Friday, September 24, 2010

Is It Love… or the Idea of Love

I'll never forget it. It was a night much like this one, loosened white swirls against a blackened night, stars glittering like veiled sequins across God's canvas. I'd stayed home that evening. Gone for a late walk after midnight. The dreams had come fiercely, and while I'd known their fierceness in the past, the past month had been something new. Something desperate. Something needed. The street had been quiet, as always, as I stumbled towards the small house that I, along with my ten housemates, now called home. And yet, I couldn't go inside. With every glance at the stars I found sadness, a great, unvarnished look into a heart that lay quietly dying. It shouldn't have been surprising. Not for someone who prided himself on his self-awareness and tendency towards introspection. But we all have blind spots, especially in matters of the heart. That was the night I realized that while I had known love, what I'd known better was the idea of love. I saw how it had sustained bad relationships. Saw how I had fooled myself into believing that they were the same. Realized that whatever I knew about love, most of it was second hand, lines from movies and well written discourses on the greatest of human mysteries.

That night I asked God for a second chance.

***

We don't realize it, but beyond the oil and consuming, the concept of love drives Western culture more than anything else. All of our art forms are faithful in their dedication towards her. And yet, love is mostly a new thing. We write her into our historical novels and plays and movies, we read psalms and poetry that endeavor to unmask her power and enhance it, and still, we forget the truth behind these mythical notions. When it comes to romance, love is yet in her infancy. Most of what we read is misread, and most of the great love stories have been misrepresented. Love, as it exists in our minds and our culture, is less than a hundred years old.

Oh, I know, you'll hear the commentators scoff at such at notion. Love is eternal, they'll say. Love has always existed. And it has… but not in the romantic form with which we so deeply consider it now. Love, that which we see and feel in the moonlight and quiet music, exists only between equals. Do I really love someone who I consider less than myself? Do I really love someone who is not my equal? Perhaps, as a master loves a slave or an owner loves a pet. But what poet captures the imagination of the world writing an ode to their horse or dog? We may not like it, but the idea of love is the blinding light of a society that claims equality but does not grant it. It is the fruit on the dish of ice cream that talks of healthy eating. Worse, the idea of love is sold as the real thing. It binds men and women in unequal relationships, and creates new stories, new myths, to convince people that what they experience is in fact, the ideal. So hungry are people for the real thing that we will swallow the lie, the new myths (which are nothing more than the retelling of old stories), and believe that we have indeed, found love.

It is impossible to count how often we hear the word 'love', during our daily routine, suffice to say that we hear it enough to diminish her meaning and power. Everyone loves everyone, and all who find themselves in romantic entanglements admit to love, though most people are not happy. That sounds harsh, but how else do we explain the separation of people who have said they love each other? How else to explain the domestic violence so rampant throughout our culture? And the church is not exempt. Both the rates of divorce and domestic violence are higher in the church than for those outside the church. (Though not by much) Somewhere, somehow, we have convinced ourselves that the most important part of our life is that it is shared with someone else. More than simply status, she is the very manner in which we define ourselves and the success of our lives. And so, we cannot tell if it is love, or the idea of love, with which we are so enamored.

The end result is not pleasant. We are given books and writings designed to help us create love and stimulate love, and yet no one mentions just how mysterious she is, or how uneasily she should be defined. She is young still, and most often those that claim to know her know only what others have told them. The best relationships are often unexplainable, and offer only hints as to their vitality. For as much as we'd like to duplicate its impact, love has not easily surrendered her secrets.

***

I have been in love before, but until these past two years, I have not truly known her power. How could I? I believed that men were superior to women. We still teach that, you know. Especially within religion, though not exclusively so. In fact, great swaths of our society teach the greatest obstacle to love as a pathway to her arms. Its sadly ironic, but mostly sad. In the theatre of our romantic discourse we discuss roles and obligations, lists and keys for both sexes, pitfalls and pragmatic tips for finding the most mysterious of human giftings. And still, she eludes us. So much so that we settle for the idea of love, and make excuses for both our failing to find her and the relationship we find ourselves in, which we know lacks her presence.

I once thought that if I ever knew what love was, if I ever had another chance at her, that I would be able to offer advice to the many people starving for a taste of her presence. I was wrong. The more I find her in my relationship with my wife, the less I comprehend. I do not know why she graces us with her presence, and I do not understand why she has chosen me. What I do know is that one night I stood beneath the stars and asked for a second chance. And God, the One who identifies himself as love, saw fit to answer my prayer.

For all of her wonder, love is the most humbling presence of all, and to have discovered her so late in life is a gift beyond words. My hope is that you will not falter when the world offers you the idea, and wait instead for her beguiling presence, a presence that will shift the very core of your being. She is young still, this love, but she is powerful beyond words. And if she touches you, your life will never be the same.

-Steve