We do not live for ourselves alone
and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact
that we begin to love ourselves properly,
and thus also love others.
What do I mean by loving ourselves properly?
I mean, first of all,
desiring to live,
accepting life as a very great gift
and a very great good,
not because of what it gives us,
but because of what it enables us to give to others.
Thomas Merton, The New Man, page xx.
Merton was one of the great affirmers of life. He was a living paradox, a gregarious solitary, a silent voice that wouldn't shut up, an ascetic who sought to live to the full, a monk who fell in love, and, from his Journals, a Christian who understood the inner conflicts, tensions, and anguishes of Romans 7, spilling over in his own experience into the liberty, joy and and fulfilments of life in the Spirit as in Romans 8.
Professor Larry Hurtado (New College Edinburgh) has several times lectured on the pervasive hermeneutic of love throughout the New Testament, and observed the lack of serious engagement with the theology and practice of love as a faith defining critierion in the life of each Christian community. Worship and liturgy, discipleship and doxology, sexual ethics and ecclesial politics, communal care and personal relationships, theological reflection and moral integrity, are each drawn into the orbit of the New Testament imperative of agape, the redemptive goodwill of God.
If we're honest, there's a clanging dissonance in the theory and the practice of agape as the primary Christian disposition, in much of the communal and personal practices of contemporary Christian spirituality. I find this both theologically intriguing and a rather glaring clue as to what the Church is for and its mandate to embody the good news of the Kingdom of God. So without knowing where this is going, for a few months towards Advent I'll post occasionally on the Hermeneutic and Imperative of Love. Not a chain of harangues nor a catena of moralising winges - both of these are in reality demoralising!
More a sowing of seeds of thought, a series of small perpsectival studies as experiments in what love might look like in practice, pieces of a jigsaw which may in the end have some pieces missing, but enough to make it worth looking for the lost pieces!
However. Not to get too philosophically carried away. The photos above and below depict a different perspectival study, entitled 'Smudgy Love'. The two favoured places are the cushion and the cardboard box.