"Officiate"—such a strange word. What does it mean? To make something "official" sounds very hollow for occasions such as weddings and funerals, don't you think?
Of course, there are other words sometimes used for these occasions. We "perform," "conduct," and "do" weddings and funerals. But think about that. Those are the two occasions in life when love is most felt, shared, expressed, enjoyed, grieved, remembered, and hoped for.
In the two occasions where I was recently asked to "officiate," I knew the parties very well, shared memories and hopes, and felt the love which was palpable and permeating—filling the families and friends, the important persons who deliver the flowers, make sure the lights and microphones work, and—yes—dig the hole where the deceased may be "laid to rest," as we euphemistically cover the horrors of saying good-by to a loved one with words that somehow are supposed to comfort all of the witnesses who know that any one of us may be the next to be "laid to rest" in the cold ground or ushered through the fires of cremation before our remaining ashes are spread by the wind.
But stay with me here. This is not a soliloquy of mourning or even a remembrance of the happy times when unions in marriage celebrate the ecstasy of love. Rather, I offer an observation that love is most honored when it is recognized as the very boundary of our existence in which we come to be—to be a person, an actor on the stage of life in which love is the primary theme of our being, without which there is no meaning to our brief existence. Love is indeed the beginning and the end, but also the in-between that fills not only our personal lives but the lives of others, the lives of our dependent creatures, and the dark shadows of night with the triumphant declaration of a Presence made meaningful by love. Herein is the ontology of love.
St. Paul dove into an understanding of love when he wrote a letter to the small group of Christians in Corinth around the middle of the first century, CE. In that marvelous chapter 13 of the epistle, St. Paul reminds his readers of love's reality and importance. He weaves his way through several distractions and disagreements that separated individuals from each other, as they continue today to separate us. It is not Paul's position on any of the points of debate that need to be focused on here in this writing. Rather, it is his profound description of the importance of love because of its very nature.
So what is the nature of love? How might you and I think of it? How might you and I put it in the simplest words that might lead us toward an understanding of love? Let me try.
But before going further, it is of course important to note that we have become accustomed to thinking of the nature of love in its three-fold expressions: philia, eros, agape. Within this frame, generally we understand "philia" as a kind of neighborly love, and hence we come upon the city of Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love," as it was early-on described. Named by William Penn, an English Quaker, Penn considered this city in the new country to represent freedom from tyranny. The city did indeed play an important role as a meeting place for delegates from the thirteen colonies that went on to become the United States. Even with the many squabbles endured by the delegates, the "city of brotherly love" held its reputation as a center for grievances and differences found in a formula that united the differing parties within a restraint, admiration, and tension of brotherly conflict, a relationship of brotherly love.
Then came eros. How difficult it has become to liberate the concept and popular notion of eros from the container of sexual love. The glitter and glamour of sexual desire certainly resides within eros, but eros is much more. Even Carl Jung admitted the difficulty in fully understanding and describing eros. Listen to the anguish with which Jung wrestles the idea toward an understanding with which he can live. Referring to what he describes as "the realm of Eros," Jung acknowledges "the incalculable paradoxes of love." He goes on to acknowledge that Eros is a "kosmogonos, a creator and father-mother of all higher consciousness." And then he goes on to say this:
In my medical experiences as well as my own life I have again and again
been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to describe
what it is. ... Here is the greatest and the smallest, the remotest and
nearest, the highest and lowest, and we cannot declare one side of it
without discussing the other. No language is adequate to this paradox.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 353-354)
So, we may ask, where does this leave us? As I have worked over many years to look within the mystery of love's nature, I have discovered some light in the theological explorations of John Macquarrie, an Anglican priest and theologian. Like all of us who seek to probe the depths of understanding the nature of love, Macquarrie came to my assistance with these words to describe love in the ontological sense as "letting be."
Love is letting-be, not of course in the sense of standing off from someone
or something, but in the positive and active sense of enabling-to-be.
When we talk of "letting-be," we are to understand both parts of this
hyphenated expression in a strong sense—"letting" as empowering, and
"be" as enjoying the maximal range of being that is open to the particular
being concerned. Most typically, "letting-be" means helping a person into
the full realization of ... potentialities for being, and the greatest love
will be costly, since it will be accomplished by the spending of one's own being.
(Principles of Christian Theology, pp. 310-311)
This is the beginning and the end. Such love appears over our grave sites and within the halls where marriage is solemnized. We hold this consciousness with the reverence due the highest peaks of our human experiences and the lowest descents of such suffering as love allows.