Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day - Thoughts on love

I do not claim to know what love is, nor would I know how to love. But, like pornography, I know it when I see it. In my attempts at love all I see are hypocritical ineptitude and clumsiness, often swathed in a cloying and selfish romantic sentimentality. This has been my lot since adolescence.

In college I was introduced to the works of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. In the preface to his book Works of Love I read this:

These are Christian reflections; therefore they are not about love but about the works of love.
These are reflections on the works of love - not as if hereby all love's works were mentioned and described - far from it, nor even as if a single one described were described once and for all - God be praised, far from it! That which in its vast abundance is essentially inexhaustible is also essentially indescribable in its smallest act, simply because essentially it is everywhere wholly present and essentially cannot be described.
In this book Kierkegaard reflects on the strangeness, yet appropriateness, of being commanded to love - on the Christian duty to love - to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love ourselves. While this is certainly not romantic, he believes it is what saves the Christian from despair. It saved me. (Aspects of this despair can be seen in the current movie 'Birdman' which involves the Raymond Carver short story "What we talk about when we talk about love".)

Then, last year I came across the following quote from St. Augustine:
Don't you go drawing back from your God; love your God. You're always saying to him, "Give me this and give me that"; say to him sometimes, "Give me yourself." If you love him, love him for nothing, don't be a shameless soul. You wouldn't be pleased with your wife, if she loved your gold, if the reason she loved you was that you had given her gold, given her a fine dress, given her a splendid villa, given her a special slave, given her a handsome eunuch; because if these were the things she loved about you, she wouldn't be loving you. Don't rejoice in such love as that; an adulterer, very often, can give more. You want your wife to love you for nothing, and you in tum want to sell your faith to God? "Because I believe in you"; you say to your God, "give me gold." Aren't you ashamed?
You've put your faith up for auction; notice its price. That's not what it’s worth, it isn't to be valued in gold or silver, that's not what your faith is worth. It has a huge price tag; God himself is its price. Love him, and love him freely, for nothing. You see, if you love him on account of something else, you aren't loving him at all. You mustn't want him for the sake of anything else, but whatever else you want you must love for his sake, so that everything else may be referred to love of him, not so that he may be referred to other loves, but that he may be preferred to other loves. Love him, love him freely, for nothing.
Happy Valentine's Day!

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