Love 21st Century Style
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia
February 11, 2018
Rev. Jeff Liebmann
Call to Worship
From “Love” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
When love beckons to you follow him, though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him, though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him, though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth…
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love…
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
Humankind uses an array of words to describe the relationships we share with each other. Friend, pal, buddy, companion, acquaintance, comrade, cohort, ally, teammate, associate, colleague, helper, partner, significant other – each with subtle, nuanced differences we can all discern. Behind each lies some varying degree of love, from the love of neighbor and friend, to that of blood relations and family, to the pinnacle love of a life partner.
From ancient times, the allure of romantic love intertwined with our deepest religious impulses. One can hardly turn a corner in any sizable art museum without viewing an image of Mary coddling the baby Jesus, a fertility carving, or the muscular dignity of an embracing couple. Humankind yearns for ecstatic experiences, be they the loving touch of a parent, the emotional pangs of tender desire, the physical act of creating life, or the spiritual orgasm of uniting with the sacred.
Paul Tillich, an eminent theologian of the 20th century, once wrote,
“We have…defined eros as the driving force in all cultural creativity and in all mysticism. As such, eros has the greatness of a divine-human power…It is ‘the longing to establish full relationship,’ be that with a person, with one’s social group, with sundered value paradigms, or with God; with, in short, anything from which one has become existentially alienated. Eros as a longing awareness of alienation becomes the dynamic force behind creativity, growth, and self-transcendence. It is ‘the moving power of life.’”
Powerful, visceral forces in our lives, love ranges from the gentle tug of home as we travel, to the shattering emotional explosion of heartbreak and separation; from the warm feeling we get walking in the door to this church every Sunday, to the weightless drifting of religious epiphany and joy. We are all alchemists, trying one combination of life chemicals after another to create that golden holiness of love.
Love can bring our sanity itself into question. In her “Hymn to Aphrodite” two and a half millennia ago, Sappho wrote of love’s ability to incapacitate us:
Peer of the gods, the happiest man I seem
Sitting before thee, rapt at thy sight, hearing
Thy soft laughter and thy voice most gentle,
Speaking so sweetly.
Then in my bosom my heart wildly flutters,
And, when on thee I gaze never so little,
Bereft am I of all power of utterance,
My tongue is useless.
There rushes at once through my flesh tingling fire,
My eyes are deprived of all power of vision,
My ears hear nothing by sounds of winds roaring,
And all is blackness.
Down courses in streams the sweat of emotion,
A dread trembling o’erwhelms me, paler than I
Than dried grass in autumn, and in my madness
Dead I seem almost.
Four centuries ago, John Donne opined the battle for his soul between his God-given capacity to think and his divine love of the Holy Trinity.
Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend,
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely I love you, and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
Madness! We court madness itself in pursuit of this fickle mistress love! Each of us has likely suffered from that near neurosis of nurture and parental care; that affliction of adoration for another; the psychosis of sexual desire for the intermingling of bodies and souls wholly. This contagion of love has infected us for thousands of years. Does the future bring us surcease from this malady, or only spread of the disease through the body humanity?
Well, if it disease be, then let us thoroughly transmit the contamination! And, let us cease to stigmatize the seedling of love wherever it breaks through the earth in search of sunlight and sustenance. May the 21st century bring to us an end to all negative attitudes toward consensual love between adults, whatever their race or culture, whatever their age or physical abilities, and whatever their sex of birth, self-identity of gender, or preference of partner. May the 21st century enlighten our elected officials to eliminate unfair laws that discriminate against people on the basis of their love.
In the 21st century, may everyone recognize and respect the passion of others. May our churches rekindle their vital role in this transformation, embracing the fire that fuels our passions, subtle and carnal, whispered and shouted, moved and moving. And, in honoring these gentle and intense passions, may humanity mature into a species that loves freely, worships abundantly and communes frequently.
For love and reason need not pit against each other on the battlegrounds of our souls. Each can temper the other, achieving a passionate balance of dedication and commitment. Together, love and reason can build of our world not merely a monument to familial bond and friendship, but a glorious, golden city of love of all humankind, one for the other, free of judgment and preference, respectful of all talents and gifts, in honor of that most holy human possession.
In the 21st century, may the love we share with each other spread across the world, ending the threat of loneliness forever. May our love blossom into a cosmic force, finally balancing the equation of life, of the universe, and of the ties that connect all of existence.
Spirit of life and love that we know by many names, be with us as we enter an attitude of reflection, meditation, and prayer. “Wild Geese,” by Unitarian poet Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Blessed be. Amen. Let it be so.
From “Loneliness and Love” by Richard Gilbert
As long as human beings people the earth,
We can be assured
That in our loneliness
There is also love –
Deep, infinite love,
Waiting to be tapped,
To water the barren brown land of our loneliness –
Love which shrivels if kept to the self,
Which flourishes only if it is given away.