You’ll know almost immediately which verses I’m talking about if I said in the Bible there is a chapter that has a section that may well be the most read section in the Bible. Remember our current theme is “love”.
Would it help if I was to add it is written by our friend Paul? You’ve got it, it’s chapter 13 of Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians. It’s the chapter that takes and profoundly expands the qualities and attributes of love, and we hear it at almost every wedding we are invited to. That’s a shame, it really is, because the verses are not about romantic love or the love that causes two people to commit to each other. But we see the word ‘love’ and off we go!
Perhaps a testimony to society’s misunderstanding, or better still, poverty of understanding when it comes to love. It seems to me that love has been reduced to an entity that exists between two people and is often more about ‘me’ than it is about ‘you’. Of course ‘you’ are involved because ‘you’ do something for ‘me’. And that’s it guys. Love is something that I feel, an emotion, excitement, chemistry, a fix…but it’s not. That is what Paul is striving to tell us in these profound verses. Remember, this is a guy who chose and advocated the virtues of the celibate life. Guess that saved on Valentines cards.
So Pogue, understand that what you and your life partner have is wonderful and at times makes you go all warm inside and rush home from work, but in Paul’s thinking it’s Little League stuff, Third Division and he’s wants you to aspire to the Premier League.
You see, love is the very essence, the single greatest force when seeking to attain a well lived and fulfilled life be that measured in terms of achievement, charity, service, leadership, sacrifice. If what I do is not underpinned and inspired by love, as Paul says, “I am nothing…I gain nothing”. It will all fade away in the end.
What is this thing (and I was going to say ‘quality’ but it is apparent it is so much more)? Maybe it is the shadow of the Divine, the truest light given us by the Universe for in its essence it militates against so much that we promote, consider normal, believe essential. Clearly it stands apart from ego and self, so love in its essence is not about ‘me’. Its focus, its raison d’êtra is for the ‘other’. Love goes outwards and is given. To borrow from Paul in Corinthians, “it is not self seeking” but selfless, gaining, paradoxically, from giving away. And the paradox can be understood when we realise that love of this kind is not ours to give, but rather we ourselves are given it to give away. Isn’t it a Law of the Universe that we get to give and in doing so we receive more?
Some would ask, ‘How can one continually give if we are not receiving love. Is not our first duty to love ourselves?’ The better read ones might even remind me that I have written on ‘self love’, bless them. The answer is that the greatest act of self love is to position oneself in the presence of Love, to stand in the shadow of God because here is the place from which love flows. The issue always seems to be in the receiving, for in having it we are compelled in time to do something with it. Yes, you can enjoy it for a period but then you have to give it away because it will become too much to hold within. Can the ocean become the wave? I know there are some interesting ideas about gods becoming men but let’s put them aside for a moment. Today is not a theology day! So, the ocean can’t become the wave but the wave is completely the ocean. With me here? The wave is entirely made of the substance that is ocean and is an expression of the ocean.
The most important aspect of love is not in giving or receiving: It’s in the being. When I need love from others or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability. Being in love means seeing the Beloved all around me.Ram Dass
And Paul tells us that we must grow into this. Listing first a number of supernatural ability which are apparently open to ‘believers’, made available by God. Then using the analogy of a child leaving childhood things behind as she grows, he talks about putting aside these God given abilities as we mature into love. Are you getting that? Paul is saying we can now have the supernatural but love is above, beyond, so much more than this and this will lose relevance as we grow into love. Does that give you any inkling of the awesome nature of love? And when I surmise that the everyday world really doesn’t understand love do you begin to understand where I’m coming from? Move over Superman. Love’s coming through!
So, returning to my starting point, not the stuff for wedding ceremonies. Well, maybe we can give them verses 4 through to 6 at a push and out of kindness. But, warning, any couple taking these three verses seriously are setting the bar high, very high. Just read them slowly, like, “Love…keeps no record of wrong”. As said, it’s a high standard.
Rather, think of it as that which the wave carries forth for the ocean. That by its very nature and persistence it will in time wear down the cliffs and overcome.
Choose carefully the shadows you stand in.