He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Love it to Death: The Ascension of Love

Anyone who has ever been in love can tell of the feeling of soaring above all the drudgery of life on the wings of an almost-complete absorption in the life of her beloved.  She can tell of how delightful it was to go home to see her beloved, how the smallest things which the world sees as low, like cooking dinner, become a part of the scenic walk on the heights of love when done for the sake of her beloved.  Oh, how she can sing of the beauty of love while traversing the heights!

She can also tell us all of how a kiss from her beloved or a touch from his hand kept her on the heights of love, floating blissfully in his arms.  And he can tell us all of how merely holding her lifted him up, the weight of his troubles growing light as he gladly fell with the gravity of his love for her, falling upward onto the heights of love.  He can tell us of the joy he felt working many hours to bring her one moment of truest happiness as he slipped a ring of betrothal onto her finger, of how his soul was born up on the wings of love when she said, "I love you."

And he can also tell us of the depths of despair when she said, "I'm leaving you."  He can tell us of how he stared, dumbfounded, as she left him, his heart suddenly dropping out of the sky and shattering on the hard ground below.  He can, though haltingly, with his voice catching, tell us of the achingly long hours spent waiting and the moment of realization that she was not coming back to him, the moment he was forced to choose between a crippling despair and a hope which kept him walking on.

Though she is gone, he has been shaped by her love and must seek love yet again, pouring out his heart with love for others because he is now a man who gives his all for love.  Though she is gone, his heart has grown so that it can hold far more love than ever before, and he still holds great love for her and for all.  Though she is gone, he still gazes upon her image on his wall and pulls it from his pocket to smile upon her likeness.

Just as he must choose between despair and hope when his beloved left him bereft of her human form, so too must we choose between despair and hope when Love Himself leaves us without His human form.  Though Love has ascended to the heights of Love itself which we call the Kingdom of Heaven, we still gaze upon the image of Love in the form of the crucifix we pull from our pockets which hangs from the beginning and end of the Holy Rosary.

We still gaze upon the Icons of Love hanging on our walls, longing just as the Apostles did for the return of the human form of Love.  We smile as we look at His image, for we know that we look upon the image of the one who loved us even unto death, the one for whom we must die to all sin which separates us from Love.  We must love unto death all that separates us from His divine love so that we too can ascend to the heights of Love.

The heights of Love itself are as far above the heights of our love as the heights of our love are above the empty depths of indifference, the indifference which quietly drags us ever downward and drowns us in our own selfish desires and fears.  Though the hell of our selfishness and fearfulness is powerful, we know well that the heights of our human love can launch us out of their depths and back onto the heights.  By the power of indifference we descend away from love, and by love's power we ascend once again to the heavenly heights.

This human love will take us high indeed as we leave the darkest depths of fear and selfishness, but we need not settle for the heights of human love.  In His love for us, Love Himself has shown us by His glorious ascension that the way to the heights of divine love is now open to those of us who aspire to reach them.

Just as He died bearing the weight of all sin on the cross, rising from the grave and ascending to the heights of Heaven, so too we can die to our sins by taking up our cross so that we can rise from the grave and ascend when Love Himself returns to take us up onto the heights of Love.  His death was a gift to us, the gift which was given so that we could ascend with Him.

By the ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven, we are called to make our way up the mount of execution on which are sins are killed and find the very summit of Love.  We are called by His Ascension to abandon the path of crippling despair and hope in Love as we walk the via dolorosa, following in His footsteps.  By the Ascension of Love, we are called to love to death all that weighs us down with the selfishness and fear which keeps us from the heights of love.

The Ascension of Love shows us the way to the heavenly household of the Father who has in His great mercy adopted us, brothers and sisters of the Way who showed us that the way to Heaven is open to those who would carry the cross they have been asked to bear for Love's sake.

Note:  The above is an icon depicting the Ascension of Jesus Christ.  It can be purchased at orthodoxmonasteryicons.com.  I do not receive any compensation if you purchase an icon from them.  I just happen to know from experience that their icons are wonderful.

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