Friday, November 4, 2016

Love and the Road of Sorrow and Hope

God has revealed His love for us. God is Love.

God has revealed that Love is His infinite glory, His infinite mystery. But after 20 centuries of Christianity, the words "God is Love" can sound merely sentimental. They are repeated in an effort to make us feel accepted and "safe" -- but often at the price of ceasing to have any clear significance.

We need love, but we are also afraid of real love, because real love changes us and takes us beyond what we already know. We are thus afraid of love, but still we cannot even imagine living without it. So we invent half-hearted substitutes, resemblances of love that are facile and shallow, that don't really respond to our solitude but merely distract us, for a time, from our loneliness.

Therefore we want "love" to remain trivial, but in this way we make God trivial too. We consign Him to the superficial places, to the margins of life. We keep His love at a distance, as though it were some vague comforting story.

We do not want to think about real love, because it is so fundamental and mysterious, because it encompasses sacrifice, and because our human experience of real love is so often one of failure, limitations, and disappointment. 

And even when we truly give ourselves in love, when we brave its risks and fight its battles, when we do all the hard work investing ourselves, moving beyond ourselves, building a relationship that changes us and renews us--even then love seems to be, at the end, a long road to sorrow.

We love someone, and then they die.

How can we bear this? Where is the person we have loved so truly and so much? Death is the final "unknown" in a relationship, where we are not only blind but also unable to find any footing in front of us that would allow us to remain with one we love.

We have "lost" them.

We look to our ideas and imagination, our understanding of religious teaching, our intuitions, our wishful thinking. They must be somewhere, resting in peace. Perhaps we envision a hazy "afterlife," strange and inaccessible, or else we allow them to attain some higher purpose by merging with the universe or disappearing into a kind of supercosmic nirvana. All this may bring some measure of solace and acceptance.

But does it satisfy us? Is it enough, for real love? Or does it still leave us without hope on the road of our own loneliness?

How can we ever have hope again? In life we knew a human person, someone we could walk with, with real feet firmly meeting the ground beside us. Here is our great sorrow: we want to walk again with the person we love. We want to see two pairs of feet, and instead we only see one. We walk alone.

And then, a stranger appears on the road to sorrow. Or, rather, we begin to notice the stranger who walks hidden and silently here, always going on ahead, to the vanishing point of all our loves, and beyond them.

He walks with us. We don't know who the stranger is, but hope is awakened within our hearts. The stranger is human, and hope discovers in his face a glimpse of all the ones we have loved.

Are we willing to follow that hope, and take the stranger into the home of our hearts? Or will we let him pass by?

Only if we let the stranger in will he open our eyes. He will show us that he has all the deep wounds of our sorrows. He has them.

But there is no easy way to learn this. We have to let the stranger in. We have to let Him show us His humanity and let the fire of hope burn in us.