Monday, February 14, 2011

love and other good things

Sunday morning, driving back into the city after a very late night with very dear friends, I watched the sun rise over the lake, this tentative, thin salmon and rose and dusty blue glow reflected in the water out past the white ice and snow rimming the shore. I'd slept for just three hours, curled up on a loveseat, and I was drinking coffee and eating coffee cake and chatting intermittently with Josh, and I realized that I was alive. Alive. Alive to friends and a sunrise over a city, with its impossible mix of concrete and green life, agony and glory, highrises and cockroaches. I was on my way to worship with as lovely a crew of human beings as I could imagine. We were on our way from somewhere beautiful, heading somewhere beautiful, and the sun was rising over all of it, and I felt sure that I knew love.

Last year at this time, I had just completed my doctoral exams. The first week of February 2010, I completed my written exams, and Monday, 8 February, I sat at a conference table in the department library for my oral defense. I knew love last year, too: a week of meals arranged my friends, delivered to my door, during my last week of exam preparation. I think the beginning of February will always be a time for me to remember this story of love, manifested in veggie lasagna (from E and S), cheesy broccoli pasta (from A and R), pizza (from P and L), stir-fry (from K), stuffed winter squash (from A), stuffed peppers (from N), and tea (from K). Remembering these flavors is like looking back at a Valentine.

Today, I reflect on love, emblazoned like a gift from heaven across the early Sunday sky, mingled in the sounds of friends' late-night voices, giving off steam as it sits on my dining room table. I reflect on the quiet, domestic love of laundry sitting already-folded in the bedroom when I go to fold it, the box of candy at my place at the breakfast table, the long hug in the kitchen before Josh had to take himself off to work, and the simple--but really, very complicated--promise of a whole future spent together.

People like to quote 1 Corinthians 13 for Valentine's Day--love is patient, kind, etc.--and I find it beautiful and challenging, and I believe it is true. Because I was responsible for a sermon on the second chapter of 1 Corinthians a few weeks ago, though, I've recently done some reading on the book. I think it's interesting to remember that 1 Corinthians was originally part of a letter--not even its own separate chapter, just one thought in a long and somewhat rambling note--to a troubled church in the Roman colonial city of Corinth. The apostle Paul wrote the believers a letter in response to their troubles as a community plagued by conflict and competition over leadership, theology and philosophy, sexual and gender norms, food ethics, social disparities, styles of worship, beliefs about the future, jockeying for position and respect. The message of this letter as a whole is one of unity and love: not just in romantic relationships, or sentimental cozy feelings, but across the community in profoundly tangible ways. The sort of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians is the deep and impossible and essential source for any true justice, any true peace, any healthy manifestation of the beautifully diverse yet unified beloved community.

The senior high Sunday school class I teach has been looking at some hard questions about faith, and the one we've been working on recently is Why are there (and why have there been in history) so many angry, violent, aggressive, mean Christians, and what should we do about it, and what does it have to do with our faith? (So we're taking on the Crusades, and witch burnings, and abortion clinic bombings, and anti-gay protests at military funerals.) These aren't easy questions.

But they have led me today to think about what it means not just to love neighbor but also to love enemy, to love the other. Does my deep sense of joy and appreciation for the Creator's love I recognize in the world's beauty, the love I receive from and give to my friends, the love I share with my husband, the love I recognize in the death-and-resurrection story of my faith, teach me something about loving those who are different from me? Do these experiences of love empower me to love those who haven't shown me love, and who may not love me back? Does this love I know embolden me to choose to love and serve rather than to simply seek my own best interest, see the world only through my own experiences, elbow my way to getting what I want or proving that I'm right? What sort of Valentine do I offer to the world with my life each day?

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