Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What is Love?

They say love makes the world go round. As the Beatles once crooned, "All you need is love." The familiar childhood poem comes to mind, "Roses are red, violets are blue..." But really, what is love? It's the age-old question that poets, philosophers, musicians and scholars alike have pondered for centuries. It's something you might be lucky enough to have experienced in your life, but can you really put it into words? It's the subject of countless movies and's that thing that makes your heart go "boom-boom-boom." We might spend our entire lives chasing this crazy little thing called love, yet often we have trouble defining it. Well, I'm not here to say that I have definitively solved this mystery once and for all. Sorry to disappoint. ;) But, I would however, like to share a few insights on the subject.

I'm reading a book right now that explores the subject of love (among other things): A New Heart by Robert Morneau. The type of love the author writes about is not the romantic smooshy-gushy stuff that is the subject of romance novels and chick-flicks. (And don't get me wrong, I do like a good chick-flick every now and then!) With this type of love there's no chase-scene, no knight-in-shining-armor, no fair maiden in distress, no orchestral swelling at the movie's close. Nope, this type of love is more of a giving type of love. Selfless love. Sacrificial love.

Karl Rahner says that, "Love alone makes man forget himself, and it would indeed be hell if self-oblivion could never be achieved. Without love, man, anxiously guarding his finite Ego, would husband his future and yield it but grudgingly. " So, according to Rahner love is actually a type of self-death. Love is not about how it makes us feel, but rather about forgetting ourselves altogether. But that's not what's portrayed in the movies, is it? "True love" according to popular culture is all about making us feel special and valued, about receiving scores of flowers and candy, about being serenaded by moonlight. And we eat this stuff up, don't we? I mean, what girl doesn't fantasize about the famed balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet? So then, who is this crazy guy who's telling us to forget about ourselves? I mean, how could love not be all about us?!

Let's see what someone else has to say on this subject. Here is what Pope Paul VI offers about love:

"Love those near by and those afar. Love our friends and enemies; love Catholics, schismatics, Protestants, Anglicans, the indifferent, love Muslims, pagans, atheists, love members of all social classes, love children, love the old, the poor and the sick, love those who deride or despise us, obstruct or persecute us; love those who deserve love and those who do not; love our adversaries. Let us love and try to understand, esteem, appreciate, serve it and suffer for it. Let us love with the heart of Christ."

Here again we see love offered as a gift to others--deserved or not. It is not about what we get out of the deal, but rather loving for the virtue of love itself. Even suffering for it. But this is in such stark contrast to our desires! Sure, it's easy to love people who seem nice enough, when it feels easy or when we encounter those whose values align with our own. But to love our enemies? Love those who persecute us? Well, that's just crazy talk, isn't it? It sounds good in the bible, but...really?!

Let's turn then to a less academic, more experiential type of love; parental love. The role of a parent is at time fraught with peril. Let's face it, parenting can be a rough gig. Sleepless nights with a screaming newborn, toddler tantrums (seemingly!) by the hundreds, defiant teens pushing our buttons, stomach bugs (we just went through the stomach bug thing in our house this past week, so this one is fresh on my mind!). The list goes on and on. But ask any parent whether or not all of the dedication, devotion and giving is worth it, and you'd be loathe to find one suggesting the contrary. So then...there might just be something to this giving of love after all...

Ok then, so to love is to give. But one might refute this by saying that all of this giving, this selfless love is really just about the getting; that love is not so altruistic after all. One might say that we are only giving in order to receive something for ourselves. And in a way this is true. But what we get isn't some giddy high or fluttering in our stomachs. What we get is...a glimpse of God. It is in all of that giving of our love that we experience God's enormous love for us. With the swipe of a child's feverish brow, the tender embrace we lend to one who mourns, the hospitality we offer to a stranger in need, we get a tiny glimpse of God's love for us. Sacrificial love. Agony in the garden at love. Dying on the cross love. Love that makes us forget ourselves completely, love that fills our souls, love that quiets out hurts and makes us complete. Love that transports us from our petty worries, our childhood wounds, our materialistic desires. So, what we get is something great indeed. Paradoxically, in dying to self--in loving others with our whole hearts we are made complete. We experience love the way God gives it to us--freely, perfectly.

This calls to mind for me the famous tag line from the movie Jerry McGuire, "You complete me." And while this is a very beautiful and romantic thing to say to someone, it's...well, incomplete (how's that for irony!). I would like to rephrase it as: "Giving my love to you completes me--through God's love." Of course this just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? But really, what more could we possibly need? All we need is love, right?

And so, the romance movie ends, the credits roll, the popcorn has been consumed, and we are left...wanting. Wanting more, wanting that something missing. But the next time that feeling bubbles up inside of us, if only we can remind ourselves to give love. Give love more, give love freely, give love openly, give love with reckless abandon. And we might end up getting more love in return than we ever thought possible.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
John 15:13

** edited and re-posted from the archives, photos added.

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1 comment:

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