Monday, April 17, 2017

Reflecting on ‘The Love That Matters’ by Charles Featherstone (5) Aching to be Loved

This is the 5th in a series of posts reflecting on The Love That Matters by Charles Featherstone.  1st post here.


In case you hadn’t noticed, the subtitle to ‘The Love That Matters’ is “Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death”.  As the “meeting Jesus” part has not happened yet in the narrative flow of the book (at least not consciously) I’d like to focus on the 2nd half of that sentence – the “in the midst of terror and death” part - prior to getting to the “aching to be loved” part that is the title of this post.

Though the specific forms and manifestations vary, the experiences of “terror and death” are prevalent throughout the early parts of the book.  For example, Charles writes:
What was I looking for?  What did I want?  Some kind of justification for the urge to do violence, some way to legitimize my rage at the world I lived in.  That’s what I wanted.  I had a nihilistic urge seeking a pretense, some sort of idea, some mess of words to cover the naked desire to simply burn everything down. (p 79)
This is just one example.  Earlier posts in this series have touched upon this rawness and pain, a pain that leads to “nihilistic urge”.

But then, just a handful of pages later and seemingly out of nowhere, Charles writes:
Love can be an abstraction or an ideal only for those fortunate enough to take its presence in the world – its fleshiness, its goodness, its generosity – for granted.  To ache to be loved, as Jennifer and I both did when we were young, is to ache to know God. (p 86)
Because love is a relationship, and it’s meaningless to claim to love someone if there’s no chance she will understand or experience the doing as love. (p 87)
Where did this come from?  The contrast between these sorts of thoughts and those from just 7 pages earlier provide something of a glimpse into the nature of the battle to find a place in the world "in the midst of terror and death".  There is a tension, an uncertainty.  And as sometimes happens in life, Charles thoughts on love are a surprise, an interruption into a story as it’s being told.

I wonder, was Charles only able to write these words in hindsight?  Can a person only recognize such things about love in their past having subsequently found something of that love that they’re aching for?  And having seen it, they can go back and see their trajectory towards it?  Or does one recognize such things in the moment, in between the moments of nihilism?

I don’t know.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Either way, I really liked what Charles wrote here. 

Love cannot be reduced to an abstraction.  Nor can it’s “success or failure”, given this definition of love as fleshy concreteness and as meaningless apart from relational fulfillment, be reduced to the mere offer of love.  Because it’s meaningless to claim to love someone if there’s no chance of that person understanding or experiencing that love as love.

Love must be experienced as love in order to be complete as love.  It takes form through both giving and receiving. 

This is an existential statement.  And it’s an eschatological statement.  It need not become abstract to be either of these.  It need not become generalized or lose its sense of particularity if we take this definition of divine love and widen it, drawing out it’s implications. 

Love is not concerned with its success in terms of minimum requirements, in terms of being “offered” and then shrugging it’s shoulders contentedly if “rejected” in “free-will” by one person or by every single person who ever lived (there is no distinction).  No.  You can argue that God’s love ends I suppose.  You can try that, and some do.  But don’t argue for the fulfillment of love apart from the beloved’s experience of it as such.  This love is not kitschy or sentimental.  But it is relentless, entering into a world of terror and death.
"The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love.  The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God."
-William Barclay

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