This is the sixth in a series of eight reflections over the season of Easter on making a pilgrimage of resurrection.
Word for Today: Love
In the gospel reading for the sixth Sunday, Jesus invites us to abide in love. Certainly this is a process, a pilgrimage journey toward the resurrection gift of love.
Think of all of the love songs, movies about love, poems about love, romance novels, paintings of love, and other expressions of what love is. In many ways love is the primal force behind our creative expression. We create art to understand more deeply what it means to be human. Part of what makes life worth living is our passion, our desire to be in relationship – with ourselves, with our beloveds, with the divine.
Why else would we take the terrible risk of stepping out into the world, revealing our vulnerabilities? What other force is able to compel us to speak our truth? We love people, creatures, ideas, values.
To be a lover in the world means to be aligned with what sparks our aliveness and passion. Lovers have a healthy sense of embodiment and savor the delights of having a body without shame. They relish the sense experience of life – the taste of a beautiful meal, the soft fur of a devoted pet, the shimmering of sunlight on water, the music of birds, the fragrance of jasmine. To abide in love is to celebrate beauty and that all of life is a work of art.
One of my favorite books is called Exquisite Desire and is on that glorious love poem which appears in the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Song of Songs. It is an unabashedly sensual exploration and celebration of erotic love, of the deep desire we have for another person. Eros is what draws us out of ourselves and into the world. Through eros we are seduced into a passionate relationship with life. Rabbi Akiva who lived in the first century BCE said that the whole of Torah is holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.
In Medieval times, the Song of Songs became the exemplary image for the mystical union between person and Beloved. The language of longing was considered to be the perfect way to express how deep our own longing for God can be, and conversely, how much God longs for and desires us.
When we abide in love we can experience a sense of union with all there is. It is the source of spirituality, especially the mystical paths found in all religious traditions, a sense of the ultimate oneness of everything that is and seeking to experience that unity in daily life. Love calls us into connection with the world. In times when feeling disconnection and isolation is easier than ever, love calls us to step into the flesh and blood relationships, to engage, to risk, to be vulnerable.
Love is a source of joy but also leads to pain. When we love deeply, loss can be wrenching. When we love others, we experience their places of wounding. When they hurt, we hurt as well. Love calls us to be present to the full range of our emotional landscape.
The Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe wrote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
“What you are in love with . . . will affect everything.” How you spend your precious moments and what you allow to fill your heart is the call of our pilgrimage of resurrection, to always journey toward love and falling more in love with the world. Pause for a moment to consider this question: What are you in love with? I mean really passionate, head-over-heels, giddy with desire in love with? Have you let love seize your imagination, to take hold of you in an absolute way so that your day is spent contemplating ways to spend more time with your beloved? What you love might be a person or God, but it also might be an idea, a commitment you have.
As artists it takes courage to create when the world around us keeps saying that there are better things we could be doing with our time. There is often little recognition or money in being an artist, and yet I invite you to consider art-making and creativity an exuberant act of self-love. To say, “I am an artist,” is to remember the great love that calls to you moment by moment. To be an artist is to say I will no longer retreat and meet the expectations and conventions around me. I will risk loving myself and living from the brilliant and glimmering truth I find there.
At Abbey of the Arts, we are inviting the community to make a commitment to practice creativity daily in celebration of my new book being released in May 2015 The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within (Ave Maria Press). Please join us (details available at this post).
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD