Valentine’s Day in our culture, often celebrated with chocolates and flowers, is typically associated with expressions of romantic love. Because the experience of love goes far beyond romance, today we will not only explore other ways and reasons to love, but also how living and being love can be a spiritual practice.
The complete sermon can be read below:
On this Valentine’s Day it seems fitting to begin by sharing a love story with you. One might think that because I got married a few short weeks ago and am just back from a honeymoon, that I would have love stories aplenty to share.
And I do, although this one might not be the kind of love story you were expecting. Today’s love story fast forwards through the wedding and begins on the first half day of our honeymoon, which was spent doing a rather unplanned activity.
It actually began the night we arrived in Cancun when a nice man at the airport invited us to swing by and see the beautiful new Krystal resort the next morning and get a free breakfast and a free bottle of tequila, and discounts on fun outings we had wanted to do.
This all sounded great to me! Who doesn’t like free stuff and looking at beautiful new resorts?? Margaret, on the other hand, was skeptical, but good naturedely agreed to go.
As it turned out it was a run of the mill timeshare sales pitch. But we only had to give them 90 short minutes of our time to get all our promised goodies.
Two and a half long hours later, there we still sat, with me avoiding eye contact with Margaret, as it was painful to see that my bright idea had caused all the first day honeymoon twinkle to be drained from her eyes.
It was another painful hour before we pried ourselves away and were in a taxi back to our own resort. In the end we had gained one bottle of Jose Cuervo that neither of us will ever enjoy, a complimentary breakfast that we could've gotten for free at our resort, and a tour of a 'new' resort that we learned is actually celebrating its 35-year anniversary.
And out of principle Margaret insisted that we not buy their discounted activity tickets because she wasn't giving them a penny of our money.
And thus began our honeymoon.
Where, you might ask, is the love part of this love story?
Where is the love that author David Brooks delectably describes in its most passionate phase as something that “reorients the soul by reminding us that we are not in control of ourselves, because we don’t build love; we fall in love, out of control.”
He likens love to “an invading army that conquers you little by little, reorganizing your energy levels and sleep patterns… the strongest kind of army that generates no resistance, because when the invasion is only half complete the person being invaded longs to be defeated.”
With his crescendo, Brooks proclaims that to be in love is to lose your mind a bit, to be elevated by magical thinking.
If you’ve ever fallen in love, his observation will resonate that “when you’re in love you can’t stop thinking about your beloved… you walk through a crowd and think you see her in a vaguely familiar form every few metres; and that the experience is delicious madness, a raging fire, a heavenly frenzy, both thrilling and terrifying, a force we cannot plan, schedule or determine.”
And so where indeed, you might then ask, is Brooks’ love in this honeymooner’s love story?
Tricky as it may be to initially recognize, this story starts and ends with love.
Love is what caused Margaret to say “OK!” when her beloved was excited about a plan that she would never have chosen for herself.
And love is what brought the twinkle back to her eye in the short time it took us to get back to our resort, with only an affectionate request that I never get us into something like that again.
This kind of a love story might not seem as sexy as some, but it speaks to a very real, sustaining kind of love.
It’s the kind of love addressed by Mother Theresa when she said:
“Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning.
Love has to be put into action.
Whatever form we are, able or disabled,
Rich or poor, [gullible or not gullible], it is not how much we do,
But how much love we put in the doing…”
Mother Theresa probably was not an expert on the topic of romantic love. And yet she mastered living a life of love - her words and her life spoke beautifully to the idea of love being a spiritual practice.
As I read on in Mr. Brooks’ book I was heartened to see that he transitions from the sweet dessert kind of love we heard about moments ago to Mother Theresa’s main course kind of love.
He speaks of recognizing love as surrender without counting the cost… an exposure of our deepest vulnerabilities, the kind that depends on your willingness to unveil your soulful nakedness, allowing your weakness to show… the kind where your beloved doesn’t use your vulnerable authenticity to assert his strength.
Brooks then beautifully blends psychology with spirituality when he maintains that the person in love may think she is seeking personal happiness, but that’s an illusion because she’s really seeking connection.
And when connection contradicts happiness, she will probably choose connection, because connection ultimately results in the deepest form of happiness.
This brand of love is embodied in the not-so-sizzling or fireworkie honeymoon love story.
Perhaps this brand, at first glance, seems a bit disappointing, diminishing of love, taking the magic out of it, like taking the Santa Claus out of Christmas.
I will share with you another love story, one that might take you out even further on the limb of love. This one is Don Shapiro’s story.
The year was 1986. After being happily married for 11 years, my wife suddenly and without warning told me she was divorcing me to go back to a man she had dated before we met.
There were no obvious problems in our relationship, and she never said there was anything wrong with us. She just said that she had come to realize she loved this other guy in a way she didn’t love me.
Two days later, she moved into an apartment. The guy left his wife of 25 years that same day and moved in with her. They got married within the year and she remained with him until she passed on a few years ago.
At the time, this happening out of the blue crushed me. It was like I was run over by a steamroller, like every cell in my body was being torn apart and run through a food processor.
Yet, within hours of hearing this, something else from deep within me spoke loud and clear. This was my true inner voice of wisdom.
I still loved this woman as much as I had before she broke the news. I still cared for her and wanted her to be happy. I realized that if you truly love someone, you want the best for them even if that means they’re not with you.
This realization did not make the pain and hurt go away. It was so severe that it took me over three years to finally get back to being me. All my friends would say unkind things about her, thinking that would make me feel better. They simply didn’t understand. The way I saw it, how can someone go from loving someone to not loving them overnight just because they did something you didn’t want. That would negate the previous 11 years and disrespect all the good that happened in that relationship.
A couple months after she left, once again, my inner voice of wisdom came through. Suddenly, I started thinking about this guy she went back to and how he must be feeling. I literally began to look at this through his eyes instead of mine.
How was I able to still consider him, and her happiness? There is one and only one answer to this question. I loved this woman.
I wasn’t thinking about the meaning of love before this happened. How I responded to this situation was as real as it gets.
Since then, I have given a lot of thought to the meaning of love versus how this word is thrown around all too easily. I came to learn what true love means.”
This story reminds me of a verse in Bette Midler’s song “The Rose”.
It's the heart afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance
It's the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance
It's the one who won't be taken, who can not seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.
Don had his heart broken, had his dreams shattered by rude-awakenings.
And yet he chose love in its action sense, in its verb sense.
Love is one of those words that exists as a verb and as a noun.
At Pub Night this month, as we discussed the varieties of ways we love, we heard some beautiful descriptions of love as a noun… “I have a deep abiding”; “Love is a state of being”.
Love can also be a verb, where it isn’t so much the state in which our hearts live as much as it what our minds choose to do while we’re in that state.
To use an actual state analogy, one could say that loving is like being in the state of New Jersey – the Garden State.
Being in a garden is generally a pleasant experience. We see and smell beautiful and fragrant flowers, or perhaps we see the wonders of nature as vegetables blossom and grow.
But how the garden grows, how fragrant and healthy it is, depends on what we do.
Do we bring water to soften the otherwise hard soil? Do we conscientiously spread fertilizer so that growth is optimized? And when we’re hot and really don’t want to, do we nonetheless emerge from the confines of our personal dwelling and attempt to rid the garden of our own weeds?
I know that watering, fertilizing, and weeding hardly seem like the activities of lovers.
And yet love calls us to be water-like in our transparency - honesty, and in our purity – loyalty.
Love requires us to fertilize with affection, to nourish with notes of love after love making, to enrich by sprinkling “I Love Yous” along the way.
Love beckons us to look closely at our own garden; to not only recognize the weeds, but to proactively pluck them out so that the life in the garden isn’t choked out.
Much is there to do in this business we call Love.
But alas, on this Valentine’s Day, let us not overlook the marvels too of romantic love, the spice of life. Our focus today hasn’t so much been on spicy romantic love as it has been on the meat and potatoes love.
But any cook knows that, while meat and potatoes sustain us, the experience is richer with spice.
And thus, along with a message about the sustenance kind of love, today we also celebrate its sweetness.
May it be so.
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