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Love does not exist – A valentines post

February 02, 2011

Love is so humble that it seems impossible to ever really catch anything but the briefest glimpse of her. She is like a tiny field mouse dwelling in the dark. Should we hear her scratching in the corner and shine a light she will, quick as a flash, scurry away so that we catch sight of only the tip of her tail. Indeed love is so bashful that we often forget about her entirely. For love, to change analogies, is like light. When we are sitting with friends we do not think about the light that surrounds us but only of the friends that the light enables us to see. Likewise love illuminates others and so our attention is focused on what she illuminates rather than with the illumination itself.

Love, in a very precise way, enables us to see. For in daily life we perceive others in much the same way as a cow gazes at cars. We walk past thousands of people without really seeing anyone. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine told me of something that happened when she took a train from Connecticut to New York. As the conductor, a large and imposing man, approached she realised that she had left her purse at the house. When he got to her seat and asked for her ticket she, with much embarrassment, explained the situation and braced herself for the worst. But the conductor just sat down in the seat opposite and said, “Don’t worry about it”. Then, for the remainder of the journey they talked. They shared photos of their family, they exchanged jokes and they spoke of the ones who meant most to them. When the conductor finally got up to continue his rounds my friend began to apologise again, but the conductor stopped her mid sentence and smiled, “please don’t pay it any thought, you know its just really nice to be seen by someone.”

This might initially seem like a strange thing to say as the conductor was being seen by thousands of people every day. But only in instrumental terms, only as the extension of a function he performed. In this brief conversation with my friend he felt that he had actually been seen as a unique individual and that was a gift to him.

This is what love does. It does not make itself visible but rather makes others visible to us. In a very precise sense then love does not exist but calls others into existence: for to exist means to stand forth from the background, to be brought into the foreground. Love does not stand forth but brings others forth. When we love our beloved is brought out of the vast, undulating sea of others. Just as the Torah speaks of God calling forth beings from the formless ferment of being so love calls our beloved from the endless ocean of undifferentiated objects.

In this way love is not proud and arrogant. It does not say, “I am sublime, I am beautiful, I am glorious”. Love humbly points to another and whispers, “they are sublime, they are beautiful, they are glorious.” It does not tell us that they are perfect despite their weakness and frailty, but that they are perfect in the very midst of their weakness and frailty.

Love does not want our hymns of praise or prayers of adoration. She does not want our sacrifices or seek our time. One cannot and should not even try to love love. For love always points away from herself. To honour love is to be in love, to swim in the world illuminated by her.

That which love illuminates means everything to us: a reality that can be exquisitely pleasurable or devastatingly painful. As such we will always experience the one we love as the most sublime existence in the universe. This experience however hides within itself a deep truth, a truth that we would do well to forget as soon as we learn of it (for it works best in darkness). Namely, that the most sublime presence in the universe is not our beloved but the love that exposes them as our beloved. The love that does not itself exist, but which raises our beloved to the level of existence.

17 Responses to Love does not exist – A valentines post

  1. Mike says:

    This reminds me of Kierkegaard, who wrote that love does not belong to the beholder of love, but, to the subject to which it loves. True love cannot help but overflow, to give, to reveal itself to the object of its desire.

    Great stuff Peter.

  2. Tim says:

    I’m not convinced Pete. I feel like plenty of people fall in love with love — the idealized form of it. I would (for the sake of provoking a conversation) suggest that women are most prone to this. Many — and here I include both men and women — pine for a romantic love that is unattainable but attested to in literature and film.

    • Brianna says:

      Hey Tim,

      I wonder if you are thinking about love in realistic terms, and if it is possible that Peter is writing in a more idealistic, albeit lofty way? (I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, Peter, and thus won’t respond at length.)

      It seems to me that what Peter is writing about above is the concept of true love (i.e., real, honest, non-counterfeit love) as opposed to the typical love that often drives both men and women in the Western world today.

      I wonder this: the love that you refer to, this “being in love with love”, or this “pining after romantic love” that is indeed shown in our media and thus embedded within our social unconscious, does that not show the condition of our hearts? Does it not show that we indeed long for something; some truth and beauty and mutuality? Does it not show that we so long to be the subject of ones desires?

      And thus, what Peter writes about above affirms your comment. Our reality is a selfish love, but beyond our false sense of love is the “light” for which we see by.

      Maybe I am wrong in interpreting, but it seems to me that Peter is writing of a course-correction; to be reminded again that “love is not proud and arrogant.” That “It does not say, ‘I am sublime, I am beautiful, I am glorious’. That “love humbly points to another and whispers, ‘they are sublime, they are beautiful, they are glorious.'”

      It seems to me that you are right in your assertion that we as a culture are selfish lovers, but does that mean that we must abide in such a way of life and being?

  3. Anthony Wallace says:

    This song captures some of love personified. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cTJV3HK-Xs

  4. Chris Peterson says:

    @Tim – Unfortunately, the love that’s attested to in the greatest works of literature and film is a love that is interrupted, marred by some tragedy or great difficulty. Think Romeo and Juliet. The lovers embrace comes as the cathartic release of some struggle. I’m not sure people really fall in love with this love, because we’re so conditioned to avoid that which causes us to struggle.

    Of course, in more modern works of art, love becomes a commodity to be attained, with no genuine encounter with the other. But again, I’d say people don’t so much fall in love with this kind of love either, but rather become inflamed with a different type of desire which is more reflective of the modern economic condition. When people use the phrase “falling in love with love”, I think this is often what is being referred to, but we ought to question whether this is love at all, or just consumerism by another name.

  5. Adrian says:

    Thought provoking – need a few more reads to digest, but would like to know in what sense you are using the word ‘exist’ in the final enigmatic sentence?

  6. Poutama says:

    Love it

  7. Chad says:

    It seems that the article about is in reference to the love for humanity. Not so much the love between two people, but the love we all should share for each other as brother and sisters under the same father. We forget to treat each other with respect as neighbors. We tend to ignore each other even tho were in the same space, examples would be check out line, a line to an event waiting to get in, or the infamous elevator.

  8. Miriam King says:

    Hmmm,this is really bizarre-got train home today with three small children and really struggled to get the pram over the gap between the train and platform.I was bent practically in half with my hair over my face trying to hoist pram and small child when I was suddenly rescued by a pair of hands holding the other side. It was a young man who quite frankly I would normally avoid at all costs in everyday life- slightly scary, aggressive looking, hoody type. His gesture of ‘love’ nearly moved me to tears because I would have definitively prejudged him negatively under different circumstances because of appearance. His act didn’t make me feel ‘sublime, beautiful or glorious’ but humble and ashamed.

  9. Laurel says:

    Lots of good points, Peter, but I question a few. I agree that love enables us to see, but I would suggest that it too is seen; in the one who stays up all night with us when we are sick, or as mentioned earlier, the one who helps lift a pram onto a train. It does not draw attention to itself, I agree, but it can’t help but be shown.

    Likewise, it may declare another as sublime, may not, but I’m not sure it ever calls another perfect, despite OR in the midst of weakness. I think on the contrary it may just declare another as a disaster, but loved nonetheless.

    I think love DOES seek our time, with incredible passion, but is patient to wait until it’s available. I think it DOES want our hymns of praise, just doesn’t require them.

    While you do seem to jump a bit back and fourth between a more romantic love and a friendship love, or love for humanity as mentioned in a comment above, I do agree with your macro point. However, your micro examples seem almost to paint a picture of indifference by the one doing the loving. That, I have never experienced.

  10. Sally says:

    Love is patient. But we’re not. Love is kind but we’re not…

  11. David Malinowski says:

    How about accepting Peter’s thoughts at face value, as an act of love from him, and in the context of all feeble attempts to understand God’s love for us?

  12. Brett says:

    What Pete is doing is creating an iconic dialogue. He’s not providing concrete definitions of terms such as “existence” or “love” but rather a glimpse of an idea that provokes one to reflect. This is what Western thought is in great need of. Thank you, Pete, for all you do.

    • austin says:

      Beautiful sentiment, Brett. Too often, and especially in our Western traditions, the pursuit of absolute truth and concrete understanding supersedes an attempt at honest, genuine reflection. Well put.

  13. Stephanie says:

    Mmmm-hmmm;) Just beautiful. My 33 year old husband died just weeks ago on 2/5, suddenly without reason, leaving behind my 4 mos old and 4 yr old and me. Reading through my journals from back when we, two very broken souls, had began dating I cannot tell you the number of times I had wrote, ‘I want him to love me not despite my shortcomings, but BECAUSE of them’ — knowing that in that moment was where true love was waiting (great minds think alike:). We did finally reached that moment, and luckily it was before he was taken from me far too soon. I am wrestling with God now more than ever. I am faithfully doubting in His will for my children and me, and praying for those humble glimpses of our love to shine in on my life during this dark time.

    Thanks for sharing!

  14. David says:

    It is not too hard to cut through the weakness of this position put forth regarding love. Read THE FOUR LOVES by C. S. Lewis and the problems inherent in the idea of love coming from the non-existent or retiring become very evident. We are not dealing with a God who retires, but with one who makes himself known so clearly we have to kill him. But he will not stay retired or non-existent. He rises from the death we give him and calls us to a direct encounter with himself which cuts through our very natural and clever attempts to put him in the background and leave him there. We need to give him the full focus to which he calls us, loving him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Only then do we begin to love others as we love ourselves.

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