Meditation on Love

Okay - I know this may be pushing the edge just a bit on anything related to science; but when has that ever stopped me before? I’ll put this out here as what’s been on my mind lately about love.

I recently was thinking of Michael Bolton’s song “When a Man Loves a Woman” and the thought strongly came to me that this very song makes for an excellent meditation about God. In fact, let me be so brazen as to suggest that if you haven’t personally felt/understood the passions expressed in that song, then you will not “get” either testament of the Bible.

And let me further add that, that in saying so, I’m not endorsing every thought in that song as being “gospel”. In fact, I think the song gets one of its central tenets understandably and spectacularly wrong: “that love is blind”. “She can do no wrong …” or “If she’s bad, he’s the very last one to know…”. So how can I insist something is wrong and yet gospel? Pretty easily, as it turns out - for those who have felt those passions before. In fact it is those very wrong statements that so powerfully embed the gospel being spoken of - so I’m not saying that the rest of the song minus a few excised, incorrect assertions is gospel genius. No - I’m saying that the entire song - especially with those passions intact are what make for understanding here.

Their wrongness does not undo their insight. To correct them would be to reflect on how it is only true love that actually has the deep sight of everything - flaws and all, and yet persists anyway (she can do no wrong). It is the jaded cynics who are blind. The cynically dismissive eye that declares “yeah - I’ve seen that before, and we all know what that’s really about…” is the blind one that must await some glimmer of reawakened love before it can begin to see again. It is love that has the deepest sight. Nobody knows the beloved, and all her flaws, like the lover. And nobody can hate any damaging or deeply serious flaws with as much “perfect hatred” and the lover. It is because of his love that he can most perfectly hate anything that will eventually cause distress for his beloved or that will mar, or (God forbid!) end their relationship with each other. He will spend his very last dime to not let that happen. We shrug off the faults of strangers easily enough … we have no relationship with them. But with our beloved … it’s quite a different story. Her happiness is his happiness. And he want his happiness to be hers also … in a mutuality of delight. Because what else would anybody ultimately want from an enduring relationship?

Nobody knows those faults with the same intimacy as a lover. And yet, despite the consternation and advice of friends and advisers, that love remains intact - even frustratingly “blind” to the more detached bystanders and would-be advisers. I’m beginning to understand why so many contemplatives in history saw such centrality of insight in the Song of Solomon.

The wounded lover is the theme to follow, I think, that opens up the prophetic voices of both testaments to so much insight.

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I get what you’re saying, Mervin. I really do. For me, the Song of Solomon doesn’t really express Divine Love (despite the Song of Solomon’s history among contemplatives) because only the inexpressible love of a parent for a child really gets at the nature of Divine Love. But if you’re wanting to find ways to express the intensity and courage of unconditional love (which isn’t blind, but is eternally devoted nonetheless), then yeah, I can see why you’d pick this Michael Bolton song. There aren’t a whole lot of Raffi songs with the kind of emotional courage that gets at the bones of Divine Love.

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I think I understand. Through sustained intimacy with a lover whose faults one cannot help but recognize, perhaps one comes to recognize that we too have faults. When we accept them in the lover it helps us to accept them in ourselves. Faults shouldn’t be obsessed over out of context and shouldn’t be looked at as purely negative. Given the complexity of our lives, perhaps our quirks are like the bits of a mobile which keep the whole balanced.

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Absolutely! Of course, that applies to mutual human love between peers - or even non-peers such as parent-child. It gets interesting to ponder your observation in a context of human-God relationship. I know you don’t adhere to traditional God-belief, but setting that aside for a moment (as I think you often have here), that is about as “non-peer” a relationship as could be imagined - on the classical theist view … which would hold that God has no faults for self-recognition.

And yet … teasingly … prophets and writers of old portray God’s voice almost as if God desires a “mutality” of relationship within which even God expresses highly anthropomorphized emotions of regret or indecisiveness. There is this scripture-honored precedent for relating to God as if we ourselves can function as a negotiator not entirely bereft of persuasive power. I think the whole notion of “Love” itself flounders if either party is shorn of all power. Perhaps it [love] similarly always must co-exist with vulnerability on the part of both parties. God, it would seem, is not an exception to such “laws” of love.

That’s true at least of the classic Christian view as I understand it. By that token it is hard to imagine any Christian maintaining the kind of sustained familiarity with God as is possible between peers in a marriage. We rarely can, as the lyrics of the song you referenced attest, even notice the flaws in advance. It is only by living together over time that the warts come into view, whatever they may be. So this is the part that is hard for me to imagine. If it takes marriage and some length of time of getting on each others nerves day after day with a human, where would the opportunity to know God in the same way come in? Do you have in mind something arising in prayer or from bible study?

While I do think there is something which supports God belief and that it has value, given my view it will always be a mystery. That doesn’t prevent my developing my hunches and theories, but it would curtail my ability to become critical toward whatever it is. Holding God as a mystery (of natural origins, on my theory) any fault I should find attaches first to my theory. Perhaps it is necessary to buy into an established theory in order to become a critical lover?

Even by my theory I do think whatever it is wants (and needs) a relationship with us. Likewise of course we benefit from a good relationship too. On at least one level that does make us peers or at least team mates. From my POV, clearly what give rise to God belief is most valuable, hands down. But at the same time, how I exercise my free will is critical to our endeavor so my role is also pretty important. The difference is I recognize which of us is the most dependent.

[Sorry for the long delay in getting back. I’d woken early read your piece and given my response before eventually getting back to sleep. The CPAP machine says I’ve now logged eight hours so moving on.]

Uh … that’s Percy Sledge’s song. Did Michael Bolton ever write a song? (Yes, I’m a Bolton-hater. Sorry.)

Don’t quote me on this, but I think Song of Solomon had more commentaries written on it than just about anything else during the Middle Ages.

Here you go. One of my favorite books of biblical theology. Its original title was “Whoredom,” but that apparently didn’t go over well with evangelical booksellers.

From Amazon: Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. begins by showing how the Genesis vision of human marriage provides the logic and coherent network of meanings for the story of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. He traces the specific theme of marital unfaithfulness, first through the historical books of the Old Testament and then through the prophets, particularly Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Turning to the New Testament he also shows how the sad story of Israel’s adultery is transcended by the vision of ultimate reality in Christ and his church―the Bridegroom and the Bride.

Think of the spinoff possibilities: “W., a practical guide”; “W. for the complete idiot”…

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Right! haha. I think one thing for @Mervin_Bitikofer (and the rest of us) to keep in mind is that the notion of “romantic love” was foreign to the ancient world. Marriages weren’t arranged because the parties had fallen in love.

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Yes … but the passion and desire that motivates so much that is good and so much that is sinful … we are not the first, much less the only generations in history to feel that. Nor (I suppose) must romance always precede or be a driving motivation for marriage [the devil’s dictionary definition of ‘love’ not withstanding: “a disease curable only by marriage.”]

Thanks for that correction - and it’s no matter of concern to me! [other than to get my attributions right!] I know nothing of Michael Bolton and merely was desiring to give credit where it may be due. I guess he was probably just the one who sang the [a] popular version of it often heard. That it was actually written by a gospel song writer makes it even better as far as I’m concerned! Regarding Bolton, I’ll leave that between you and any Bolton lovers you may encounter.

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I went and found Bolton’s version on youtube to make sure. Jay is absolutely right, Percy Sledge’s song is the gold standard here. Though admittedly not germane to your point.

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Could you say more about this, Jennifer? I’ve usually thought in more parental terms too regarding our closest analog in the direction of the Divine Love - I think I’ve heard the adjective “kenotic” used to describe that. But while that may fit more into our contemporary and traditional portrayals of God, it doesn’t seem to me to capture the passion and jealousy that is on full display in the prophetic writings. Is it merely us choosing which analogy means the most to us in our specific walk of life?

Hi Mervin. Well, I do know what you’re digging at here, and what you’re digging at is something most people don’t want to hear about God.

There are many theological writings that attempt to describe God and Jesus through the use of labels: God as King, God as Judge, God as Creator, God as Destroyer, and so on. (Jack Miles’s book God: A Biography is an example of this trend.) But I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Mother Father God over the years, and I just can’t think of God in terms of labels any longer. God is consciousness, and as such, God is a whole person, with distinct personality traits and a unique voice and a recognizable way of doing things in Creation. So the intense emotion that’s on display in the prophetic writings is the quality of relationship with God that mystics and prophets are always trying to express, though that quality isn’t easy to convey to others when words alone are used.

To be honest, you can’t get anywhere close to adequately conveying the intensity of Divine Love unless you’re willing to draw on metaphors from just about every aspect of Creation as we know it from a human perspective. If you were to put in one place the book that brings you most readily to tears, the play that leaves you on the edge of your seat every time you see it, the mountain hike that takes you close to the sky, the ocean journey that shows you marvels abounding, the child’s smile that kidnaps your heart, and the song that lifts your soul into that place of mystery that fills you up with joy – if you could feel all those intense emotions at one time, you’d be getting closer.

It’s not kenosis, which is self-emptying of Mind (as in Philippians 2:1-18). It’s more like a wild, full, Heart-based self expression that hasn’t the tiniest bit of need. It’s full acceptance, full humbleness, full generosity, full knowing, but without any of the human habits we like to ascribe to God. So there is passion, but no anger. There is deep, deep, deep commitment, but no jealousy. There are constant relationships, but there are also strong interpersonal boundaries (hence, no kenosis). There is a profound respect for the uniqueness of each and every soul – each child of God-- in Creation. What makes Divine Love so Divine is its limitless capacity to see every size, shape, colour, age, capacity, and temperament of soul as being equally beautiful. God is passionate about loving each soul equally, and, as children of God, we respond to this generous love by doing our utmost to emulate it.

As human beings, though, we find it uncomfortable to think of God in this way. Even the mystics and prophets can get overwhelmed by the intensity and faithfulness of Divine Love. It makes us squirm. So it’s much easier for us to make God seem more “human,” if you will, so we can excuse our own tendencies to judge and seek revenge and choose favourites.

But that’s just us trying to dumb down God.

I hope you aren’t sorry you asked, Mervin!

I’m never sorry I asked! - well, okay - maybe sometimes, but this isn’t one of them.

I’ll just have to let your words soak in for a bit. There’s much to … contemplate there if you will. I know all our labels must necessarily be inadequate - even as an aggregate. And yet it seems we are invited by the Lord himself, and by his example to relate by way of those labels. That said, there is much wisdom and much that I resonate with in your recognition of our humility. As you write of mountains and oceans, it also dovetailed nicely with Bishop Barron’s video challenge for us to use this time to engage with those deep readings and questions, whether in a room alone, or out on mountains or beaches.

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I really like this! I’m right now in the middle of reading one of MacDonald’s unspoken sermons … the one titled “Life” in which he is speaking in similar terms to the ones you use above, speaking of life being the opposite of nothingness. It is full of everything and relates absolutely to “being” itself as found in the source of all being.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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