Twenty-some years ago, I made an inspiration scrapbook filled with quotes and pictures cut out of magazines. It was also home to my first bucket list. On that list at number 13 was to fall deeply in love. I remember adding that to the list in part because of a quote that I had pasted on one of the first few pages.
“The question of love is one that cannot be evaded. Whether or not you claim to be interested in it, from the moment you are alive you are bound to be concerned with love, because love is not just something that happens to you: It is a certain special way of being alive. Love is, in fact, an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of life.”
The quote is from Love and Living, a collection of Thomas Merton’s essays and meditations on the need for love in learning to live, published after he died. Later in the essay, he says,
“We will never be fully real until we let ourselves fall in love – either with another human person or with God.”
My understanding of love has widened and deepened since those days of cutting and pasting quotes into a scrapbook, but Merton’s words stayed with me. About three years ago, I started to pursue number three on my bucket list, write a book. My writing was sparked by a desire to teach my children, in a hopefully timeless way, about the “most important things” – things like knowing who the Beatles were, how to be at home anywhere in the world, and most importantly, how to love.
So I did what I do and started immersing myself in “love” research, everything from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, to love songs and poetry, to romance novels. I knew that research wasn’t enough. I had to dig down and remember how I came to learn about love beyond books and songs. I had to remember and consider the stories and experiences of my own life.
This led me to my parents’ love story, which began with a fortune told to my mother, that she would “have a son that would take her across the ocean.” It was the story I grew up hearing, most often as she was putting me to sleep. She told of the journey that brought her to my father, how it was her destiny, and how she felt guided by God. I realized that she gave me that story, along with her life, as an example. She was my first teacher of love.
In some traditions, the second Advent candle is called the Bethlehem candle, symbolizing Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth. It is another story of a son that led his parents on a journey, and another beautiful example of love.
One of the deepest things I have learned as I write is that I want my children to know that there are many “love” stories and many paths, that deep love is worth waiting for, remembering, and trying to understand. James Finley, who was mentored by Thomas Merton, wrote,
“In the light of eternity, we’re here for a very short time, really. We’re here for one thing, ultimately: to learn how to love, because God is love. Love is our origin, love is our ground, and love is our destiny.”
This is part two of an Advent series reflecting on Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.