Image via WikipediaLove and our Soul.Love and our Soul
Today we talk about love as though it were primarily an aspect of relationship and also, to a great degree, as if it were something within our control. We’re concerned about how to do it right, how to make it successful, how to overcome its problems, and how to survive its failures. It is clear that love is never simple, that it brings with it struggles of the past and hopes for the future, and that it brings with it struggles of the past and hopes for the future, and that it is loaded with material that may be remotely – if at all – connected to the person who is the apparent object of love.
We sometimes talk about love lightly, not acknowledging how powerful and lasting it can be. We always expect love to be healing and whole, and then are astonished to find that it can create hollow gaps and empty failures. Often we never know completely if we’ve done the right thing, and even if we enjoy some peace of mind about the decision, memory and attachment continue to persist, if only in dreams. People are also tortured emotionally about love that was never expressed.
Our loss of love and our high expectations that it will somehow make life complete seem to be an integral part of the experience. Love seems to promise that life’s gaping wounds will close up and heal. It makes little difference that in the past love has shown itself to be painful and disturbing. There is something self-renewing on love.
I suppose we do learn some things about love each time we experience it. In the failure of a relationship we resolve never to make the same mistakes again. We get toughened to some extent and perhaps become a little wiser. But love itself is externally young and always manifests some of the folly of youth. So, maybe it is better not to become too jaded by love’s suffering and dead ends, but rather to appreciate that emptiness is part of love’s heritage and therefore its very nature. It isn’t necessary to make strong efforts to avoid past mistakes to learn how to be clever about love. The advance we make after we have been devastated by love may be to be able simply to enter it freely once again, in spite of our suspicions, to draw even closer to the mysteriously necessary in love.
It may be useful to consider love less as an aspect of relationship and more as an event of the soul. There is no talk about making relationships work, although there is celebration of friendship and intimacy. The emphasis is on what love does to the soul. Does it bring broader vision? Does it initiate the soul in some way? Does it carry the lover away from earth to an awareness of his/her relationship with their Good.
Ficino says, “What is human love? What is it’s purpose? It is the desire for union with a beautiful object in order to make eternity available to mortal life.” What appears to be a fully earthly relationship between two human individuals is at the same time a path toward far deeper experiences of the soul. Love confuses its victims because its work in the soul does not always coincide in every detail with the apparent tempos and requirements of relationship.
Being “in love” is like being “in imagination.” The literal concerns of everyday life, yesterday such a preoccupation, now practically disappear in the rush of love’s daydreams. Love releases us into the realm of divine imagination, where the soul is expanded and reminded of its unearthly cravings and needs. Love allows a person to see the true spiritual nature of another person, your’s and their relationship to God.
“The soul is partly in eternity and partly on earth.” Love straddles these two dimensions, opening a way to live in both simultaneously. But incursions of eternity into life are usually unsettling for they disturb our plans and shake the tranquility we have achieved with earthly reason.
The great love stories help us meditate on the eternal dimensions of love. Showing the many sides of love, they include the Passion of Jesus (“passion” has rich multiple meanings), and the Creation in Genesis. Care of the soul means respecting its emotions and its spiritual nature.
One of the difficulties in care of the soul is to recognize the necessity of tragedy. If we view love only from a high moralistic or hygienic peak, we will overlook its soul settling in the valleys. When we reflect on the tragedies of our own loves, when we slowly find our way through their miseries, we are being initiated into the mysterious ways of the soul. Love is the means of entry and our guide. Love keeps us on the path. If we can honor love as it presents itself, taking shapes and directions we would never have predicted or desired, then we are on the way toward discovering the levels of the soul, where meaning and value reveal themselves slowly.
Failure, Loss, and Separation
We are guided toward reflecting on failure and complexity as part of love, not as something foreign to it. We are also led to a less literal view of separation and loss. The thought of separating enters the minds of many people living a pact of love. But the thought is not the same as literal action. The idea of separation might suggest many things about the love, but the act means only one thing: the destruction of the relationship in its current form.
Love asks many things of us, including actions that seems to be utterly counter to feelings of attachment and loyalty. Yet these shadow qualities may ultimately bring the love to its proper, if mysterious and spiritual home.
Unless we deal with the shadow of love, our experience of it will be incomplete. A sentimental philosophy of love, embracing only the romantic and the positive, fails at the first sign of a shadow – thoughts of separation, the loss of faith and hope in the relationship, or unexpected changes in the partners values. Such a partial view also presents impossible ideals and expectations. If love can’t match these ideals, it is destroyed for being inadequate. I like to keep in mind that in the heritage of our literature and art, love is portrayed as a child, often with eyes blindfolded, or as an unruly adolescent. By nature love feels inadequate, but this inadequacy rounds out the wide range of love’s emotions. Love finds its soul in its feelings of incompleteness, impossibility, and imperfection.
We easily fall into fantasies of love with certain people, especially those in certain professions: teachers, managers, nurses, and secretaries. To the soul this love is real, but in the context of life it doesn’t have much relevance. Listening to another and caring for their welfare can be such a comforting experience.
We save a person from depression by getting him involved in life in an active way. Love takes us to the edge of what we know and have experienced.
One of the strongest needs of the soul is for community from the soul point of view is a little different from its social forms. Soul yearns for attachment, for variety in personality, for intimacy. So it is these qualities in community that the soul seeks out, and not like-mindedness and uniformity.
There are many signs in our society that we lack a sufficiently deep experience of community. There is the energetic search for a community, as people try one church after another, hoping to have their unnamable hunger for community satisfied. They bemoan the breakdown of family and neighborhoods, longing for a past golden age when intimacy could be found at home or on the city block. Loneliness is a major complaint and is responsible for deep-seated emotional pain that leads to despair and a consideration of suicide.
Loneliness can be the result of an attitude that community is something into which one is received. Many peopled wait for members of a community to invite them in, and until that happens they are lonely. There may be something of the child here who expects to be taken care of by the family. But a community is not a family. It is a group of people held together by feelings of belonging, and those feelings are not a birthright. “Belonging” is an active verb, something we do positively. A person oppressed by loneliness can go out into the world and simply start belonging to it, not by joining organizations, but by living through feelings of relatedness – to other people, to God, to society, to the world as a whole. Relatedness is a signal of the soul. By allowing the sometimes vulnerable feelings of relatedness, soul pours into life and doesn’t have to insist on itself relating.
Like all activities of the soul, community has its connection to death and the afterworld. Christianity talks about the “communion of saints,” meaning all people present and past to whom we are related by reason of the spiritual community. From the point of view of the soul, the dead are as much of the human community as the living. Outward community flourishes when we are in touch with the inner person, our soul. To overcome loneliness, we might consider releasing our soul and spiritual worlds into living. The roots of community are immeasurably deep, and the process of belonging, dealing actively with loneliness, begins in the dept of the soul.
Love keeps the soul on the track of its life’s plan. Recognizing the importance of love to9 the soul, our ordinary human loves are ennobled by ou love of our God. This family, this friend, this lover, this mate is the manifestation of the motivating force of life itself and is the fountain of love that keeps the soul full. There is no way towards loving God except through the discovery of human intimacy and community. One feeds the other.
Care of the soul, then, requires an openness to love’s many forms. It may help us, in those times of trouble, to remember that love is not only about relationship, it is also an affair of the soul. Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly of earth and partly of eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.