I’ve been touched by the ardor and range of responses to my last post. Somehow, a collective journey was made from a description of the joy that can come from sharing stories about our common humanity to an exchange about the reality of evil and God and the nature of love. One person wrote that St. John taught that we love because we have first been loved by God. The image of this–loving as a reminder of the ground of our existence–was particularly touching to me. In the midst of my grief after my own mother’s death, I remember realizing that my own love for her was holding me, guiding me, even in her absence. I have also recently discovered that the capacity to love and the desire to be loved in return may be a rich way to investigate and transform our experience–even about seemingly impossible propositions, like what happens to me when I die.
Although the Parabola editors didn’t plan it this way, it turns out the subject of “Love” leads naturally to “Life After Death,” our next theme. It turns out that love is not just an an emotion or feeling, or even a conviction. It is also a special kind of action. I’ve spent the last couple nights (during insomnia hours) reading The Life of the World to Come, an historical perspective on Christian hope about the life after death by religion professor and author Carol Zaleski (full disclosure: she is my sister-in-law). She quotes many interesting people including Miguel de Unamuno, a great Spanish philosopher-poet who wrote that we must believe in this life in order to give this life meaning but also this: “And we must needs believe in that other life, perhaps, in order that we may deserve it, in order that we may obtain it, for it may be that he neither deserves it nor will obtain it who does not passionately desire it above reason and, if need be, against reason.”
Love–and the desire to be loved–is a not just an emotion or a conviction or ideal. It can be a transforming action. Carol goes on to quote Cardinal Newman from one of his famous Oxford lectures. He has just quoted a dying factory girl who has basically demanded that there be a benevolent God, that her life have meaning beyond the noise and pain and misery she knew: “A mutilated and defective evidence suffices for persuasion where the heart is alive.”
I know that Christian hope for life after death flows from faith in the resurrection. But it is interesting to pay attention to the action of the heart. Love can reconcile us to what is beyond our knowledge and control. Love can carry us, hold us (and in the root sense of suffer as bearing) can suffer us.