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We Were Born to Love

May 1, 2021

Nelson Mandela once said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. In the movie “South Pacific” Lieutenant Joseph Cable and Ensign Nellie Forbush sing about being taught to hate in the song “Carefully Taught.” The lesson from the song, as they each explore the racism and supremacy which they grew up in as white people of privilege, is that from a very young age, they were taught to hate others who were not like them. From different perspectives, a lesson emerges that is incredibly relevant and much needed these days. 

I believe that this relates to the lesson that 1 John 4:7-12 teaches. Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (vss 7-8)

Just what is love? Thomas Merton, in his journals and letters, wrestled with the concept of love on a theological and a personal level. In a letter he wrote on October 6, 1941 the young Merton (age 26) shares some of his thoughts about love and political action. He wrote the following: The problem is this: where does Catholic Action stop, and politics begin?… Catholic Action, which is another word for Charity, that is Loved, means, for one thing, feeding the poor, clothing the needy, and after that, saving souls. A person who is really interested in that must also necessarily be interested in certain political movements which tend to help feed the poor, clothe the needy, etc. Also, a person who is charitable, and really loves the poor, realizes just how little pure political action, without any charity behind it, really means. (The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters)

That truly is food for thought as I contemplate verses eleven and twelve of the First Letter of John: Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love on another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. What is love? How do we live out the love of God in our lives? These verses remind me that as a follower of Christ, my actions are a reflection on the one whom I have been called to serve. Merton points to this, I believe, when he discusses the importance of Political Action being rooted in Charity/Love. I don’t know exactly when, but at some point, in history, Charity became separated from its root in love and became a derogatory or condescending term (the Greek word Agape as found in 1 Corinthians 13 was initially translated in Latin as Charity (caritas)). 

In Learning to Love which contains his journals from 1966-1967, Merton shares his own struggle with love and solitude on a very personal level. One thing has suddenly hit me – that nothing counts except love and that a solitude that is not simply the wide-openness of love and freedom is nothing. Love and solitude are the one ground of true maturity and freedom. Solitude that is just solitude and nothing else (i.e. excludes everything else but solitude) is worthless. True solitude embraces everything, for it is the fullness of love that rejects nothing and no one, it is open to All in All. (April 14, 1966 entry) 

It was during this time that a relationship began between Merton and a young nurse who is only known by the single initial “M.” Thus, his wrestling with the concept of love moved from a theological discourse to a deeply and profoundly personal level. He wrote the following in his April 25, 1966 entry: Now I see more and more that there is only one realistic answer: Love. I have got to dare to love, and to bear the anxiety of self-questioning that love arouses in me, until “perfect love casts out fear.” Eventually, Merton would make the choice to remain a monk instead of pursuing a relationship with M any further. This experience did, I believe, teach him a great deal about love on a very personal level as well as on the theological level. I believe that Merton would say that love had to be at the center of all that he did as a monk, writer, activist, and Christ-follower. 

Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches is closely tied into this discussion of love being at the center of all that we do as Merton has written. In John 15:8, Jesus said: I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example of love. The question that this metaphor invites is a deep and profound question. What sort of fruit does your life yield? I have found that the further I step away from the path of Jesus, the less healthy my own life and fruits become. The more self-absorbed that I become, the less loving I am. The more that I seek to be selfless as a follower of Christ, the easier it is to love as he has taught us to love. Selflessness does not mean being a doormat or losing yourself as a person, a child of God. It is in selfless service that we see others as siblings who carry the divine spark within themselves too.

Dear reader, plainly and simply, we were born to love. Love must be at the center of who we are and what we do in this world. In the words of Merton, we have got to dare to love!

  1. “These verses remind me that as a follower of Christ, my actions are a reflection on the one whom I have been called to serve.” Thanks for the reminder, on a day where love is a bit more challenging than usual.

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