Well into the new year, many resolutions already dashed, others doomed to fail, I must ask: What will carry us through? What will change the bad into good? What will make the good better? What will transform the already good into the best? I will flirt with being trite by saying it is love that will light our way. I will further tempt fate by directing your attention to a pop song to help make my point.
After singing it in several Philadelphia night clubs in 1966, Canadian singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell, recorded her song, Both Sides Now, for inclusion on her 1969 album, Clouds. The melody – a happy, trippy tune – is coupled with lyrics that belie the underlying belief that none of us, despite our insistence on apprehending every phenomena under the sun, really comprehend love at all. Mitchell was inspired by Saul Bellow’s novel, Henderson The Rain King: “I dreamed down at the clouds, and thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them, and having dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no other generation of men has done, one should be able to accept his death very easily.”
Are you still singing that song? Is your head full of those “moons and Junes and circus crowds”? Periodically, I still stream it, singing along, happily unaware of my surroundings, believing in the superficial simplicity of something I can’t begin to understand. In fact, when asked, “What’s your favorite song?” I will resound with Both Sides Now.
In my senior year of high school, I was part of a musical troupe, and we had been tasked with performing Ms. Mitchell’s opus before a small crowd of townspeople in a town of 5,000 or so. Parents – those who could attend were peppered throughout the community center. Part of our presentation were rolls of brightly colored crepe paper rolls. Each of us had one, and during the course of the number, we were manipulating the paper rolls, making various shapes with the streamers, intertwining among us. All went well until the final note: I was one of a few, choreographed to be seated on the edge of the stage with my roll streamed out behind me, a troupe member grasping the other end. Imagine a row of about 6 or 7 of us, each with a different color. Well, as the last note sounded out, my roll popped out of my hand, rolling out on the floor in front of me and toward the audience. A minor mishap, you may say, but I was mortified. But isn’t that how love often makes itself known in this world – a random occurrence, adding spontaneity and life? I think so.
It is at this point that I can get lost in philosophizing about love – what it is, what it isn’t. Have I known it? What was it like? And what does it really mean to “fall in love”? On that last question, I like Christopher J. Thompson’s view: “Fall in love and take careful notes“. In other words, when immersed (drowned?) in what is, arguably, mankind’s most exalted and exhausting experience, keep your wits about you. But I shall refuse to entertain any of those, or other options, attempting to define, by saying: Love is a person; that person is Jesus Christ.
St. Paul the Apostle’s paean to love, 1 Corinthian 13, steadfastly focuses upon what love does, not becoming muddled in endless, wearying ramblings about feelings and differing perspectives. As we read it, we can easily substitute the name of ‘Jesus’ for love, and we’ll get a finely tuned, composite picture of our Lord. Jesus was freely teaching those around Him, but he was even more so, filling His time with good works: ” [Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Jesus, being the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is eternal; love is eternal. Growing up in life is, to a great extent, a growing up into love, which is becoming more like Jesus. But be assured, this is the work of the Holy Spirit through us, not generated of our own self-determination. As Jesus saw, and does see, into the truth of all things, so too, those moved and filled with God’s love see the truth, and in an absolute fashion. And as St. Paul also said at the end of 1 Corinthian 13: “ So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (v.13). So, faith helps us live with love, here and now. Hope keeps us fortified, through love, for eternity, and love, Himself, is both our means by which we attain heaven, the atmosphere in which we are purified, and the end goal – the Beatific Vision.
Pierce through, if you can, to the kernel, the heart of the Corinthians passage. On the surface, it is much like Joni Mitchell’s song – easy to understand and endorse (I’m not equated any pop song with Holy Scripture, in terms of importance.). But there is a vanishing point, beyond which we cannot go. Just like understanding the person of Christ, we can’t hope to totally comprehend love, but we can, with God’s help, understand the necessity the same God has laid upon us to come to Him through Christ, offering our lives to him in eternal fealty.
Look long into the face of Christ, for there you will find endless love and that love will change you, if you let Him: “What we love we shall grow to resemble”, said St. Bernard of Clairvaux, so be careful to whom or what you give your heart. In the giving to Christ, there is eternal blessing. It’s enough to make you wonder.