O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Collect takes a cue from Saint Paul and treats love as a spiritual gift – not something we give, but something God gives through us. Like Saint Paul, the Collect treats love as God’s “greatest gift” – greater than faith, greater than hope.
D. H. Lawrence complained that we human beings use the word love so much that we have diminished the power of the word to say anything clearly. Lawrence suggested that we stop using it for several years. Perhaps later we would re-discover it authentically. Perhaps not.
Poets have been known to place extremely high standards for what can be called love. In his sonnet sequence to the mysterious male “W.H.,” Shakespeare early on describes their friendship in charged, sensuous language:
Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
That is to say, ‘You are gorgeous, and I will keep you fixed as gorgeous by writing words about you that Louie Crew and thousands of others will still relish four hundred years later.’
Flattery might be welcome when affection is reciprocal, but in time the poet’s friend lost interest. In anguish, the poet fortified himself with idealism that sounds increasingly manipulative:
Let me* not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
* [italics are Quean Lutibelle’s]
In other words, ‘You may think you can leave me, but I won’t let you. I’ll keep you alive in my poetry, and I’ll bear whatever you make me bear until doomsday. I cannot possibly be wrong in my understanding of what love is. So there!’
Would you welcome being fixed forever on a page or in an artist’s painting or sculpture when you no longer gave a fig for the poet or artist?
Is the love the poet professes healthy? Is it love? Maybe Shakespeare was charitable to hide the identity of “W. H.”?
Saint Aelred of Rievaulx loved a monk who did not reciprocate his affections, and Aelred, like the speaker in Shakespeare’s sonnets, takes pride that his own affection remains constant and reliable.
Saint Paul says, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13.3).
It’s easy to want to be a loving person and to persuade ourselves that we really are loving. It’s hard to love as God loves, unconditionally and without manipulation.”
It is easy for me to say, “I love X but do not like X”; but is that not a cop out? That distinction makes love less demanding so that I can feel better about my failure to love unconditionally.
Sometimes I have used “I love X but do not like X” to rationalize the fact that while in the abstract I may wish the best for the person, in reality I prefer to have as little to do with the person as possible.
In September 1995, I represented the Diocese of Newark at a Worldwide Conference on Evangelism at Kanuga. In a breakout session, a person from New Zealand felt called to witness to me knowing that I am a gay Christian: “We love you, Louie, but you are a defilement on the Body of Christ.”
In Matthew’s account, Jesus cuts no slack for ‘safe’ distinctions about what love requires. He commands that we love even our enemies: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
I suspect my soul would short circuit as with a huge power surge were I truly to see how much God loves the persons who most displease me. How might I love them as much as God does?
In William Werc’s Prayer William says:
…But here all know [I'm gay], Jesus...
Do they hate queers as much
in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco?
I wish my company had a branch
in one of those places.
Even their bishops claim to love us,
though clergy do throw love
around very glibly.
I wonder if they'd love a son or a daughter
who is one?
I wish you'd talk back, God.
I'm one weary quean ….
Reading Leviticus is sometimes hard work. Teaching the Bible as Literature at the university, often I have passed out copies of the legal code related to using laboratory mice when researching carcinogens. That gives a modern literary parallel to the rhetorical purposes in Leviticus. Much of Leviticus is devoted to public health concerns through elaborate purity codes.
Yet right in the middle of its heavy emphasis on health issues the passage today speaks as clearly as almost any other biblical text about the demands of any love worthy of the name love Theologian Carter Heyward says, “Love without justice is cheap sentimentality.” Leviticus concurs:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Why do so few know these imperatives? Why would many Christians be unable to name the book in which they appear? Is it easier to go for the queers?
I get the impression that few lay Christians have voluntarily made it all the way through Leviticus unless we are lesbian or gay and for our survival have to know well the few bible bullets that some aim at us. See my collection of texts that address homosexuality in Scripture.
Here, as often in the psalms, the speaker expects to please God by following the law.
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
Good sentiments, Saint Paul would agree, but daunting. Who could succeed in living up to the law’s demands? Christ met those requirements for us. We are saved by grace, not by our own righteousness, but by Christ’s….
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
Are you aware that God lives in your own body? That’s what Saint Paul emphasizes.
Does it make any difference in how you think about yourself and in how you think about others if God has taken up residence within you?
Ernest gave me a t-shirt on Christmas that proclaims: “Don’t be stupid. We have world leaders for that.” Saint Paul makes a similar point: “So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours…. all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
In the Eucharist we become blood kin to God. Is that merely an imitation of two little boys cutting themselves to share blood as a bond for life? Or something far bigger?
May we become one with the one whom we receive.