Love is one of the most written about topics in human history, yet all the volumes written on it cannot exhaust the hunger to understand it. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week I wonder if our religious institutions will be mindful of the opportunity we have to influence the conversation about love. More than just the hyperawareness of romantic love (or the absence of such love), there is a way that Valentine’s Day calls us to consider the full range of interdependent independence that is the material substance of love. The desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in humanity. It is the most fundamental passion, it is the force which keeps the human race together, the clan, the family, the society. The failure to achieve it means insanity or destruction – self-destruction, or the destruction of others. Without love, humanity could not exist for a day (Fromm 1956). In my experience, the brokenness and fractures of human relations and our shared relation with all of creation come as a result of lovelessness. Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion (Brown 2017). Therefore, it is incumbent upon those of us who seek justice and love mercy to remind our siblings of exactly how important and powerful love really is.
The primary task of faith-community is to assist in the creation of wholeness – not goodness, but wholeness. The healthy community’s reason for being is to provide the space where each person is nurtured into full being and this is the function of love (Spong 2002). It is not enough for our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious sites to offer intellectual insight to the world of mystery they must also have emotional intelligence and socioeconomic reach in order to fully love the faithful into wholeness. Love, you see, is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s growth. It may well be easier to say love is as love does (hooks 2000). Love is manifested in the human willingness to venture beyond the boundaries of safety, to risk losing ourselves and at the same time calls us into being and expands our lives as it flows through us and to the other.
Life giving love can be entered self-consciously, chosen freely, and appropriated fully (Spong 2002). It is precisely this type of love that our faith-communities help us cultivate. In order to be a love filled, love centered, type of community our houses of worship will have to invest in decentering norms of classism, elitism, sexism and all other systems of oppression that dehumanize any of our siblings. This calls for those at the center of these systems of power and domination to be intentional about divesting ourselves of privilege, in order to redistribute power. You cannot really have a conversation about love without considering power, because true love is always based on mutuality.
Authentic love is the holiest of relationship. A holy relationship is this: a common state of mind, where all give errors gladly to correction, that all may happily be healed as one. In the holy relationship, we do not seek to change someone, but rather to see how beautiful they already are (Williamson 1992). When our inner peace is shaken by the behavior of the other then we know we have left the state of holy relationship. This is why it is the task of the faith –community to call each member into wholeness for it is only from wholeness we can truly have holy loving relationship.
Ultimately, we each seek love and are healed by Love itself. A person radically accepted by another naturally wishes to share that acceptance, that gift of love with others. What if this week our faith-communities focus on being the space where love pervades and prevails? Can we be the site where in the breaking of bread, and singing of hymns we share forgiveness and seek justice in the face of shared evil? Will we make room for the shadow side of the genius we encounter in the people we are connected to? A healing spirituality is not remote from the world, but engaged in it. It enables people to be aware of their own gifts and become passionately committed to a better society (SJ 1996). We were made to love.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Brown, Brene. 2017. Braving the Wilderness. New York: Random House.
Fromm, Erich. 1956. The Art of Loving. New York: Continuum.
hooks, bell. 2000. all about love. New York: Harper Perennial.
SJ, Patrick J. Howell. 1996. A Spiritguide Through Times of Darkness. Kansas City: Sheed & Ward.
Spong, John Shelby. 2002. A New Christianity for a New World. New York: Harper SanFransico.
Williamson, Marianne. 1992. A Return to Love: Reflections on Principles of A Course in Miracles. New York: HarperOne.