“Only love is important.” — St. Therese
“Unless you can sweat blood like Jesus, you’ll never keep a commitment, in marriage, in priesthood, or anywhere. That’s what it takes!” — Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Love is both fortunately and unfortunately an all-purpose word. Fortunately, because it’s not an emotion (it’s an intention that makes sense of emotions). Unfortunately, because it encompasses a many-splendoured spectrum of subtle feelings, as well as levels, versions, variations, and dimensions of what love might mean. Are we talking about emotional attachment? All-consuming desire? Self-transcending compassion or “agape” love?
In Arabic, there are at least 11 words for love, corresponding to how far one can “fall” into the turmoil of romantic obsession. Beginning with hawa, the transient winds of attraction lead to alaqah as the heart attaches itself to the desired one . . . the infatuation intensifies during the kalaf phase . . . then permeates the lover as ishq or what we mean when we say “love is blind” . . . the intensity starts to burn with sha’af as passion becomes inseparable from suffering . . . and turns to shaghaf or the affliction we know as love sick . . . yet that still refers to the cracks in the outer shell of the heart until the jawaa takeover of the innermost grief-stricken entirety . . . which brings the lover to taym when the heart is totally enslaved by the beloved and becomes tabl or the incurable romantic state which overwhelms all reasonable faculties . . . as if this weren’t bad enough, it’s followed by tadleeh when the initial inordinate attachment turns out to be so intrinsically disordered that it leaves the lover deeply distracted and unbalanced, a floundering lost soul . . . bringing us back full circle to hawa in the final stage of huyam or pure insanity with the two words sharing similar linguistic roots. Thus, “to be attracted to” can also connote “to perish.” Yikes!
So much for the course of “falling” in love, as a prerequisite for committed self-giving. There’s no skillful self to give.
Standing in love is no easier — if it involves humans, it’s anything but endless harmony, intimacy, and belonging. Those are the seeds planted in the springtime of romance, yet every flower must grow through dirt. There inevitably comes the post-honeymoon stage, when misunderstandings happen, wounds open, and deep-rooted wrongs are choreographed by the genius of the evil spirit. The bickering and squabbling begin. For all the co-operating, clearing, and co-creating of hearts that love makes possible, there is the blaming, judging, and rejecting which threaten to sabotage it.
But that’s not the whole story. All the un-love brought to the surface doesn’t have the last word. Out of this spiritual battle, for that’s what it is, can emerge new depths of wisdom and forbearance. Now we can truly “make” love, with patience as the fruit of mutual understanding, and peace the fruit of patience. Wisdom, sympathy, and patience make us bigger, fuller persons.
When we rise in love, not fall, we can then turn to other forms of soul making, much better equipped than we were before. That’s the importance of the kind of love Therese is talking about.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). https://www.innerviewguidance.com