True Love Must be a Stranger

[This was a reflection posted on Facebook on the matins readings for 18 December 2018. It’s been a hectic half year since I actively posted on this website, including sharing a blog at Patheos, and my hope in the next week is to go back and retrieve salient posts from my Facebook page to present here as a way back into it.]

Transcending time and space, love begins invisibly, moves beyond our ability to conceptualize, and tends towards infinite mystery.

That incomprehensibility is very good in itself, of course. But in the realm of finitude and fallenness, love can lose its way, disappearing, paradoxically, into the visibility of worldly plausibility structures and the projects of the self. Our histories of pain and our habits of use drain love of its glorious strangeness, its ability to surprise us.

We are left with a manipulable ghost, a vacuous idol embodying simply ourselves. But what we need is otherness. Another spirit. Another Spirit. If we are only talking to ourselves, then there's nothing to hope for. To manage to make the world in our image, is to lose everything. It is to gain the whole world—and lose our soul.

The Bible relentlessly campaigns against idolatry because the Revealer yearns for there to be love in the world.

And love requires "dying for the invisible," to riff off of the great Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. That may sound like a pernicious otherworldliness; it is rather the only condition for having any joy in this world. Love must be other enough to break our inane planning, or all there is, is anesthesia (consumerism, the culture industry, drugs) and the libido dominandi.

Today's matins readings triggered these reflections. In Isaiah 43 we hear:

"Bel bows down, Nebo stoops, their idols are upon beasts and cattle; they must be borne up on shoulders, carried as burdens by the weary. They stoop and bow down together; unable to save those who bear them, they too go into captivity."

Our "mind-forged manacles" as Blake puts it: to take our intentionality as the measure of reality is to trap ourselves in hopeless delusion, Marx's commodity fetishism as the currency of the world. Or, as Dylan puts it in "Mississippi": "City's just a jungle, more games to play/Trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away."

A voice not our own must speak into the prison-house of our consciousness. Let's call that voice "love":

"Hear Me, O house of Jacob, all who remain of the house of Israel, My burden since your birth, whom I have carried from your infancy. Even to your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you. It is I Who have done this; I Who will continue; and I Who will carry you to safety."

Love creates the burden that it carries. Only as self-sacrificial can love be creative; as such, love creates everything.

The second matins reading comes from the Epistle to Diognetus, and adds faith to what we have seen about the essential inter-implication of hope and love. No love, no hope. No faith, no love. When it comes to love, we have to trust in the invisible. If we do not, then it isn't love we are facing, but only ourselves.

"[God the Creator] devised a plan, a great and wonderful plan, and shared it only with His Son. As long as He preserved this secrecy and kept His own wise counsel, He seemed to be neglecting us, to have no concern for us. But when through His beloved Son, He revealed and made public what He had prepared from the very beginning, He gave us all at once gifts such as we could never have dreamt of, even sight and knowledge of Himself."

God means us well, though everything we see seems to indicate the contrary. Love escapes our calculations.

What is the Father's plan of loving goodness? Simply this, to share limitless love under conditions of limitedness. So every love on earth is signed with the Cross. And every true love on earth becomes visible only by the total humility of a manger.

A predator sets the banquet of the world before himself; a lover is food that the beloved might live, and that they together might live a life, the roots of which are sunk in the soil of the Trinity and whose topmost branches dance the incomprehensible figures of the Spirit—and which never stop rising and branching and bearing fruit.