February is as good a month to talk about love as any. We have just passed Valentine’s Day, it is National Women’s Heart Health month, and for those who follow the Christian liturgical calendar it is also the start of the Lenten Season. Matters of the heart are thus much on the mind. They are also central to my hope for the future, a hope grounded both in my own Christian faith and also in my humanitarian (if you will) desire to live in a world free from the violence, sorrow and destruction that plague us when love fails.
Unfortunately, what we hear about most often in the news are the failures of love: the powerful taking advantage of the weak; the rich reserving for themselves excess while the poor go without any; trust repaid with cruelty; children abused by the very adults who should be caring for them; nations that believe their differences are best settled by war; individuals who believe that their frustrations are best resolved at gunpoint; the list could go on and on.
But this is not our calling – our exempla cannot be found in the newspaper. We must look instead to our scriptures, and the example of God inscribed therein. What we find is that it is not enough that we should love that special person who makes our heart skip when they enter a room, and which we celebrate so enthusiastically on Valentine’s Day. Nor is it enough to love our children or our parents or others we have known long and deeply, with a love which brings comfort and encompasses companionship. No, we are called to a love for every one of God’s children whether they are lovable or not; whether they bring comfort or not; nay, whether they are even known to us or not.
Indeed, love is not even ours if we do not give it away. It only has existence in the act of dispensation. Love that would be internal to ourselves can only be self-love; it is opposed to charity, and without charity we cannot truly have faith. St. Maximus the Confessor (early 7th c.) puts it this way: “As memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without charity does not effect the illumination of knowledge in the soul.” Love that is not directed outwards is not merely diminished in substance and in volume, but it is actually oppositional to the love that God has in mind for us. It would be like a fire that does not warm us, that is to say, like no fire at all.
So my hope for the future is that we would throw caution to the wind, and try real love the way God intended it for us, that we would show our world that we have been called to live another way. To this end I call you, and me to:
Weep alongside someone you do not know. Rejoice in the beauty – yea, the very likeness and image of God – in every person. Pray for those who thwart you as assiduously as you pray for your daughters and sons. Lend a hand, or a foot, or a mind. Be patient with those who slow you down. Hear someone out, even if you suspect they are crazy. Return fury with calm, violence with peace. Laugh with abandon – with others, at others, at least when the alternative would otherwise be anger. Most especially, laugh at yourself – there is no easier way to practice the art of forgiveness than to see your own foibles for what they are. Open your pantry, your purse, your treasure chest – a small meal shared with others is so much more filling than a feast eaten alone; for “You are as prone to love as the sun is to shine.” So says Thomas Traherne, 17th c. Anglican poet and priest who had much of eloquence to say about love.
We can also rest assured that our love will not run out. Like the sun, it can shine on all without being diminished for any. Indeed, the sun would only be diminished if you insisted that it shine just for you.
So in this month during which we think so much about matters of the heart, I would urge us to spend our love recklessly, prodigally. We will be transformed by it; our world will be too.
Prof. Anne McCants