March 26, 2017
At the end of last week’s reflection on love as the supreme ethical norm, I asked you not to rush to apply this notion to any current situation at home or abroad, personal or public. Such a rush nearly always leads to second guessing ourselves or someone else. And that is sure to turn us off on love as a moral norm.
When we have already started a course of action or reaction – or someone else has done so – and the basis of that course was self-defense, or self-enrichment or some other sort of self-something, then, the other-inclusive nature of love becomes a challenge to what is already underway. Such a challenge is obviously directed at our self-interest. So, it is immediately rejected as unworkable, too risky or too high-minded.
The choice of love as an ethical norm requires quiet contemplation of love as we have seen it in action in other people’s lives – even in the life of God. Such quiet contemplation allows us to see the beauty of love in action, and, indeed, of love alone in action. Since I have no self-investment in the contemplated scenario, I have no need to defend or explain or rationalize in self-defense; I can simply learn to love love and, so, to begin to imagine my unloving and unlovely self as a lover.
The other thing that happens, especially in contemplating the love of God, is that I begin to see myself as loved! This is a critical consideration. It is beautiful enough to see what love does in the lives of others, but if I do not begin to see it at work in my own life – and on my own life – I will never learn that love is not just altruism. That is why Jesus insisted that self-love is part of other-love and why I have insisted that love is inclusive, not one-sided.
Apart from self-sacrifice in the interest of a group that defines the self (think the soldier who jumps on a grenade) action that is completely self-sacrificing is nearly always pathological, grounded in an assumption that the actor is ‘less’ than the other – less worthy, less entitled, less whatever. This line of thought and action can look like love; but if what I am sacrificing what I think is shoddy or second rate, then, there is no worthy gift bestowed upon the other. Real self-sacrifice can happen only when the sacrificer has become certain that self-love is unnecessary (because one is loved by another with a love so great and so unfailing) or because
the lover recognizes the self and the other as already sharers in such a love.
This love that is before, within and after all other loves is God’s.
You see, I hope, that love cannot happen at all apart from an environment of love, apart from a grasp of having been grasped by another whose grasp is unconditional and unremitting.
One must study love before using it as a norm of action because love is not just something we do, it is who we are (loved) it is how we see others (loved) and how we treat them (lovingly) so as to enhance the love that is in the world.
Really, truly and studiously yours,