What is love?
I’m talking about the stuff that overwhelms a pair of adult human beings with surprise and heroism and engulfs the pair in emotions from the most base to the transcendent. Normally I write about the more unrequited version of the same thing. Here I write about what happens when it is devastating on both sides. It arrives unbidden, leaves some indelible mark and either fades back into the shadows or feeds like a welcome parasite on the stricken pair, who often submit in total powerlessness to its desires.
I am far too scientific and genuinely unromantic to pay too much attention to the emotions involved. They are like waves on the shore, they can be of any strength including utterly overpowering. The feelings can be sweet agony or a simple lightness of heart. I will not feed them and nurture them as I don’t ever wish them to be my own; a thing I have crafted, an idol of my own making. That way is the way to narcissism. So, the feelings and all the bio-chemical confusion therein do their worst, I can detach myself from that, heartless bitch that I am.
But there is something else there, and the eyes of the lovers find a home in each other...
I am fond of echoing the Church Fathers and saying “love is an act of the will”, and this is where I seem to be out of step with the modern world. However, love is desiring what is best for the other, whatever that “best” may be. It is total dedication to that cause, no matter how futile it may be for yourself. Most of the time we do not know what is best, only that there exists a best and that we are part of that “best”. This is an act of the will. No base emotions, lust or sentiment will take you there because emotions are transient. Loving as an act of the will has to happen when feelings have fled, when nearly anything but loving may seem preferable, when there is no pleasure in the act of loving, when there is darkness, or when the futility is at its most pronounced or when it seems to be simply absurd.
But if I don’t know what is best, then how does this come about?
Love must involve a complete distrust of self at the same time as ensuring the beloved must have total trust in you. This seems to be a paradox, but one we must live in its entirety. It involves detachment from self and it involves God. It is impossible for any relationship to be lived in its fullness without God. God is the source of all love and goodness, there is no love without God. The genuine love two people will have for each other will either become idolatry or it simply will not last unless its Author is guiding every step. And this doesn’t involve some massive religious conversion, just trust and a deep down acceptance of the Law He has written in our hearts. We do know how we should behave and when we do, we know it is for the best.
The romance occurs when the heroic chastity and self-restraint are mutual, when there is total self-giving, unconditional love and above all a delight in the beloved because they are a creature of God. A creature, who for some inexplicable reason your own growth and own journey to heaven is inexorably linked.
It is a darkness yet it is light, it terrifying yet gentle, it can be sad beyond words yet full of joy. Love is the eternal ecstasy of heaven already germinating within us, why do we so often make such a mess of letting it grow?