By The Logos Masthead.
For all its hype, love doesn’t always work out. Christians, for whom love is the most fundamental truth and mandate, can say that “love covers a multitude of sins” and “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Pet. 4:8, 1 Cor. 13:4), but these verses don’t seem to be a very good remedy for a broken heart.
While the precise definition(s) of “love” may warrant extensive discussion, we know love when we encounter it. It is a deep and powerful force that changes the way we feel, the way we act, the way we promise. It is something extraordinary, in the literal sense. Love is patient and kind but also crushing. It can be tyrannical.
“I envy their happiness who have never loved; how quiet and easy are they! But the tide of pleasures has always a reflux of bitterness.” – Peter Abelard
Before love breaks in on our blissfully ignorant existence, life is reasonable and full of the possibility of contentment. When it does invade, everything fades to dark in contrast. The most powerful love feels not only desirable, but right–so right that nothing can be denied it, and anything can be justified for its sake. Even when our conscience tells us that something about this love–its intensity, its object, its context–may be wrong, love pushes back: not to love would be wrong. Love seems to come so close to the divine, sanctifying and exalting its object.
“When the Best is gone – I know that other things are not of consequence – The Heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care –
Not to see what we love, is very terrible – and talking – doesn’t ease it – and nothing does – but just itself.
I often wonder how the love of Christ, is done – when that – below – holds – so -“ Emily Dickinson
As divine as it can feel, love is tragically bound by mortality. The classic love story always features a happily-ever-after: love’s triumph over seemingly insurmountable circumstances. But there is no guarantee of this happily-ever-after in real life. Arbitrary and inevitable difficulties will tear at relationships, seeming to contrive against lovers’ perfect union and satisfaction. No union between people can ever be perfect, thus to be a lover is to never be satisfied; to be a lover is to face daily tragedy.
“In spite of all my misfortunes, I hoped to find nothing in it besides arguments of comfort; but how ingenious are lovers in tormenting themselves!” – Heloise d’Argenteuil
The one inescapable circumstance of human life is death. Yet worse than death is having to kill our loves. In the face of inevitable obstacles, what happens when unextraordinary ethics challenge love’s tyrannical rightness? The height of tragedy is the moment of choice. Agamemnon decides to slay Iphigenia. Cordelia refuses to profane her love to Lear. Christ says “Your will be done.” Does one choose to be good, or to be happy?
“The love boat has crashed against the everyday” – Mayakovsky
Sometimes the choice is widely agreed upon by society: monogamy is preferable, while restrictions on sex and gender are now almost unthinkable. The struggle raging in our hearts is rarely so clear. If I love someone I cannot be with, why does it sear my lungs? Because I feel that this capricious, tragic love is something extraordinary. I feel that the love that is opposed to life also transcends life. But I know I am wrong.
“I incessantly seek for you in my mind; I recall your image in my memory; and in such different disquietudes I betray and contradict myself. I hate you: I love you. Shame presses me on all sides: I am at this moment afraid lest I should seem more indifferent than you, and yet I am ashamed to discover my trouble. How weak are we in ourselves, if we do not support ourselves on the cross of Christ.” – Peter Abelard
The Christian claim is that ethics and happiness are compatible in Christ, no matter how seemingly at odds. If love and justice meet at the cross, where is the hope for the unjust lover? I am trying to believe in the ordinariness of extraordinary love. We fall in love given the right circumstances, the right time, and in the most unexpected of ways–only our finitude is what makes love special and extraordinary in this place and time. But the hope of the resurrection is that somehow, all ordinary loves will be made extraordinary. At such a time, the most extraordinary, mind-blowing, heart-breaking earthly love will be no more or less divine than other, simpler loves.
When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven (Mark 12:5).
This, I think, is the hope of an ordinary love: that we can look at our extraordinary loves and believe that they will be made abundant. It means that we can temper love’s tyranny because this isn’t the last or even the best of it. It means that when the ethical crashes into the love boat, it need not sink, but can expand to include the ethical. It means that mortal life need not stand opposed to love.
“I love you as I did on the first day – you know that, and I have always known it, even before this reunion.” – Hannah Arendt
Taken from the Fall 2019 issue of Logos, Desire.