Posted by: dacalu | 2 June 2009

Love

Love defies easy understanding and I must admit this difficulty contributed to my long hiatus from this site. I did not have a good grasp of love. Perhaps I still do not, for love is an awesome thing. Recently, however, I had something of an epiphany, an insight into what it might mean to truly love.

Earlier I said that love requires a relationship between souls. At the most fundamental level, souls make up the universe. Some of these souls have bodies. It may well be that other things exist—soulless bodies and bodiless souls. I can’t commit to that at the moment. What I can say is that from a Christian perspective, the universe, indeed the cosmos, exists primarily as a collection of souls. That must be our first concern.

I know it’s shocking. Our culture constantly sends the message that matter is substantial (it stands under everything else). Less literal minded people will have bought into the idea that productivity is somehow substantial. We don’t hear the song as loudly as materialism, but the tune is much more persistent. “What you do matters.” “What you make of yourself.” “As long as the job gets done.” This can even be expressed concretely and measurably; the word is capital. Oxford Online defines it as “wealth owned…invested, borrowed, or spent.” Capital is resources doing work or capable of doing work. Capitalism, then, has something to do with the generation and maintenance of this type of value.

I want you to forget all that for the moment. Jesus Christ came with the message that souls outweigh matter and work/value/money. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) No we must think of souls first.

Souls, though fundamental, may not be discrete. They don’t come in neat little packets. Physics, from ancient to Newtonian to quantum, suggests to us that things can be found neatly and divisibly. If you cut things fine enough, you will discover that they come in units—like billiard balls. (Mind you, modern physics has some reasons to question this assumption as well. Suffice to say, it’s been a dominant paradigm in science and theology.) I want to suggest that souls are messier than that. They have fuzzy edges, as you will discover whenever you truly love someone. Your soul begins to mesh with theirs. What hurts them hurts you (and vice versa). Your preferences become their preferences, your choices approach their choices. The individual souls never go away. The centers stay separate, but the edges can mesh and interweave. Souls are not discrete.

Love, then, happens when two souls come together healthily. Mind you, hate requires a fusing of souls as well. In this case, one person’s pain is the other’s pleasure, but you influence one another’s preferences and choices. Your independence disappears. So love will be a healthy meshing of souls, and hate an unhealthy meshing of souls. Souls that manage to be completely separate result in apathy.

So far none of this surprised me. What came as a shock was the realization that one person cannot love alone. Roll that around on your tongue for awhile. You cannot love alone.

For many years I have been fond of the word “compassion.” It seems less messy and fraught than “love.” I can imagine having compassion for someone who does not have compassion for me and, while that makes it cleaner and safer, it also tames it in a way that I think must be, in the end, unacceptable to Christians. I cannot love someone who does not love me, for true love requires that our souls be intertwined in some meaningful way. A mathematician would say that love is a “binary operator.” In other words, it takes two arguments, two souls to make the relationship happen.

I looked through the Gospels to see if this definition fit—surely, I thought this must be my imagination. But no. It fits well with everything Jesus has to say about love. (I’ll have to look in on Paul later. Love happens between people. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Two souls (or more) participate in love. Some readers will point out: “love those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27). I would suggest first that the discussion of hate above deals with this, but more significantly, I think God calls us to develop relationships of love.

This definition of love has profound implications for how we understand Christianity. You cannot be a Christian alone. It starts with God initiating a loving relationship with us and inevitably finds expression in our relationships with others. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). It underlies something I have thought for years but never understood before. There is no theology of them. There are only theologies of us. We understand together. Perhaps all Christian virtues work this way. Perhaps the gifts of the Spirit can be found solely in community. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Perhaps this is not an added bonus, but the very heart of Christianity. That edge of God overlaps with us as Christians and, as we share it with one another, we deepen our own entanglement with the Holy One.

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Responses

  1. Lucas,

    Thanks for directing me to your reflections on love. I really appreciated your searching approach to some very large questions.

    You wrote above, “In other words, it takes two arguments, two souls to make the relationship happen.” And I think this points to a question I have about this. I think you are working on a distinction here, but that might just be my take. Is there a possibility that love requires multiple operators (which I think I agree with) without requiring relationship or mutuality? One would certainly hope that love on the part of any person or the taking of loving action would move the multiple operators toward relationship, but that does not seem necessary for me to constitute love.

    Also, where does love of self fit into this equation. Jesus certainly instructs that one ought to love God and neighbor as one loves one’s self. Does self-love involve multiple operators or is self-love only valid love if it issues in love of other (thus involving multiple operators…) or are there other options (probably)?

    The last line about our “entanglement” with the Holy One (as well as the mention about souls as fuzzy entities rather than discrete ones) reminded me of an NPR segment about a study on people in loving relationships who exhibit signs of what one of the researcher’s called “quantum entanglement” because of their close relationship…it at least points to the idea that loving relationships create physical, unconscious bonding… check it out at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104351710 – particularly see the last two sections…

    Peace,
    Phil

    • Dear Phil,
      Wow. Good comments, and maybe enough for me to toss the whole idea. But, being the person I am, I’ll push back and see what happens.
      You say that mutuality may not be necessary, but that’s exactly what I’m driving at. It’s sort of scary, but what if it isn’t love unless it is mutual? What if God is not calling us to love at others but create loving relationships with others? It would make love 100x more difficult, but…it has a certain appeal.
      Love of self is a solid argument and one I’ll be thinking on for a while. Possible responses: 1) God never intended us to “love self” only to love others as though they were ourselves. If love means a blending of souls then this lack of identity goes right with the message. [Not really happy with that one.] I’ve never really understood what love of self was supposed to look like anyway. Acceptance, yes. Harmony, yes. But love always seemed a little different. 2) “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26. I take that to mean that we cannot love anything to the exclusion of God but must love all things in God. In this way, you could love yourself, but only circuitously, through God. [I like that better, but I’m still not sure it properly addresses your question.]
      Thanks. Lucas


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