Talking about love

It seems as if there are always quite a few people thinking and talking about love. It is a universal human need and the search for love is a major factor in any human life. I’ve been intrigued recently by conversations I have had and a few books and articles I have read. It seems that there are folks who want to talk about love without using traditional religious language. Perhaps they see religious language as arcane or have found some of the forms of fundamentalism to be less than rational. I don’t know all of the reasons, but there seems to be a quest among folks for ways to talk about important life issues without reverting to overtly religious language.

Any serious discussion of love quickly moves beyond talk of fleeting emotions to qualities of love that are deeper, more lasting and more universal. While not denying or minimizing the power of romantic love, people seem to want to reach beyond the emotion of the moment. There is an understanding that powerful emotions can fade and that there is more to genuine love than romantic attraction.

One of the problems of talking about love, however, is that our talk can quickly turn to abstraction. While we experience love as a vital and very real force, it is difficult to talk about love without reaching for symbolic language. Our preferred method of talking about love is metaphor. We are fairly adept at saying what love is like. There are a lot of things that love is like. Love is like fruit. Love is like spice. Love is like a rose. Love is like a garden. Love is like a star. Love is like a journey, a pilgrimage, a trip. Love is like a key. You get the picture. We employ simile to speak of love in part because no definition seems complete.

The result as David James Duncan wrote in The River Why, is that “people often don’t know what they are talking about and when they talk about love they really don’t know what they are talking about.”

Our language is imprecise and falls short of this powerful life force that is so important to human existence.

I don’t pretend to be able to define love. I doubt if there is much that I can add to the discussion that has not already been said. But I do have a sense that there are a couple of aspects of love that seem to be missing from a great deal of contemporary conversation.

I just read a book in which a significant portion was a discussion of love. The author was thoughtful and insightful and included reports of conversations with several deep thinkers. Nowhere in that book, however, was a discussion of promise or covenant or commitment. It has been my experience that love thrives in the presence of genuine commitment. Promises really do make a difference in human lives. I’m not talking about blind promises that are used as contractual traps. I’m talking about genuine covenant where a person makes a life-long commitment to a relationship regardless of what the future may hold. The traditional language of wedding vows is deeply meaningful to me: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.” It seems, however, that a more common commitment in today’s society doesn’t include remaining in the relationship “for worse,” but rather “if worse comes to worse, we can always get a divorce.”

I don’t mean to attack those who are divorced. I understand that human life is complex and that there are times when the choice is not between good and evil, but rather between various shades of in-between. I am sure that there are occasions where the choice to divorce is in the best interests of those who are involved. I also believe in the power of forgiveness and the human ability to start over in life and receive a second and a third chance.

but I do think that intention does make a difference and honest commitment can enable love to blossom in circumstances where it requires time and energy to nurture. Lasting commitments can provide the conditions for love to be nurtured. And love matures and grows over time in such a way that those who are blessed with long term relationships experience a depth that may not be available in shorter connections.

It seems to me that a discussion of love without a discussion of covenant ends up being a bit shallow and hollow. And that brings me to a second thing that I find missing in many discussions of love. The great covenant of human experience, in my opinion, is that between God and the people of God. It is the story that is lived out in a religious life. given my perspective, I don’t really know how to talk about love without talking about God. As the first letter to John body declares, “God is love.” This is not some puff of emotion, but rather a substantive life-altering force that empowers the entire universe. Talking about love seems to demand reaching beyond and seeking the universal.

21st century science is unlikely to revert to religious language, but it seems to be filled with religious concepts. Increasingly I notice concepts like wonder and surprise in the midst of serious scientific exploration. To hear an astronomer speak of the distances of the universe or a physicist describe dark matter or dark energy is to encounter a deep sense of awe and reverence for the transcendent.

I have no problem with the rejection of the notion of God as some kind of super-human being to whom the laws of nature don’t apply. Those who don’t believe in that kind of god aren’t rejecting the God in which I believe. I’ve been known to say, “The god in which you don’t believe - I don’t believe in that god either.” That doesn’t make me an atheist. it is simply a declaration that I believe in God who is bigger, grander and more expansive than some notions that are expressed.

I enjoy talking and thinking about love and I believe these discussions are important for us. I pray, however, that we might go even deeper and discuss even more facets of love’s deepest mysteries.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!