What is love? A question articulated by the Trinidadian-German poet Nestor Alexander Haddaway and countless others that muse about life and create art. Writers such as Shakespeare and John Donne with sonnets, poems and plays, and Austen with her social commentaries that examine the role and reality of love, among others have sought to explore this question.
Lou Gramm longingly croons, wanting to know what love is, while Michael Lee Aday will do anything for love, but he won’t do that. The Fab Four argue that all you need is love. I have always been a proponent of the idea of love, yet question the reality of the ideal that I uphold.
I recently gave a talk in Church based on Elder Oaks’ General Conference address “No Other Gods,” in which I declared from the pulpit my distaste for dating and attempted to trace my dislike to the worship of some idol(s) in place of God (who would likely want me dating, so that I can help participate in the whole multiply and replenish the earth thing, within the bounds that God has set). I came to the conclusion that I hold up the ideal of Love as some perfect, practically unreachable goal, much easier to appreciate in the abstract than in reality. The second idol blocking my active dating life is my mockery of all things related to ‘romance’ (evident in the sonnets I wrote for the Student Review’s newest issue, coming out in time for Valentine’s Day), leaving me like Shakespeare’s Benedict frightened of being in love for the ridicule that I would receive (justly so, although I suppose I just need to find a Beatrice, yet that plays back into this expectation/idol of love as an ideal- vicious cycle).
As I wondered what Love is, I thought back to my own life. I have experienced love, at least in a divine sense and assume that love from or for non-divine sources would be similar. My experiences with divine love are the most potent spiritual experiences that I have had and ground my belief and faith in God.
I’m not entirely sure, and this may be my skeptical nature doubting, that I have ever truly been ‘in love’. I’ve read about it, watched it in films and in reality, but have I ever really felt it? I don’t know. Yet, I think there are some things that I can draw from my other exposure that would be useful.
1. Love casts out fear. There’s a scriptural basis for this idea (1 John 4:18) and I’ve felt it, having my fear of others replaced by an overwhelming divine love for them. In a more earthly/romantic sense, perhaps this means that you aren’t afraid of what will happen. It might be unknown and a bit scary, but fear departs when you are in the presence of (your) Love.
2. Love is connected to negative extremes. My strongest feelings of divine love have happened after feelings of extreme negativity- overwhelming, crushing doubt and paralyzing fear. Maybe we need to go through some sorrow and pain, some level of suffering before we can truly feel love. Love truly steps in when we show our commitment to fight on, manifesting itself from the embers of something waiting to ignite.
3. Love wants our best, yet respects us. While there may be disappointment in love, my encounters with the divine have been feelings of encouragement- pushing me to be better. Part of this would be the ability to let go of those that may not return our love. Another aspect would be not staring down our nose disapprovingly at those that we ‘love’ and act differently than we think they should. The respect and tolerance of Love will always trump disappointment.
Perhaps love cannot be conveyed in words (I tend to reject such an idea, since I firmly believe in the power of words. I am majoring in English after all). Maybe it needs to be felt and not read about, suggesting that Lou Gramm was on to something, wanting to be shown what love is (or they wanted something else and called it love…). At least death can’t stop true love, so I have all of eternity to figure out what love is (right? There is hope).