Paul: Week 2
God Is Humble Enough to Be Anonymous
Monday, March 14, 2016
I think the notion of love has been seriously minimized by today’s popular understanding of love, as we see with Valentine’s Day. This secular holiday reveals a very unsustainable notion of love as romance, infatuation (ignis fatuus, false fire), impassioned sex, sentimental words, romantic gift giving, etc. It eventually creates cynicism and disillusionment because the promise is so high but incomplete. It is never the whole story. When we experience love as different than culture’s portrayal, we wonder what is wrong with us and we try to light the same false fire again and again.
Don’t get me wrong, there is an important place for romance. It can often serve as the great invitation. We need to be led to the gate of the temple to know that there is a temple, but mere romantic infatuation is never the temple itself.  It doesn’t go far enough or deep enough, can never be sustained, and sets us up for a huge letdown. As author Jack Kornfield cleverly titled his book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry! Both Jesus and Paul present a much more enduring, stable, and philosophical notion of love as the very nature of being itself. This love is not at all dependent on changeable feelings.
Paul’s supreme masterpiece of poetry, philosophy, and theology—which is read at most weddings—is, of course, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Paul gets this substantial notion of love, “which alone lasts,” from Jesus who makes it into an actual commandment, in fact the commandment. For both Jesus and Paul, if you don’t live in love, you just don’t live at all. Paul knows that love is the very structure of the universe, and a place where we must learn to rest and abide (John 15:1-5) at all costs. Read 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 slowly and see how Paul treats love as a state of being and an infinite source, from which the entire Christian life can be drawn: “Love is . . .,” “Love does not,” and “Love never comes to an end.” We exist inside of love, and occasionally we realize it and live out of our deepest purpose and identity. Love is not something we do now and then; love is who we are all the time. This is true because we are created “in the image and likeness” (imago et similitudo) of God (Genesis 1:26).
Who is this God? For both Jesus and Paul, God is an Infinite Flow—which we eventually call Trinity. God is much more a verb than a noun. All things exist inside of that Flow, come out from that Flow, and return to that Flow. Only for a while are we allowed to choose to act from within this Flow consciously, freely, and happily; or alternatively, to resist it. The very nature of Being is communion, infinite generosity, and unhindered giving and receiving between three, which then becomes the template for the whole universe, from atoms to galaxies.
It’s not that this Being we call God occasionally decides to love; love is the very nature and shape of God, who cannot not love! The Flow is always and forever in one positive direction. We ourselves are already participating in this love, this divine “dance” (perichoresis) of Being, even when we do not know how to enjoy it or consciously join in the dance. We are still dancing anyway. Divine Life knows and sustains us in our deepest being (Acts 17:28), even when we fail to say thank you. This is the humility and anonymity of God.
The surprising emphasis in Paul’s work is not, therefore, on “saving” isolated individuals here and there, but much more on naming reality truthfully and completely. The individual is caught up in the corporate Flow, and in fact cannot know himself or herself outside of that one corporate Flow. We surrender to this shared heaven. We do not win it or attain it separately.
Gateway to Silence:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. —1 Corinthians 13:7
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction to the 2016 Daily Meditations,” https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/;
and Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Franciscan Media: 2002), disc 9 (CD).