Nel suo profondo vidi che s’interna,
legato con amore in un volume,
ciò che per l’universo si squaderna.
There is an evil I fear we have embraced: that we have allowed love to mean something of little or corrupt value: that love has lost its genuine character. We’ve elevated talking of how love is used too freely, that porn and our sex driven culture has robbed it of its value, and I do not disagree or disregard this fact. However, it would seem to me that we have not used love too much or too freely so much as we have hardly used it at all. We say love, when all we mean is something else entirely.
I think it may have something or the other to do with our incompetency to express ourselves fully. Comic traditions certainly embraced this truthless speech. Modern literature alluded to it, so that J. Alfred Prufrock’s loveless mind should think, “That is not what I meant at all; / That is not it, at all.” And Shakespeare pins two equally witted characters (in Much Ado) against one another in a battle of admitting their true feelings of love. We clearly fail in words more than we ought to, and especially when it comes to love. Miscommunication, discommunication, hollow, broken, inept and incompetent communication won’t seem to allow us to express what we mean. Love, whether we wish its word be immensely profound and just or it be merely held for light care and affection, seems to escape its point entirely for the mere sake of our incompetency to say it. However, while I think this fuels it, I also believe our misuse of love stems further than only our misuse of communication.
I have a slight predisposition to the enjoyment of letters and so I tend to relate far too often into their direction. Still, I think in this case, being another somewhat lost character for us, letters can tell us something of importance concerning love. You see, there are too immensely important parts to a letter (besides the body): the greeting defines our respect and care for the other person — “dear” is truly an intimate word if you think about it, after all — it introduces love or hate or indifference, which drives the very core of the letter (I might dedicate a post to this in the near future), and then, of course, there is the subscript, which I wrote of in my last post. What I didn’t write of, however, is what amazing length the subscript holds on its own for letters. If I should write you, for instance, “With love, Cody,” then I leave you, regardless of anything else I wrote, even if haughty angst, anything that preceded it, a lasting impression of my regard for you, which is a state of love. This subscript, by holding its footing beneath our letters — and what a shame none of our more common communications hold this — contains a continuing state of care. Italian does something similar with its parting, “arrivederci”, in that it literally means “to see you again,” rather than a final goodbye. I suppose it mirrors God’s eternal subscript of perpetual return in a way. The letter ends, and yet we are continually left with those final words, like a dying breath or a last scene. What I mean to say is, if “love never ends” then none of us would ever fall out of it, and letters affirm this. If 1 Corinthians (13:4-8) is not a blatant lie and if we are to actually take it seriously at all and not continue to act as though we respect the Bible when we reject such words, then we must allow ourselves to admit that love is something far more superior to the faithless and fickle, adulturing shamble of a word we keep masquerading about with. Love is a lasting subscript out of respect for its own power.
Lewis wrote an entire book (The Four Loves) dedicated to how complex the eternal ‘creature’ of love is, splitting it down into the forms it takes (as the Greeks properly had before). He did an excellent job with it, showing love in a state of familiar bond, friendship, erotic infatuation, and of course God’s own unconditional fidelity, yet we still disregard the word with a far simpler shape, pretending it is only a single two dimensional surface. We act as though it means nothing while still only being appropriate for those we somehow deem worthy, those who get to love or be loved — until it bores us. We have made it into a contradicting mess. So to speak, we have allowed our miscommunication to infest and ruin love for the sake of ease, for the sake of avoiding complexities. We have, perhaps not intentionally, avoided the word’s weight so that it might not make our struggle to communicate any more difficult than we already find it. However, this is really at our own disadvantage as well as our own ignorance to God, for we’ve only made it messy and confusing. Without repeating Lewis and writing more than I’d rather here, I will present one dilemma: that, if God, if Christ genuinely meant us to “love one another” (Jn 14:34-35), then would it be odd at all to say “I love you” to a stranger, to our neighbor, to our friends, our coworkers, our baristas and airport security guards, and mean it? Unless the Bible is yet again our lying heap of words not to be taken too seriously, then I can see no reason why my subscript for heavy, lasting love should not be a genuine greeting between us. Love makes us real to one another, it affirms our respect and very core commandment of being, our betrothing for Christly bond. Love is not used too loosely or freely by our own disregard to its terrifying realness, for it is not used far enough, if even at all.
Loving each other is not reserved for the married, for the relationship status changes, for our biological children and parents, for loving each other is the core of our being, the driving force of our life and genuine character. There is no one more real than a wife’s true and close husband, a husband’s true and close wife, a mother’s eight week instinctual care, and it is love which does this, which solidifies the genuineness of their existence and marriage to one another. Love beckons our radical fidelity to it, beckons our mad obsession with it. Love is the thing which made a distant god into a personal Lord, a God madly and insanely, sacrificially absurdly, in love. Love tells us to love each other, and to do so clearly without any reserve. It tells us to be as mad as He who made it. If we love someone, it does not mean we must desire our relationship status or biology be bound to them in order to tell them, it means we love them, wholly and fully, and this is all that matters. I would even go so far to say that if we do not love our friends, then we are not their friend; if we do not love our neighbors, then we are not their neighbors; if we do not love each other, then it is merely us, alone, secluded, and without our purpose, our reason, our own genuine realness manifested. If we are not loving each other, then we are near our own extinction into nonexistence. To be, is to be with love.
Whether we must beat ourselves awake, driving the languid tongue of our inept communication skills to live again, or whether we must drive ourselves mad with the social energy of rabbits, something has got to change. To return love to its fantastical meaning, we must use it more, use it with genuine passion and fire. We must dig up the ability to tell each other we love, to genuinely, radically love one another, and not to hide it. All conceived must be raked up into a single volume and bound by Love, for the sake of its own genuine truth. We must exist again.
“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced
at last to utter the speech which has lain
at the center of your soul for years, which you have,
all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over,
you’ll not talk about the joy of words.
I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer.
Till that word can be dug out of us,
why should they hear the babble that we think we mean?
How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
– C. S. Lewis
- Gustave Doré, Beatrice enthroned, 1868
- Dante Alighieri, Paradiso: Canto XXXIII, 1320
- C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 1956