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Reflections on Love

Love: Besides Being What We Long For, Is It the Only Viable Strategy We Have Left?

As we take time today to celebrate the ways we have known love in our lives, it seemed appropriate to reflect on some of the qualities of love. I chose to highlight four: love’s transforming energy, love as the context for our journey toward human authenticity, love as a source of profound joy, love as a source of illumination and courage. This blog entry is derived from excerpts from my new book, The Tenderness of God: Reclaiming Our Humanity.

Love is far more than a feeling. It is an energy that reaches us at all levels—our affect and heart, our intellect and mind, our bodies and our souls. Further, it is a source of vitality; it is a transforming power. Perhaps because of its very power to change us, we both long for it and, at times, fear it. What is clear is that we will never tame love’s power, nor fathom all of its mysteries. To me, this suggests that our primary task, as humans, is to learn love, thoroughly and completely, as we create communities of growth, care and mutual belonging.

Love requires honesty. It is a journey toward human authenticity that we share with others. When we recognize our desire for greater meaning, coherence, and purpose in our lives, then, for the very sake of our own well-being, we must engage a genuine process of searching, a journey that leads us to probe what it means to be human and how to be related to others. When we begin to speak more honestly about our longings for fullness of life, we often come to find out that we are not alone in them. (Tenderness of God, pp. 1-2)

Love is a source of profound joy, capable of awakening us to deeper ways of being ourselves. As Henri Nouwen wrote decades ago, “The joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well.” (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, p, 90) Both love and joy are phenomena that pull us out of the smallness of the self and invite us to share ourselves, to connect with others, and to expand our personhood. As we choose this new and “wonderfully complicated” way of being, we come to know the power of tenderness and, as Pope Francis as said, “we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.” (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, par. 270)

Love illumines; it forges paths and lights the way forward. “Solving our problems requires us to grow beyond the smallnesses of character and vision that plague us, uncovering together a solidarity that dignifies and creates possibilities that, individually, we are unable to create. If love is, in the end, “the only light which ‘can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working,’” (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, paragraph 272) we shall need to allow and enable love to give us the new human intelligence that our species currently requires. For love is not just a transforming power. It is the only viable strategy we have left.” (Tenderness of God, pp. 70-71)

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About the author
Gillian Ahlgren
Dr. Ahlgren has been teaching the Christian mystical tradition to college-age students, graduate students, and adult learners for over 26 years. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of the tradition, an experienced spiritual director, and engages a regular practice of contemplative prayer. A popular teacher, public speaker and writer, she also gives several retreats per year. She is the Founding Director of Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice.