What Is Love?
While traveling through the United Kingdom this past summer, I saw a plaque with the following sonnet by Shakespeare etched on it.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken; - Sonnet 116
I was an English Literature major a hundred years ago and spent a fair amount of time studying 16th and 17th-century British literature, poems, and the like.
I've always been taken by the poems and sonnets from that era for some strange reason, and this sonnet was no exception. Let me take it apart a bit to explain why.
The singer in this sonnet is not addressing a Beloved. It's not a declaration of love for another but about the nature of Love itself. The singer is lifting up Love as an ideal, proclaiming its highest virtue: steadfastness.
Additionally, according to the singer, love isn't love when alteration of the Beloved is required to experience love.
It also can't be easily cast aside or dismissed when it is truly love. The singer essentially says, "Who are we to cast dispersions on those who love when it is Love that brought them together?" and further, "Who, when confronted with the reality of true Love, can deny it?"
And then, the singer offers his definition of Love at the end of the sonnet. He describes it as an "ever-fixed mark" that faces the storms of life "and is never shaken."
If you are reading this and wondering if perhaps you have been transported back to some English Lit class and what the point of this whole Devo might be, think of it like this:
This sonnet was the 16th-century equivalent of The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love." Not as catchy, for sure, but still a song that would have been sung by minstrels, possibly at some garden party where high-falootin' types gathered.
The thing is, Love is actually an ideal that we can only aspire to understand, experience, or attain. We simply can't fully grasp the meaning of Love, only aspects of it.
The fact that there have been so many songs, books, poems, movies, plays, and works of art dealing with Love over the centuries reflects this aspiration and the constant desire of humans to know what Love is all about.
Interestingly, those of us who believe that God is not merely loving but is Love shouldn't be surprised by any of this.
We all get that God remains a mystery to us, unknowable and yet present. We experience God all around us and see signs of God's purposes and longing for Creation and for us, but we don't experience the fullness of God.
In fact, to experience the fullness of God just might be too much for us.
In the ancient Hebrew stories of Moses encountering God on Mt. Sinai, Moses asks to see God face to face, and God basically tells Moses, "Uhhh, that would kill you, man."
So God shows Moses a portion of God's "back," which is a way of saying, just a glimpse of the full glory of God's reality, and it transfigured Moses so much that his face shone afterward.
I love the symbolism of that story. It states that even a tiny aspect of the fullness of Love/God, once experienced, transforms us in amazing ways.
And this is the beauty of being human, created in God's image. We receive the gifts of Love as we are ready to receive them. We experience transformation as we are equipped to be open to change.
We also never stop longing for more Love... more of God. It is our destiny to long for it, seek more of it, and share what aspects of Love and glory have made us shine.
May we never stop pursuing Love. After all, it is all we need, and it can never be shaken.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, now and forever. Amen.