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Monday, 29 June 2015

Discover & explore: Love

Here is my reflection from today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook:

When I preach at weddings I often tell the story of the Love is … cartoons. ‘Love Is...’ began as shy love notes from the artist Kim Casali to her future husband, Roberto. Each of these notes involved a little drawing and a personal sentiment that perfectly captured Kim's thoughts and feelings for the man she loved. She began these drawings when they were dating, and she would leave the cartoons where Roberto would be sure to find them. After they were married, he showed her that he'd kept them all the drawing she had made for him. The cartoons were picked up by the press, were first published in The Los Angeles Times in January 1970, and then their popularity grew globally and they were published daily in 50 countries around the world and translated into 25 languages.

I use this as a way of introducing the original ‘Love is …’ from 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

The ‘Love is …’ cartoons and 1 Corinthians 13 both agree with another well-known ‘love is’ statement; ‘Love is a many-splendoured thing.’ Love cannot be captured or summed up in one cartoon or phrase or even in a series of cartoons or phrases. Love constantly bursts the bounds of our descriptions or definitions and this is why there is no end to songs, poems, novels, films, dances and plays about love. At the Guildhall Art Gallery we can see that the subject of romantic love preoccupied Victorian artists who addressed themes of unrequited love, social incompatibility, family disapproval, and separation at war.

Nearer our own time, C.S. Lewis is well known for looking at some of the different loves described in Greek thought - familial or affectionate love (storge); friendship (philia); romantic love (eros); and spiritual love (agape) - in the light of Christian commentary on ordinate loves. Despite his writings on The Four Loves he was himself surprised by love as his own relationship with Joy Davidman developed. The experience of love confounded his earlier more academic perceptions of it.

It is possible that the definitive Biblical statement on love is that which is found in 1 John 4. 16 where we read that, ‘God is love’. This is also where Ernesto Cardenal takes us. Our experiences of friendship, familial and romantic love all enable us to know God as love. Therefore, he writes, ‘My former loves have taught me what love is. I know how you love me because I too have loved, and I know what passionate and obsessed love is and what it is to be madly in love with someone. And God is mad about me.’

The strength of God’s love for us was revealed among us through his sending of his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ Christ searches for us like the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. His journey of salvation shows how much we are loved by him as he gives up all he has in order to seek us out and rescue us.

The extremity of God’s expression of love in giving all in self-sacrifice reveals the limitless nature of love which constantly escapes the limits of our experiences, descriptions or definitions. If God is love then, just as God is infinite and cannot ever be fully grasped by our finite minds, so love also must be inexhaustible. As St Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13, ‘Love never ends’. Love, like God, is an infinite ocean into which we dive and can always swim deeper and further.

In The Last Battle, the final volume of his Narnia stories, C.S. Lewis sums up the reality of God, heaven and love in the phrase, ‘further up and further in.’ The children in his stories discover heaven as the real Narnia which is bigger and better than the shadow Narnia in which they had lived out their finite lives. When they reach the centre of this real Narnia, they find that their journey begins again as there is always a deeper layer to this real Narnia, meaning that there is no end to their exploration of the reality of Narnia. If God is love and love is God then, as T.S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding, ‘We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.’


Healey Willan - Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One.

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