This Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel (15:9-17) is all about love.
It drips of love.
It reeks of love.
But, it’s a little confusing on the face of it because John’s philosophical style mixed with this esoteric notion of love that is both human but also super Divine is, well, hard to describe.
I mean, how do you describe something that literally defies explanation? Divine love (and by that I mean love that is Divine and also the love given by the Divine) is as comforting as a hug and as wispy as a fog.
On a recent NPR podcast where they went back and did a retrospective of the last 50 years of the station, they gave a brief clip of an interview with author and illustrator Maurice Sendak at the publishing of his latest (and, it would turn out to be, last) book.
The interview started with heartfelt pleasantries as Sendak, who had been on the program before, expressed his admiration and, indeed, love for the interviewer. He noted that they were both up in years, though he admitted he was much farther along than her in that department, and then he said that he saw this as a good thing because he “wouldn’t have to miss (her).”
I was listening to this podcast as I was on my daily run, and this caused me to stop for a second.
Stop, and put my hands on my knees, and as sweat dripped from my brow (it was in the 80’s today here in Carolina), a tear mixed with it because that, by God, embodies what it means to love.
To love is to both have your heart open enough to miss someone when they’re gone, and to be grateful enough that you might pass first so that you don’t have to feel that pain of missing them.
Love means loving enough to miss someone, and to have a small sliver of gratitude that they might outlive you so that you never have to know that hurt yourself because it would be unbearable.
That sound selfish, I know, but sometimes there is pain you just can’t imagine and you pray you never have to realize.
That’s not selfish. That’s human. That’s being in love.
When put in the context of the Jesus story, of self-sacrifice, Divine love means loving something to death…and one step beyond.
To love our neighbor, then, means to love them enough to miss them when they’re absent…which is why it matters who is at the table.
Conversely, you also trust they miss you when you’re gone…
That kind of love takes a lot of vulnerability and a lot of trust. It takes a lot of willpower and heart-power.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our notions of love in this life are often underwhelming.
We say we love everything from babies to burritos…and we can’t mean the same thing when we say that, right? Greek with it’s four-pronged definition of love does a bit of a better job at narrowing love’s definition, but ultimately we just have to be honest and note that love is something we try to wrap our minds around, but just really can’t.
Instead, well, maybe instead we should just wrap our lives around it…and be grateful for a love that has the possibility of stinging just a little bit on both sides of the relationship equation depending on how things work out.