Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What is Love?

He is a preacher, or at least has a strong desire to be one.

His last congregation lured him 1500 miles from where he and his wife and children had been living.  They gave him a job as a pastor, but kept cutting his pay as the church members aged and as the economy deteriorated.  Finally he was expected to do full-time pastoral work for part-time pay.  Meanwhile, the congregation had his wife and kids under a microscope the whole time, and even had the temerity to suggest what youth groups his son should be in - micromanaging his very household, while refusing to pay him enough to support that household.

Finally, the family returned home to St. Louis, and my actress Maria spent our breakfast together telling me about them, as they're her friends and she prays for them.  Since returning to St. Louis, the husband - the former pastor - has been working in the fast food industry - going from "Do you want to be saved?" to "Do you want fries with that?"  He's been forced to do this since it's difficult to find full-time work as a Protestant pastor - a terrible feeling when your heart and soul tells you you're "called".  To have the desire to do the one thing God made you to do, the one thing you're trained for, the "vocation" you've discerned and answered - and to be unable to do it: that's hard - hard on a man, hard on his family.

It's very much what actors go through.  Or poets, for that matter.  Or anyone who loves what they do or who loves another person and, for whatever reason, is frustrated or rebuffed.   Which is pretty much all of us, as "the course of true love never did run smooth."

"He's so desperate to preach again," Maria told me, "that he had a nibble from a church in another state.  Let's move there before they hire me so they know I'm serious! he told his wife."

That's right, he wanted to move there before they even offered him the job.  The wife said no - for wives always have more sense than their husbands.  And she's holding the line, demanding that the next pastorate be one that the family can survive financially and emotionally.  And meanwhile he's miserable behind the counter and working the drive-thru.

"He's just like an actor," I observed.

"He's just like an actor who so much wants the role of a woman that he goes and gets a sex change operation," Maria replied.  "Then the director calls and says, Thanks, but we were thinking of casting you as the leading man instead."

And, here in Duluth for our annual working retreat, where Maria and I are spending this week, we hear tell of a man who is far from religious, but who is suffering the same kind of fate.  He has given his heart and soul to a non-profit organization and built them up solidly over ten years, and now their rather petty and narrow-minded board is scheming to force him to resign for a variety of short-sighted political reasons.

So love is rarely answered by love.  It is usually answered with some sort of crucifixion.

That is to say, that no matter what you love or who you love in life, you will suffer for it.  You will often suffer because other people will take advantage of your love, of your willingness to please, of your eagerness to move your family to a new state simply as a gesture of good will, just to prove to the hiring committee that you're "serious".  If you're willing to do anything for a part, you'll eventually find the director rolling out the casting couch and soon that "anything" will mean literally anything.  

Now this is a complex situation.  It's complex because our desire for what we love is sometimes a very selfish desire, filled with a kind of greed or lust - and we find ourselves giving far too much to what we love not simply out of love, but out of the urge to get what we want.  We turn what we love into an idol - whether it's the pulpit or the stage or the young lady across the street.

This sinful element in our desire has its own judgment.  We will eventually destroy ourselves over it, for even if we find no resistance to it, this insatiable desire that seeks heaven in a human form, that seeks a worldly ecstasy, is never satisfied - even with great success.  Our hearts are restless until they rest in God and not in a career and not even in another person.  

But not all desire is sinful.  Our sinful nature is intertwined in our noble nature.  Sometimes we want to preach to spread the Word of God, not simply to be the center of attention.  Sometimes we want to act not merely for the applause, but also - and perhaps primarily - to do justice to the playwright's material and to serve the audience and cultivate our talents by making good dramatic art.  And sometimes the Poet really does love his Lady and not just the whole romantic adventure of losing himself in the quest and in the hoped-for consummation.

And here's the great secret.

Even if you love unselfishly, you will be burned, scorned and frustrated.

  • On the one hand, your own sinfulness will sabotage your love.
  • On the other hand, the sinfulness of others will sabotage your love.


Sin gets in there and turns the Garden of Eden into the Garden of Gethsemene, one way or the other.

***

But we must realize this.  

Love is quite literally of God.  God is love, and pure love - love untarnished with the stain of greed or lust or selfishness - pure love is quite simply not of this world.  

If we seek that pure love - not merely as an idea, but as something we follow, something we practice, something we become - if we seek that pure love, the love of an Immaculate Heart, of a Sacred Heart - then somehow even the suffering turns to joy and the frustrations to roses and the inconveniences to adventures.

For the entire purpose of this life is the cross.  The entire purpose of this life is to love.


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