Love

I’ve always secretly hated 1 Corinthians 13. As a perfectionist, I would read about all of the things that love is, be painfully reminded that my behaviors don’t perfectly adhere to the “love checklist”, swiftly conclude that I am nothing more than a clanging cymbal, and shrink away in shame. Then last week, a dear friend sent me Peter Haresnape’s translation of the chapter:

1 Corinthians 13 for Peacemakers by Peter Haresnape

If I speak about courage and justice, and siding with the oppressed, and speaking truth to power no matter the cost, but do not speak about love... I am just a loudmouth orator, a white saviour, a shameless self-promoter.

If I am excellent at nonviolent communication, and I take great pictures, and I know all the latest anti-oppressive lingo, and I can analyse racist systems so as to dismantle them entirely, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I fully embrace the work of prophet and activist and martyr, and get dragged away by the riot police or bombed by the military of my own country, but have not love, that is no use to anyone.

Love is patient. Love survives evil, war, oppression. It remains when the teargas clears and the children go back to school. It is still there when the water is protected. Love is kind, not arrogant, not insisting on its own way, but making space for joy and truth even in the hardest circumstance.

Whether it is love between two people, or love of a person for their community, or love of a community for its land, or love of justice and peace and equity, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Clever words will be forgotten. The most interesting facts are subject to revision. The best sermon you've ever heard – you will forget. Right now, everything we do is flawed and inaccurate. But. One day we'll experience Truth with a Capital T. And then all this will be unnecessary.

Before I was mature, I was immature. In becoming mature, I left behind ways of speaking, thinking and reasoning that were immature.

Right now we're hearing murmurs, reading translations, seeing shadows on the wall, but one day we'll see face-to-face.

Right now, half of the time I'm guessing, but one day I will know beyond all doubt – and I will be fully known.

What remains when it is all stripped away is three things:

Faith that the flawed world as we see it is not all that there is;

Hope that the next generation will live in a better world;

and Love to give us the strength and motivation to build it.

The greatest of these is Love.

Honestly, the title alone made me wince. A 1 Corinthians 13 for peacemakers promised a checklist of love behaviors that isn’t comfortably vague, but one that veers distressingly close to my personal ethic, exposing in greater detail all of the ways in which I fail at love. It promised to amplify the shrill of the clanging cymbal. Sure enough, on the first reading, I was filled with shame.

But a few hours later in the day, I felt my heart being drawn back to Haresnape’s beautiful translation, as if it knew that the well is deeper and more refreshing than I had experienced it on the first draw. On the second reading, it occurred to me that 1 Corinthians 13 is not about my personal effort at love nor is it about a love that comes from me. In fact, it isn’t about my love at all. It’s about Love with a capital L. It's not a standard by which to judge or measure myself; it's a description of and invitation into Love. So, I don't have to do anything and I can't fail. I simply get to receive and participate in this Love that defines our world, is the truest reality, and lives on and on and on no matter what.

Honestly, the title alone made me wince. A 1 Corinthians 13 for peacemakers promised a checklist of love behaviors that isn’t comfortably vague, but one that veers distressingly close to my personal ethic, exposing in greater detail all of the ways in which I fail at love. It promised to amplify the shrill of the clanging cymbal. Sure enough, on the first reading, I was filled with shame.

But a few hours later in the day, I felt my heart being drawn back to Haresnape’s beautiful translation, as if it knew that the well is deeper and more refreshing than I had experienced it on the first draw. On the second reading, it occurred to me that 1 Corinthians 13 is not about my personal effort at love nor is it about a love that comes from me. In fact, it isn’t about my love at all. It’s about Love with a capital L. It’s not a standard by which to judge or measure myself; it’s a description of and invitation into Love. So, I don’t have to do anything and I can’t fail. I simply get to receive and participate in this Love that defines our world, is the truest reality, and lives on and on and on no matter what.

I have a very generous friend who prays with me every single morning. As part of our ritual, we do a brief breathing prayer. While taking deep, slow full body breaths, we prayerfully receive Love on the inhale and send out Joy on the exhale. In my mind, I envision the letters L-O-V-E lighting up one after the other as I inhale Love and the letters J-O-Y lighting up one after the other as I exhale Joy.

The beautiful thing about breathing is that it naturally occurs without my effort. The breath is always present, always sustaining, always nourishing, always working on my behalf. I simply get to receive it. In fact, not receiving it (e.g, holding my breath) is unnatural, effortful, and ultimately harmful.

Like the breath, Love is always present, always sustaining, always nourishing, always working for justice and the flourishing of all beings. Its existence and persistence requires nothing from me. I simply get to receive it and get swept up in its unending, supernatural flow.

When my heart is too battered by oppression and I can no longer will myself to maintain a soft heart, I can simply breathe in an L-O-V-E that is patient.

When I want to surrender to hatred after the first or second or third battle, I can simply breathe in an L-O-V-E that survives evil, war, oppression.

When I am beat by the forces of Empire, I can simply breathe in an L-O-V-E that remains when the teargas clears.

When I experience a small victory for justice, I can simply breathe in an L-O-V-E that is still there when the water is protected.

When I want to fight Empire with the weapons of Empire, I can simply breathe in an L-O-V-E that is kind, not arrogant, not insisting on its own way.

When I am deflated and hopeless, I can simply breathe in an L-O-V-E that makes space for joy and truth even in the hardest circumstance.

When I have nothing left to give, I can rest in the permanent realities of Faith, Hope and Love:

Faith that the flawed world as we see it is not all that there is;

Hope that the next generation will live in a better world;

and Love to give us the strength and motivation to build it.

The greatest of these is Love.

_____________________

Special thanks to Peter Haresnape and Christian Peacemaker Teams for the permission to reprint 1 Corinthians for Peacemakers.