Rev. Dr. Steven Yagerman
Light: The Persistent Presence of Transformative Love
Cole Porter writes about loving Paris in the springtime and, for that matter, in each of the successive seasons. Ultimately he asks why he loves Paris, and (surprise) it has nothing to do with Paris! The fact is, he loves Paris “Because my love is near.” I suppose he could just as easily have loved Manhattan or Des Moines had his love, by chance, been there. Philosophers and theologians don’t usually quote Porter or any popular artist for that matter. Yet it seems to me that here we see one of the hidden mysteries of the universe stealthily moving behind and beneath all human activity. As seasons change, we can’t help but notice the consequences of the earth’s tilting axis: hot, cold, budding flowers, falling leaves, darker mornings, longer evenings. We see them all, but it is this experience of love that transforms the mundane to the sublime. It is the lack of love that bespeaks loss. The same is true as we observe the seasons of our lives. With love, we embrace wisdom; with love gone missing, we descend into cynicism and despair. Mr. Porter speaks about love coloring perceptions. Poets continually write about this transforming power. Lovers know it as a semi-manic obsession. The Greeks had several different words for love, ranging from brotherly love (Phil-Adelphia) to Eros, not to mention Agape (Love to or from God). Yet somehow we dismiss this ancient and ubiquitous power as trite, adolescent or naive. Where there is love, character expands and community builds. Where love is damaged or dismissed, we find the root of cruelty, racism, tribalism, as well as destructive political division. If and when we are able to access this crazy little thing called love, we are able to maintain a joie de vivre, a jouissance, a creative zeal for life. We embrace creativity and change, we welcome the stranger, we see the face of the divine in those who are cast out and cast down. In short, we become radically engaged with life. Love is so present and yet so fragile. At times we reject it as being a hackneyed, unscientific sentimentality, the refuge of dreamers. It is not scientifically provable, it is not economically measurable, it seems to exhibit a certain naïveté that lacks a New York State of Mind. We live in a society that both desires the experience of love, despairs of achieving it, and ultimately resigns itself to a wounded cynicism. You’ll notice that I refer to this experience of love as divine. We can debate its source, but its presence and power is always in the mix. As much as we try to exclude it, it slips, unannounced, into our thoughts and dreams. It is not limited to those of formal religious persuasion. We see it in the loving eyes of mothers and infants as well as in joyful tears of reunions and furtive glances. It is found in every act of kindness, encouragement, forgiveness and hospitality. Like everything else, seeing it creates the desire to have it. This is what we call positive mimesis. In this season of seeking and celebrating the light, perhaps we can agree that this light is the persistent presence of transformative love.