February 12, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Love means so much more than a Valentine

Cynthia DewesPoets and pundits are fond of asking the question, “What is love?” They never seem to find a conclusive answer, mostly because there can’t be one.

For one thing, God is love, and just try to define what God is! We can only take a stab at it.

Scripture says that love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous or pompous. All of which is true, of course, but it still doesn’t seem to pin down what love really is. One reason is because love includes so many things that each of us may not experience every kind.

Among other things, love means romantic love, as in falling in love with someone with a passionate intensity. It’s an overwhelming physical, emotional and sometimes intellectual attraction to another. While it’s usually found in young people, it can strike at any age.

Filial love is, or should be, found in families. As we know from reading the horror headlines, even abused kids love their parents. It seems to come with the birthing. And it should be mutual, with moms and dads loving their children as much as the other way around.

Fraternal love exists in families, too, with brothers and sisters feeling the bond of kinship and a shared past. Sometimes families are torn with fights over money or disputes about the choices made by individual members, but filial love can still prevail. And it can also include cousins, aunts, uncles and extended family members.

There is the love of friends, in which we find sympathetic folks who share our values, our hopes and dreams and struggles. They may not be kin, but they’re often the next thing to it. Sometimes they’re even better!

It seems to me the love that we find in our environment growing up forms our ability to love others. Or not. We learn the skills it takes, not only to get along, but also to enrich our lives and the lives of those we touch. We learn that we are lovable as God finds us lovable.

So, despite whatever faults our families, neighbors and teachers may have, we can still grow up to be loving people. It helps if we live in an intact family, with a father and a mother on the scene. We learn all kinds of ways to love from that connection.

Or not. I always say I learned how not to be married and love a husband by observing the example of my parents. They loved me, but had some problems with loving each other. Still, the steady and unreserved love they gave me, like that of God for all of us, prepared me to love.

And here we come to that most important aspect of love, also mentioned in Scripture: “Love never fails” (1Cor 13:8). A situation which is undoubtedly easier for God to achieve than it is for us!

It’s often hard for humans, who are born selfish, to make this love thing work. So, we fail love when we fail to reach out to others in intimate concern for their needs. We fail when we ignore their fears or dismiss their triumphs, when we don’t bother to really hear what they are saying or to deal with their unspoken questions.

Fortunately, Valentine’s Day and the season of Lent will soon give us the opportunity to contemplate loving as God loves.

It will be our joy to learn it, whatever kind of love we have in our lives!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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