Somewhere -- I believe in the beginning of his Works of Love -- Soren Kierkegaard connects the reality of God, or lack thereof, with that of love: If we know a priori that there can be no such thing as God, how can we explain the pervasive existence and acceptance of something as ephemeral, unwieldy, and invisible as love? The question recalls the later theme which marked all of G.K. Chesterton's work -- namely, the problem of pleasure: Why not ask, instead of why there is so much pain and suffering in the world, why there is so much good, so much that is joyful and happy? The widespread presence of pleasure reveals for Chesterton -- as clearly as anything might -- the inexhaustibly overflowing source and giver of all good gifts, a God who has created and infused the world with his own exuberant giddiness.
The suggestions of both men came to mind this past weekend in the midst of my brother's wedding festivities. My wife and I got married about a year and a half ago, I was in a wedding last October, I was a co-best man for my brother this weekend, and I'm in two more weddings this coming August and October. Weddings are on the mind! 'Tis the season.
And so I was surprised to find myself so baffled and bowled over by the sharp-lined, clear-eyed face of love that found me and stared me in the eye this weekend.
At my own wedding there were a thousand things going through my mind leading up to, during, and afterward: pack, remind, meet; eat, drive, dress; sit, stand, wait; walk, stop, don't lock knees; watch, listen, repeat. So many things, all at once. I was in the moment during the ceremony but I was also caught in the waves of myriad thoughts, memories, feelings, and duties, such that clarity was probably the only thing not mixed up in the swirl that is the experience of a wedding. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.
But this weekend, whether because it was my brother or because it wasn't me (or for some other reason), I felt the gift of clarity. And in the momentousness of the events I was lead over and over to this central question: Why love? Why do we assume love is normal? How can we possibly take it for granted? There is, hands down, nothing normal about love. It is, as was read during the ceremony from Song of Songs, as strong as death. It overwhelms the senses, the mind, the heart. It is bodily yet out of our hands. It hits us without request and may leave when desired most. It commits us to the most radical persons and causes and groups, and leads us to reject just as many. It tells us time and time again that at this time, in this moment, in this place, whatever I say is unquestionably right. And we trust that voice. We give ourselves to it. We say, My life is now in your hands. We are undone by love, recreated by love, handed over to our best or worst selves by love. Love is never not the pursuit, never not the telos, never not the essence of a life well lived. To live is in so many ways to be able to say, I have loved and have been loved. Love encapsulates human life.
Yet we think this ordinary! We think it normal! We think it everyday and part of the stages of growing up!
Love is not ordinary, normal, natural, or intrinsic. Love is not anything we could rightfully expect or even ask for. Love, put as simply as possible, is not ours to have.
Love is gift. Love is from God and is God. Love is the best and only way we know to name the one who is our source and end, our sustainer and savior, our judge and friend. The one who eternally is love, in himself, in his own self-relation, that one gives unaccountably and inexhaustibly to us of himself, of the love that is his own life. And we know and have and give and share in love only to the extent that Love Himself knows and has and gives and shares with and for and to and in us.
That is what I came face to face with so abruptly and startlingly this weekend. It is not our possession; it is not natural; it is nothing to assume or take for granted.
But it is real, and it is ours as a gift.
Praise God for the gift of love.
[Image courtesy of Daniel Erlander.]