoke a memory of an experience.  It is a word that conjures a whole scene of meaning rather than a snapshot frozen in time and space.

Traditionally, theology has sought to confine the meaning of love to a particular sibling within the family of meanings.  C.S. Lewis canonised this approach for a generation of Christians through his explanation of four Greek words for love in his 1960 book The Four Loves.  For example, most Christians would confine ‘agape’ love to describe the love of God and ‘eros’ love as that between two sexual lovers.  Whilst it is true that agape is the preferred Greek word used in the Scriptures, and in fact eros is not used at all, the reasons for the original writers employing those particular terms did not intend to segregate meaning in the way that we have done in the scientific era.

Now, I’ve been wondering, what if the poetics of the word love is maintained in its usage?  At the very least it will change the way that I write about love.  But what will happen if I take seriously the actual phenomena and experience of love which is always complex, dense and messy?  Love is rarely experienced in any single form: even when I love my children, it is mixed in with love (or otherwise) of my parents, love (or not) of their father, love (hopefully) of the life that I lead with them, our friends, our activities, and the God whom I believe is involved with it all?

So, what if we reject a single dimension approach to love when it comes to theology?  What if God’s love is fundamentally and irreducibly multidimensional?

What if God’s love for humanity is eternal and unconditional, just because God loves us (agape), and God loves us because we are valuable (eros), and God loves as a family member loves another family member – as a father and a brother (storge), and God loves us because that’s the way relationships work best to produce mutually beneficial outcomes (phileo)?

To write of God and human love like this requires beauty, poetry, feeling, intelligence, slowness and openness.  We cannot do away with the stage upon which the love is spoken, the story within which love unfurls or the conversation into which the word is uttered.  That’s the theology of love I want to write.

Conditions of Love: a Philosophy of Intimacy by John Armstrong

John Armstrong, Conditions of Love: a Philosophy of Intimacy (Penguin; London, 2003)

“‘What is it to love another person?’ This is to raise one of the deepest, and most puzzling, questions we can put to ourselves.” (p1)

I’ve been wading through the difficulties of defining love for what seems like a lifetime but in reality is only a few months of PhD work.  How does one write sensibly about love when love is so uncontainable by words?  It is a problem preoccupying scholarship of various kinds in the present era and no less importantly a dilemma of the everyday that we all come across: how many times can I say to my children ‘I love you’ before it loses all meaning to them?  But how else do I communicate the ache in my chest which throbs with the urge to wrap them in my arms and squeeze them till they squeal?

John Armstrong is a British philosopher, who resides in Melbourne and is currently Senior Advisor in the Office of the Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne.  His books are a delicious gourmet meal, though easily digestible, on topics of life, love, art, beauty and wisdom.  You can taste the delights of his writing on his website, where there are various articles written for a broad audience:  www.johnarmstrong.com

Twenty-two succinct chapters in this short book – each a morsel of goodness in and of itself – describe the nature and experience of intimate connection.  Love is a human experience which defies empirical definition, yet we all seem to know what we mean when we use those four letters strung together into a single word.  Armstrong invokes Wittgenstein to explain how this is not anything to be concerned about, as far as language is concerned, and I’m going to post about Wittgenstein’s word-game solution shortly, so stay tuned.  (It was exciting, gratifying and most of all a great relief, to discover the solution that I’d come up on my own is the one Armstrong suggests!)

Despite the difficulty of empirical definition when it comes to love, we can identify themes or key characteristics which we seem to assume when we use the word.  What we are referring to with the word ‘love’ is sometimes a feeling, sometimes an action, sometimes a moral principle.  Always though, there will be a seeking of positive human connection that can be described as ‘good’.

When we understand something about the ‘conditions’ under which love is produced, we discover we need not be parallelised by this defining frustration.  There are things that can be said about love.  For example, we grasp something of the nature of love through the (persuasive) evolutionary perspective about the development of love as a driver in the human species reproduction and improvement.  However, biology can’t tell us everything, as we can also observe that the human experience of love changes over time and place depending on the cultural context – expectations and judgements produce a morality within which the experience of love is shaped and shaded.  Furthermore, the individual human’s personal psychology, particularly the foundations of love laid in childhood and the creative capacity of imagination, will direct the particular manifestation of love in their experience.

There is much more in Armstrong’s book than what I pick up here.  I suspect each reader will take away some insight unique for themselves as they luxuriate in this beautiful piece of wisdom.  Apart from the book’s academic usefulness, I came away feeling encouraged in regard to my own humanity: I could see afresh my own capacity for love and the goodness of a life lived with love as its main pursuit.

Because I have enjoyed the style as much as the content of conditions of love, I’ll let Armstrong present you with his own conclusion:

“In this book I have tried to argue two things – each argument runs through the book as a whole.  Firstly, the need to love and to be loved is deeply placed in human nature.  It springs from certain inherited evolutionary characteristics but it is also bound up with much more recent developments of self-consciousness: we long to be understood, to be close to another person, to matter in another’s life.  These concerns may have had some rudimentary presence in the lives of our remotest ancestors, but they have been massively increased, and brought to the foreground of experience, only in recorded history.  And because they are aspects of culture, they vary to some degree from society to society – as these needs are variously interpreted.  It is, however, precisely the same factors – the factors which draw us into love – that constitute the roots of love’s difficulties.  We long to be understood, but it is often awkward to have another see too much of one’s inner troubles.  We try to be charitable, but we are susceptible to boredom and impatience.  Above all, we do not go through life with a strictly coherent set of desires, and anyone who charms us in one frame of mind may be annoying in another.

Secondly, love is an achievement, it is something we create, individually, not something which we just find, if only we are lucky enough.  But although it is a creation and an achievement it is not something which can be forced simply by effort.  You can’t just sit down and decide to love someone and, through doing this, find that you do really love them.  This is unsurprising if we reflect that love is dependent upon many other achievements: kindness of interpretation, sympathy, understanding, a sense of our own needs and vulnerability.  And these kinds of capacity and awareness do not spring suddenly into being.  Each requires patient cultivation: we have to take whatever fragile presence each has in our lives and build upon that.  If this is true of loving it is also true of being loveable.  Being loveable cannot really be separated from being a good person in general.  There seem to be counter-instances in which physical attractiveness or glamour make individuals the target of love.  But it is obvious that these characteristics play a much smaller role in generating a love that lasts – one which can weather the inevitable periods of disenchantment and dissatisfaction on both sides.  In our culture have become rather disinclined to pay attention to individual responsibility in loving.  We place too much emphasis on finding the right person and not nearly enough upon the cultivation of qualities which allow us to deserve love and which enable us to give loge – even when things are difficult.”

On Love, or Going to Bed with a Stranger by Bradley Onishi

I met Brad in Dublin recently.  Not only is he a great guy and a creative thinker, he’s a good writer!   I particularly appreciated this recent post from his blog and decided to share it with you.  Check out more at Unreasonable Revelations.

On Love, or Going to Bed with a Stranger

My fiancee and I celebrated an anniversary recently, an occasion that always provides time for a good conversation about the improbable path we have taken to make it this far together. In light of our upcoming wedding, the memories we shared over dinner were especially vivid, and meaningful.

All in all, the day gave me a chance to think about something I have thought alot about over the past couple of years–the differences and similarities in how we love significant others and how we might love God. One of my many rants is about how we have transposed a certain idea of what the love of God might give us onto what the love of what our Soulmate might give us. I hinted at this when I wrote a piece on the last episode of Lost for the Huff Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bradley-b-onishi/i-once-was-found-and-now_b_586861.html

The condensed version of the rant goes like this: we have constructed an idea that the love of God provides us with the missing piece to our mortal, solitary existence. God’s love is the missing puzzle piece and his pure, unadulterated, unconditioned love provides the answer to the question of both who we are and what we are. What’s strange is that we have transposed this version of monotheism into a version of monogamy. We have an idea that out there some where is a Soulmate that is the missing piece–the missing puzzle piece–to my life, one that will make me whole, fulfilled, and truly myself. That last part is key. The Soulmate, like God, is the one who truly gives me to me–makes me my true self. God and the Soulmate are the One. If I could only meet the One, then I could live happily ever after.

For many reasons, I don’t buy this version of either the love of God or the love of Soulmate. In fact, when I thought back to what I thought of love before meeting my fiancee, I realized that although I studied, read, and wrote about love constantly–I was allergic to it. It took me years to figure out why, but now I understand that it was because it felt like if being in love meant meeting that which would complete me–complete me in such a way that nothing was at risk, at play, or uncertain–then I would be dead, or walking dead. For a while I believed that this was just a me problem. I was allergic to love and thus would have to decide to give in to the personal, societal, and familial pressure to find love and settle down or remain a grumpy, existential, and solitary philosopher for the rest of my days.

Things changed when I decided to change my notion of love. Without going into a ton of detail, over the course of time I began to realize that love is not about being so close to someone that you share everything. The idea is not to get so acquainted that the otherness is squashed. Love is not about becoming melded into one being–one identity–one existence.

It is just the opposite. Love is about otherness. Love is a commitment to wake up each day and try one’s best to help the other person be–to take up his or her existence in ways that are intentional, genuine, and without fear. It is a commitment to get to know an unknowable Stranger. Love is about pursuing that which eternally evades but eternally seduces. Love is about the infinite desire of two ferociously mortal creatures who are not the answer to the question of the other’s existence–but the deepening, prodding, pursuing voice of one who can’t complete you and refuses to try.

Love is not completion. Love is the beautiful irresolution of mortal temporality–a fantastic jaunt in the wilderness of mortality, tears, hope, frustration, pain, despair, community, and loss. It doesn’t solve anything. It only reveals that both of you, separately and together, are irresolvable.

More than anything, love doesn’t mean meeting the One–the One who will give you you by completing you. Love is about the Stranger, the one who reminds you that you will always be a stranger here, and thus a stranger to those whom you love.

When we sat at dinner that night, I realized I was sitting across from someone with whom I am intimately familiar, but who I do not know–do not possess–do not understand. I also I realized that if I did, I wouldn’t be looking forward to marrying her. It reminded me of  a passage in a novel I was finishing when I met my fiancee. At the end, the narrator writes down what is more of a prayer than a proclamation.

It goes like this:

I used to think that someday I would meet the One; I would meet the One for whom I was destined—the only One—the One that was for me. I used to think I would meet the One that would give me the stability, the unity, and the identity of an unchanging, unlonging, settled soul. I used to think I would be converted and in doing so receive the salvation of earth—love. I used to think love was being converted to One—to becoming fully united with one—and letting our respective selves pass into a Selfsameness that surpassed words, surpassed all other relationships, and colored every breath of our interaction with the world.”
“Okay.”
“I will never love you that way; in fact, to do so would be to kill both of us. I don’t want a love that takes my breath away, or yours for that matter. I don’t want a love that is akin to death. I don’t want the end of desire—the end of need—the end of longing.”
“Okay.”
“No, if I am going to love you it will always be as a stranger. You will always be a stranger to me, no matter how long we spend together. You will always be strange to me; you will always be other. Instead of the One, you will be the Other. We won’t be united. No. We will stay infinitely separate. The distance between us won’t ever dissipate. No. We’ll always be isolated little souls treading in the sea of singularities. You will always be away—apart—altogether different. And, that is how I will love you. I will love you with a longing that will only stop when the possibility of myself stops. I will love you infinitely across a distance I know cannot be overcome, most of all, because it is an eternal one and I am so, so mortal. I will love you as a stranger in my home, in my arms, one I cannot, will not understand, comprehend, or grasp. I will love you as a blurred, bedazzling appearance I can’t reduce, and therefore, one that demands my attention, my devotion, my interest in ways I can never fulfill. I won’t love you as my One. I won’t kill you or me, even though I want to. I won’t love you as the One. I’ll love you as my Other—as the Stranger inside me: the one crawling around, touching me in places I didn’t know I had—places exhilarating and uncomfortable at the same time. Every day I will try unsuccessfully to understand you, even though I will only experience the distance between us. I’ll love you as a haunting calling me ever toward you. I’ll love you as a foreigner inside myself—inside a land with precarious borders and unknown topography. I’ll love you even though I can’t, even though time and eternity won’t let me.”
Okay, I understand.”