Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Love and Truth, Beauty and the Beast, Hamlet and the Rest of Life

Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. (Ps. 85:10)
The meeting of love and truth is truly divine.  Sometimes this is translated "Mercy and truth will meet" or "Love and Fidelity will meet".  Either way, the point is that loving kindness can overcome the ugly truth, and faithfully so.

There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.  - G. K. Chesterton

The fact is we are not lovable - until we are loved: loved by God, but also by others.

And there are always reasons not to love - I can think of a thousand reasons not to love you, dear reader.  You get on my nerves, for one thing.  And I'm certain you can say the same for me.  We can always hold back our love out of a kind of squeamishness.  This tends to be more the case in those who are sanctimonious, or even those who are virtuous but who can't stand the thought of embracing sinners - or real life, which is the same thing.  What with everyone being a sinner, and life being a complex mess, there's no reason to embrace anyone or anything if you really think about it.  So we are tempted to hold back in a picky and particular kind of way.  Hamlet is like this in the beginning of Shakespeare's great play - a sulking adolescent for whom nothing is quite right that Mom and Dad do.

But of course Hamlet's dear old Mum and Dad do very little right and quite a bit wrong.  Stepfather-Uncle has murdered the real father and Mommy, probably complicit, is lusty to get to it in the bedroom and is saving some money by using her old husband's funeral meats for her new husband's wedding appetizers.

In other words, if Hamlet is squeamish, he has a right to be squeamish.  It's not only as bad as Hamlet suspects, it's worse.

I have known two people who opened up to me the kind of horrible vistas that Hamlet sees in Mom and Dad as his stomach drops.  One is a stranger, the other was a good friend.  They both revealed a stunning depravity of character that made me want to renounce life and become a hermit and a cynic (like Timon of Athens, another Shakespearian hero).  The temptation is to hold out hope for such people - they can improve, they're victims of an abusive upbringing, they're not happy being selfish ... until you begin to realize that they sin as deliberately as you do, and that they would rather nurture their "precious" than sacrifice it and do good.  You they'll sacrifice, their "precious" they won't.

And, barring cooperation with Divine Grace, this is probably a lifelong pattern.  Most people never change.  Some do, but most don't.

But here's the kicker - a thing is never lovable until it is loved.  And love is not divine until it meets with truth, and only then will "justice and peace kiss" (as the next line of the Psalm exclaims).

Only when we can love someone despite seeing the ugly truth about him or her can we really begin to call it love.

This does not mean we have to put up with ugliness or abuse.  But it does mean we must be realistic.

And love anyway.

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