“Yes. . .You do. What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.” — Catherine to her potential lover Henry in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

1 Corinthians 13
James 1:26-27 (esp. 27)

I was seven years old. As my mom bustled around the kitchen cleaning I realized it. What a terrible discovery.

My confused childhood mind comprehended for the first time the conscious reality that I would have to blink and swallow for the rest of my life. My existence had only just begun, I thought to myself as I made the conscious effort, blink and swallow, blink and swallow. I would never realize any other dreams or aspirations for the rest of my days. My every moment and continual thoughts would have to focus on these bodily tasks, these all too necessary tasks.

I pondered this for several seemingly endless minutes, dejected, discouraged and depressed until my sisters hauled out the Barbie dolls.

Years later, I sit here, many dreams realized, still blinking and swallowing thanks to the genius of involuntary bodily actions. These actions occur through me and because of me, but not by drudgerous effort, as I once believed.

What is love?

We prefer to see it as a stagnant label placed on any feel-good emotion, or a romanticized ideal. We attach it flippantly to anything we find desirable. It is expendable and temporary. A throwaway commodity. It requires no effort and no action.

Jesus’ love exists in action. It exists in motion. The things we hold up as love represent the real thing no more than a plaster mold of a face represents the real face. It cannot move, it cannot grow, it cannot express emotion, or passion, or pain.

Philosopher, Simone Weil said, “The first trait of love is attentiveness.”

To be attentive is to notice others, to care, and to react to discovered needs. When we love, we reject the idea of a stagnant, flowery ideal. We desire to sacrifice. We desire to serve.

I remember another childhood day when I did something characteristically conniving. I remember apologizing to my mom and pulling out all the stops to show my remorse. I even made a colorful construction paper card. In bold strokes of Crayola marker I wrote, “I love you.”  Beaming, I presented this offering to my mom, who accepted it but then challenged me to something more. “Don’t tell me, show me.”

Our bodies live and carry the will to stay alive. Our hearts pump, our glands salivate and secrete, our eyes blink. This intangible force forces tangible efforts. Living causes reactions. Love produces action.

How do I love others?
How do I feel loved?
Why should we love at all?


© 2006