A footnote for Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
Dear Paul: I want to talk to you about love. It’s such an easy word to toss around. It’s the only one in the English language used to talk about anything we have deep affection for: chocolate, baseball, kids, God. Love is even used to define God: God is Love. It’s kind of mind-blowing that we use the same word to enunciate our feelings for a whole gamut of things. I mean how different can chocolate and God really be? Certainly they do not require different levels of devotion.
Sonnets, Songs, Movies, Bible verses, Books...all of these have committed themselves to helping us understand love in varying degrees. It is, as I wrote before, the hardest, easiest thing. The only way we can understand what we mean by love, is through metaphor, negation, and affirmation. So when we say, “Just go in love, brother” we seem to understand on some abstract level what that means. Be good. Do good. That’s it.
Ok, but...still the questions, “How shall we live? How shall we love?” ring in my ears.
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV) says, “Love is patient.” Yeah, okay. I agree. I’ve even heard myself advise new moms to call on deep reserves of this. Heck, any of us who engage on any level with another human need gallons of this. Patience is what I strive for when I am shaken out of sleep by my first kid jumping on me. I get up, look myself hard in the mirror, toothbrush in hand, and say, “Holly, today you’re going to be more patient.” When I do yoga and picture that little golden ball of light in my third eye, my mantra is often “patience.” But the day is long. There are 1440 minutes in a day, approximately 420 of those I’m asleep. So that leaves 1020 minutes to practice patience. The best and first test is getting 3 little boys to put their shoes on - not necessarily with matching or even clean socks - without complaint and with relative efficiency between minute 27 and 28 of my day so that they’ll be on time by minute 35. I have yet to master this. But if I love my kids I’m going to be patient, right? Not so. At least not always. I love my kids in a more full-bodied way than I have loved anything ever. I don’t stop loving them even when I lose my patience. I can follow this thread down and say losing my patience is an indication that I’m attached to an outcome. And being attached to an outcome points to the fact that I need to work on my dharma. And needing to work on my dharma implies that I am most definitely not the Buddha. And not being the Buddha means flowers do not spring up everywhere I walk. Let’s face it, though: if the Buddha were a mother, he would not have been the Buddha. Maybe his mother planted those flowers though.
Rewrite #1: Love is not always patient. Just because you lose your patience with that which you love does not mean you no longer love well.
In 1963, during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late...this is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
His words are not patient. They are, however, full of love.
For too long justice seekers were held at bay, told to wait just a little bit longer, turned back and away by white faces saying, “Not yet.” The fact is black folks in America had been waiting for hundreds of years. Yesterday was too late. This rings true in our present moment as we consider the Black Lives Matter movement, marriage equity, humane immigration policy, and confronting rampant sexual assault. We live in the “fierce urgency of now,” and seeking justice requires passionate action more than it requires patience. Try being patient when it is your child who is shot in the back because he looked suspicious in his hoodie or when it is your child who is bullied and driven further into herself because she is gay. I am not looking to shock with dramatic illustrations here. I am reaching no further than reality. No, righting these situations does not require patience. It requires Love.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, says her work grew from a love note. “Black people,” she wrote. “I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” The movement grew from a steady, deep love and passionate celebration of life. I imagine she could not wait for an unlikely acquittal nor for one more murder to get going. She was no longer willing to say, “We’ll get ‘em next time” as if facing an athletic opponent in a race for some pennant or another. Holding on to the golden threads of those who came before her, she grasped the fierce urgency of now. This is not patience, but it is deep and full with love.
Rewrite #2: Love is not always patient. Acting on injustice requires us to be in the “fierce urgency of now.”
If Corinthians implores us, then, that “Love is patient” is there ever a time when this is so? It happens in small moments when I take a breath, bend down to tie my boy’s shoes, place my hands on his cheeks, my forehead against his forehead, and remind myself, “This moment, Holly. This one right here.”
It happens in communities when a son or daughter dies from blood loss or loses hope in living and those left hold each other engulfed in despair and grief when all they want is to bottle the last breaths of their beloved. This kind of love is patient. And patience is required of us every time we lace up our boots when we least want to but do it anyway and get back to the work of being human. If the Cosmos is another name for God and God is Love and Love is patient, then there is room inside of all that is vast for messy humanity. There are definitely moments of impatience inside the ginormous container of love, and other moments when an act of love is driven by urgency. I need to work on patience in the small moments, but in the large moments that drive the arc of human history toward justice, maybe a little impatience moves the needle. In the 14 billion years of this universe’s existence, it would take 9.5 billion more years for the earth to form, and still 9,499,800,000 more for modern humans to evolve. That’s a really long time for love to reveal itself in the form of a conscious being. So yes, I can buy it. That Love is patient. I think it’s waiting on us to actually live into love.