I have come to a decision. A most unusual decision, to be sure, but one, nonetheless.
Let me begin with yesterday. Yesterday I had been thinking about this post for days and days, and yet, when I sat down to map it out, I realized that there was a frontispiece of a kind that belonged to this post.
So I wrote on the love-in-hate conundrum that is the birth of Jesus. Why not a bejeweled castle on top of the highest hill, surrounded by rings of angels, singing their hearts out?
Why the dirt?
Back to my decision.
I find that love is not an emotion. It is something very different indeed.
Hear me out.
Let’s just put love up against other emotions and see what we see.
Anger, say. Anger functions in a direct, straight line. You borrow my purse and ruin it, and I feel angry. Directly at you.
And, yes, I know of the phenomenon of not wanting to feel angry at the person that harms you, so you redirect the anger at something or someone else. But, really, if you sit down and are very patient and delicately untangle the lines, the anger leads directly to its source.
The person who harmed you.
This is the same with so many other emotions: they function like pain does in the body in that they are neon signs that beckon us to pay attention to whatever is its cause.
We feel angry in order to address the imbalance that set off the feeling in the first place.
Emotions are essentially a form of internalized communication.
Follow me so far?
But what about love?
It may have a source, a direct link, that is real. It may not. How many girls loved the Beatles? (One even successfully figured out a way to marry one.)
People appear to be able to become transfixed by different things and people. It’s almost random.
Except when it’s not. Except when you realize that you married your wife because she reminds you so much of your (wait for it) mother.
How direct is that? ’
And so God, we see throughout the Bible, stands on a ground of love. We are to know that, if nothing else, about God.
But do we? Can we?
So, quite unseasonably, I find myself transfixed with the love that God showed in the death of Jesus.
That wasn’t mentioned yesterday I see: love in death.
But the more I try to savor the aspect of love in the crucifixion the more overwhelmed I feel.
Where is the directness in that act? Receiving that love, what part of me does it untangle?
What stirred all this up in me was happening to read about how the method of the death of Jesus affected his community.
It seems that the people he grew up with and lived so intimately with felt shame, humiliation, and degradation at the method of his death. They took it very personally that he died a criminal.
We’re not like that. We may have theological reasons to oppose the death penalty, and we may even get outraged when we know that someone who is innocent is being punished unfairly.
But we don’t take any of it personally.
So not only does Jesus get to walk the steps of shame, humiliation, and degradation, he is also surrounded by a sea of matching emotions.
Now I can see the directness there. I’m ashamed.
We’re ashamed also.
The difference, of course, is that the very blood of Jesus expresses his degradation.
So how is this love?
Where is the direction of love here?
The poet, John O’Donohue, writes a blessing For Someone Who Did You Wrong. And in its last two stanzas I catch a glimpse of what I am looking for:
Now a new kindness
Seems to have entered time
And I can see how that hurt
Has schooled my heart
In a compassion I would
Otherwise have never learned.
I have begun to glimpse
The unexpected fruit
Your dark gift had planted
And I thank you
For your unknown work.
In the suffering of Jesus, we can learn a compassion that we did not feel before.
A direct link.
In the pain that we feel when we see in our mind’s eye the agony of our beloved Lord fall and fall again, we can recognize our fall, too. In his suffering, we can know our own feelings of degradation and shame.
And so, as he did, after realizing that we are lying on the ground in our sweat and tears, we get back onto our feet, bloodied, sore, and with no strength to take another step.
And when we do – when we take that next step and keep going no matter the pain – that is love.
That is God.