Monday, February 5, 2018

Love and Lent (February 2018 Newsletter Article)

          For the first time in decades, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. That gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate two kinds of love simultaneously.
On Valentine’s Day we hail the gift of Eros, the love between two people that includes the kind of companionship and intimacy that makes being human such a pleasure and such a struggle. Along with Philos (the companionable love of friends), Eros is gifted to us when, in the second version of creation, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Gen. 2:18)
Created for relationship, human beings need helpers and partners. Virtually all of us need to be held in an embrace which proclaims affection and vulnerability as well as commitment and accountability. As the “one flesh” embrace of committed love, Eros is that kind of love. It can be, and faith traditions argue that it is intended to be, a love of profound depth, substance, and holiness. Apart from mutuality, however, Eros leads us, at best, into the heartbreak of unrequited love. At worst, it mires us pits of obsession and lust.
On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate Eros with physical expressions like chocolates, flowers, nice dinners, flirtation, and romance.
Ash Wednesday begins the liturgical season of Lent. And Lent is the journey of Agape love. Lent culminates with Passion Week. Worship during Passion Week tends to be very physical, as well. It includes things like Seder Meals, services of darkness and light, walking the stations of the cross, and celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Passion Week gives way to the great observance of Easter (Resurrection), which, along with Christmas (Incarnation), proclaims God’s material presence in and undying love for the Creation.
Agape love is the passionate and unconditional love of divine initiative. Unlike Eros, it neither requires nor expects requital. Agape is love that can’t be helped. And while it is given in utter selflessness, purely for the benefit of the other, true acceptance and embrace of Agape is almost always marked by some sort loving response.
Perhaps this is the way Agape love redeems. It generates within those who embrace it responses of unfettered gratitude and generosity.
All genuine love is an expression of Agape love in the same way that all of Creation itself is an expression of the Creator. We are not God any more than Eros is Agape, but we are made by God, and even of God (Julian of Norwich), just as Eros and Philos are, at their purest, reiterations of Agape.
The word love is thrown about with careless abandon in our culture. And it seems to me that to use that word without intention is, in many cases, not much different than taking God’s name in vain. Implicit in the acknowledgment that we are created by God is the affirmation that we are connected by Love. Surely that is why we read in 1 John: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Christmas. Lent. Passion Week. Easter. Pentecost. Valentine’s Day. All of it is, at its deepest heart, all about God, because God is all about Love.