I've been thinking about love lately, always a good thing to do from time to time, probably inspired by Pastor Andrea's Children's Sermon where she held up a small tube of glue and asked, "What is the glue that makes a family?" "Love," one child said very softly. "What is it?" Andrea asked in an encouraging and not too threatening manner. Another, older girl said, "Love." Andrea waved at her to be louder. "LOVE!" the girl said in a ringing voice.
So that made me furiously to think, as Hercule Poirot used to say in the Agatha Christie mysteries, just what do I think about love? Both my husband and I have been having an ongoing conversation, sometimes conducted via email, with a dear young cousin about romantic love. She is curious about it as she is now involved in a romantic relationship herself.
My husband has helpfully pointed out, "Annie and I broke up at least six times in the first week...or maybe it was the first month," just to encourage our cousin that romantic relationships, even good ones, can start out volatile and unpredictable. I believe she found it helpful to know that her staid, married relatives, with 45 years of marriage behind them, had such uncertain and erratic beginnings.
Earlier in the year I had a Facebook conversation with my cousin about how one falls in love: that it isn't really something one chooses, rather love chooses us. We THINK we are making the choice, but everything I've experienced and seen over the years convinces me otherwise.
My favorite anchoress, Julian of Norwich from the 14th-century, often spoke of Jesus as "our mother," and as "..our clothing, who, for love, wraps us up..." She knew that God's love was like a cloak, that we are clothed in divine love. That's been my experience too.
I certainly did not choose to become a Christian or even to believe in God. I used to think Christians were seriously deluded, perhaps even hallucinatory, and I wanted not much to do with them, although I accepted the fact that perhaps ONE young woman I knew--a devout Christian--was okay, mostly because she tolerated my bawdy sense of humor and love of sherry.
But after hearing an astonishing performance of Bach's 'St. John's Passion' in Oxford, God came blasting into my life--unchosen, just appearing--in a way that could not be denied. I was hooked, wrapped in love, converted, transformed, and now inhabiting that camp I never thought to live in--Christianity.
I think it is the nature of love, both human and divine, to sometimes come up from behind when we aren't looking, to enfold us and invite us into a reality we had not expected, much less chosen.
Do you remember the first time you saw your son or daughter? At birth, when she was all wet and bedraggled, or if adopted, when he was handed over to you, did you choose to love him or her? Didn't you just fall in love with a suddenness that felt like tumbling downstairs?
I expect to continue these conversations with my young cousin about the nature of romantic love--how sometimes it almost feels like an addiction, as if we are losing a part of ourselves if we don't see our beloved immediately. That's how I feel when I don't spend enough time in prayer. But I also hope at some point, in the kindest possible way that would never hint of persuasion or pedagogy, to point out that falling in love with Jesus is a bit like falling in love with a romantic partner. We tumble into love with Jesus our mother just as we do with our partners, our children, and our friends. It's just more, that's all. Way more. Infinitely more.