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God, Life

What is Love?

LOVE 0209 JRH“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

What does love consist of? It’s a curious question. According to Rilke, love consists of two solitudes participating in an “each other” relationship.

I have a friend, Jonathan, who has given up using the word love to refer to anything other than people. He doesn’t love Chipotle. He likes it. Maybe even really, really likes it. But he will not say he loves it. Same with his favorite movie or sports team. I just spent a week with Jonathan and he’s militant about this new practice. And it makes sense – if love is the reciprocity of an “each other,” it is ill-fitting of love to love an object.

An important distinction – ill-fitting is different from impossible. It’s perfectly possible to love Chipotle. To say it, to feel it, and to really, really believe it with your mind, heart, and actions. But the reality that Chipotle can’t love you back destroys the possibility of there being an “each other.” Chipotle will not protect, border, or salute Jonathan. No matter how much he extends himself on its behalf, he will remain unprotected and that is not love. For love to exist one solitude must protect, border, and salute the other (rather than herself) at the very same time as the second solitude does the same. Both solitudes are thus protected, bordered, and saluted (not by their own efforts or intentions but) by the other person’s consisting in love.

This is a risky practice.

Regardless of any particular religious beliefs, we also commonly associate love with God.

I’ve become a big fan of Richard Rohr’s daily blog. [If you’re interested, sign up HERE.] These were his words for today:

The Gospel cannot happen in your head alone.

The gospel is about relationship. Unless there is someplace on this earth where it’s happening between you and another person, I don’t believe you have any criterion to judge whether it’s happening at all. Unless you’re in right relationship with at least one other person on this earth, unless there is some place you can give and receive love, I don’t think you have any reason to think you are giving or receiving divine love either.

Is there at least one place in your life where you are giving and receiving love? If it happens in one place, it can happen everywhere. If you are truly capable of loving one person, you’re capable of loving more than one, and eventually even your enemy, and finally all. Love is one piece. Thus, we rightly speak of being “in love” and Paul speaks of being “in Christ.” Love is all or nothing. You either express love or you don’t. The Scholastic philosopher, Josef Pieper, said it very well, “the proper habitat for truth is human relationship.” How we relate to anyone is how we relate to everything else, too.

I have two final reflections. First, we will never experience divine love if we do not experience the “each other” reciprocity of love between two solitudes. Loving Chipotle will not bring me closer to the divine embrace, neither will loving a non-reciprocating solitude. Second, even just one relationship of reciprocal love – one other solitude you border, salute, and protect, who does the same for you – is enough to experience the fullness of all Love, everywhere. Loving more “each others” isn’t getting us any closer to divine love or to contentment or self-actualization.

Love one person well (remembering that love is the reciprocity of an “each other” relationship) and you have all the Love there is. As Rohr says, it’s all or nothing.

I think this should make us feel safer because all Love is possible through the experience of just one relationship; it’s not an insurmountable feat. It’s also a sobering reminder not to exist as a solitude in an un-reciprocated love or to spread yourself (and your bordering, saluting, and protecting) too thin. The stakes are high and the risk is real, yet all Love is possible.


About Samantha Curley

Hi! My name is Samantha Curley. I live in Pasadena, California where I run a non-profit organization called Level Ground (onlevelground.org). I like to ponder, ask questions, and share stories about life, art, and faith.


One thought on “What is Love?

  1. I knew there was a reason we clicked. Chipotle and Richard Rohr to talk about Love. Genius. Can’t wait to spend time with you in April!

    Posted by Brookie | February 9, 2013, 9:43 PM

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