As a theology major, I spent a good amount of time this past semester pondering the inadequacy of language when it comes to talking about God. As soon as I say one thing about God, I have to, in a sense, un-say it. God is male, you tell me? Yes, but God is also female. God is powerful, you say? Yes, but God also hangs helpless from a cross, a powerless victim. Sometimes I’m tempted to talk more about what God is not than what God is, for fear of limiting my understanding of her. However, at the end of the day, experiences of mystery always lead me back to saying, positively, who/what/where God is, whether it be in a deep conversation, a song, or the curve of a particular mountaintop.
Love, I find, is much the same. In our culture, we want definitive, straightforward answers. Just as I tend to get fixated on one image of God, so, too, I often find myself limiting love to a particular and narrow definition. I have a tattoo of the word “love,” followed by the musical sign for “repeat.” At first, I thought of this as a command, as a dry mandate that pays no heed to context: “Love: repeat.” As if I could go through life superimposing some lofty, transcendent, and unchanging concept about human interactions onto the dynamic fabric of my life. This caused some major cognitive dissonance for me as soon as I started to critically examine my personal relationships. I fail at loving every day, and at times the law to love my neighbor seems slippery: try as I might, it doesn’t seem to take hold in my life. I’ve begun to realize, however, that love behaves a lot like God. It breaks through the frameworks of any preconceived notions which seek to limit its scope, and, if I am receptive, I find it being made manifest in the most unlikely of places.
I suppose my tattoo is more of an observation, then, than a mandate: “We keep repeating love.” And with each repetition, love looks a little bit different. Yes, love is about taking concrete actions. Love is a choice to which I am called daily. However, love is also something that emerges in the world all around me in manifold form. It does not adhere to the boundaries imposed on it by language, culture, and cliché. In learning to be receptive to the love-breaking-through all around me, I am learning through its example what it means for me to love in the concrete.
I’ve been trying something recently in which, at the end of each day, I give voice to the spaces of love in my life. If I don’t name them, too often they slip away without me noticing them! So I leave you with five places where I have seen love since I headed home for the holidays, and, more importantly, I encourage you to ponder where you’ve seen it – and don’t exclude the most outlandish of places, because often they are the most resplendent with love! So, here are my five, in no particular order:
- Catalonian Carol, performed by my dad’s handbell choir
- Allison’s graduation
- Table fellowship with family over great burgers at a refreshingly local burger joint
- Random acts of charity shown by strangers to an ailing Salvadoran shoemaker
- My willful, independent, three-year-old brother Ben
Anna Robertson is a senior Theology major from Nashville. She is a talented an passionate singer and guitarist, who can often be found playing her own written music. As an active member of the Voices of Solidarity and one of two directors for the upcoming Encounter Retreat, Anna is one of the more heavily involved students at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith & Justice.