“Push come to shove/ It’s all about love/ Or so it would seem in the great to and fro” of life and experience as Bruce Cockburn puts it in his 2023 album, “O Sun O Moon.” As he says, “The list is long - as I recall/ Our orders said to love them all,” referring to all manner of states and conditions of our humanity. We have in Chapel wrestled with the interrelated concepts of the love of God and the love of one another and with the overarching idea that God is love. This week at KES is ‘Spirit Week.’ It has been a tradition to have Paul’s great hymn to love (1 Cor. 13.1-13) read at the Chapel services that week.
It is quite a paean of praise to love and one which complements in intriguing ways Plato’s great dialogue on love, The Symposium, especially the mysteries of Diotima. She is a woman philosopher (fictional) who has taught Socrates, he says, all that he knows about eros or love as the passionate desire to know the Good and the Beautiful. She leads us up the ladder of love from lower forms to the transcendent Form of the Beautiful itself, transcending binaries but without negating them.
Somewhat like Paul’s hymn in 1st Corinthians, Plato’s dialogue turns on the matter of love not as an object but as an activity, emphasizing the lover and not the object of love, the beloved. For Paul, love or charity is an active and dynamic principle that seeks our good. The love he celebrates is the love of God, God’s love active in us perfecting our loves.
Candlemas - last Friday - marked the transition from the Christmas cycle of feasts to the Easter sequence, a transition from light overcoming darkness to life triumphing over death. Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. It is at once about a journey into light and understanding that belongs to life. But the radical meaning of that light by which we see light and find life is love. Life, light and love. Lent is the pilgrimage of love, of our growing into an understanding of the mystery of the divine love made visible to us in the Passion of Christ. We see “in a glass darkly,” knowing in part, as Paul puts it, but “putting away childish things,” we seek to know even as we are known in the love of God. “Charity never faileth” because it is of God.
There are our human loves, our longing for this and that, for one thing after another after another after another. Human desire is essentially tragic, a bad infinity (schlechte unendlichkeit with apologies to Hegel). What redeems our loves in disarray is the divine gift of love which Paul highlights. It is the love which gives of itself, the love which suffers long and is kind, which does not envy what others have, which does not boast and get puffed up in self-importance, which does not act with impropriety and rudeness, which does not seek its own interests, which is not easily provoked, which thinks no evil, which rejoices not in evil but in the truth, and which bears all things, believes all things, hopes for all things, endures all things for love or “charity never faileth.”
It is quite a list of complementary qualities. They belong to the journey of our souls into the understanding of the mystery of divine love in the passion of Christ. That is the love which triumphs over sin and death, over darkness and evil.
As such Paul’s hymn to love, which references charity or love more than twenty times in thirteen verses, belongs to the pilgrimage of education, to our learning and growing up in wisdom and understanding. It is very much the way of love, the love of learning and of service. It speaks to the very best of our humanity, to what ennobles and dignifies, and which compels us into sacrifice and service. Lent is about our undertaking the pilgrimage of sacrificial love signaled most clearly in Christ’s Passion.
I spoke in Chapel about the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris which suffered extensive damage from a fire in early 2019 (pre-Covid!). A global icon and symbol of so many of the aspirations and hopes of our humanity, its destruction was a catastrophic event but was followed by the strong desire and commitment to rebuild. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, vowed that it would be restored in five years, a seemingly inconceivable goal. But, mirabile dictu, as of late January the spire has been restored. It was restored by drawing upon the skills of French artisans who worked on the great beams of new oak with the kinds of tools used in the 12th and 13th centuries. And in the clean-up of the interior, the original stone, which had darkened over almost nine hundred years has been restored to its lighter colour. The whole project is an astounding testament to the spirit of love. It is also a powerful reminder about how ideas matter. The idea here is about the metaphysics of light. Gothic architecture is the idea of matter becoming light. It is a testament to the power of ideas that then take flesh, even as embodied in stone.
Our School Chapel is itself “a beauteous little Gothic chapel,” as Robert Darwin Crouse noted in his Ode to Hensley Memorial Chapel. He references the spirit that enables the building of such edifices which by their very being, purpose, and use teach and inspire. In such places of deliberate sanctity, there is the possibility that “the human soul” might begin to understand “the labour of both architects who worked/to plan this very wond’rous work of art, and those who make his plans reality,” even as the artisans of Notre-Dame de Paris both past and present have done. A testament to love and the power of love, the love that “never faileth.” “Push come to shove/ It’s all about love.”
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, English & ToK teacher
Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy