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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Love it to Death: The Beauty of Love

Have you ever watched a mother comforting her child and seen it as immensely beautiful?  Or a child hugging her father and telling him that she loves him?  Perhaps a widow kissing a photo of her dead husband?  Have you seen a couple holding hands and smiled because their love for one another was palpable?  A soldier standing watch over his platoon?  An older brother defending his younger brother from bullies?  A granddaughter who visits her grandfather in the nursing home to laugh and talk with him each week?  A friend who lets another friend stay at her home after their house burned down in a raging fire, treating them like family every day for months?

No museum I've ever been to has art that moved my heart as much as witnessing these kinds of acts of love.  No performance I've seen has shone with as much beauty as the human heart shines with the most beautiful love while performing acts of loving service.  No "super models" who are plastered on the cover of magazines have ever even come close to entrancing me so deeply as entering into love itself in the daily life of many people.  In my experience, there is nothing more beautiful than love.

We know intuitively that beauty is inherently connected with love.  We can see it in the way we decorate our homes, the extravagance of our love filling the space where our loved ones dwell with beauty in the form of art on the walls, well-made furniture, vibrant plants, portraits or photographs on the shelves and tables, and flowers in a vase.  We can see it in how we give them gifts wrapped in paper with lovely patterns on it.  We can see it in how we adorn those we love in precious jewelry, purchase delightful perfumes for them, and give them the best clothes we can afford.

This is part of the beauty of love, that we choose to surround those we love with as much beauty as we can provide for them.  So it is with building a beautiful church for the one we love above all, the one who loved us unto death.  We decorate His house with art on the walls and the ceilings, furnish it with well-crafted chairs and pews, brighten it with vibrant plants, and place portraits of the Icons of Love on the shelves and tables.  We present the gifts in the most precious metals of silver and gold, adorn His Word in the best binding we can afford, and fill His house with the finest fragrance of frankincense.

We give Him the greatest treasures of worldly beauty we can afford.  This we do for our beloved Christ, our God who gives us all, including the freedom to lose it all, and then gives us His all once more after we lose it.  Giving Him all the best we have is not solely an act of love for His sake, but also an act of love for all.  All can walk in the midst of the most wondrous beauty which fills His house, the house built with love for the one who is Love, each part of the building of the church a beautiful act of love, the beauty of love shining in every inch of the beauty made for Love Himself.

All can witness the immense beauty of love in the church made with love.  Each person who prays with love in the house of the Lord shows us the beauty of love.  Each person who kisses the cross with love shows us the beauty of love.  Each person who struggles to walk in on aching knees, kneels with aching back held straight, and sits with an aching heart full of love shows us the beauty of love.  Each person who sacrifices for the sake of going forth to the house of Love to give back in love all that Love has given to them shows us the true beauty of love.

With each gift of the beautiful to the One we love and the ones we love, we fill the world with a bit more love and beauty.  We are called to fill this world to overflowing with the beauty of our love, shining forth as an icon of Love's beautiful heavenly home.  We are called to make our lives and the lives of others more beautiful by our acts of love, showing to all the beauty of love in each moment of each day.

We are called to love to death all those parts of us which do not reflect the divine radiance of the King who is the fulfillment of all that is true, good, and beautiful, thus burning away in the fires of love those parts of us which do not shine forth with the heavenly Beauty of Love.

By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42184402

Note: The above is a picture of the Church of the Society of Jesus in Ecuador.


  1. To find love that is unmixed with self-serving motives is a wonderful thing. In our society, even to make the call for love beyond self is to be seen as judgmental and harsh. So often the standard we set for ourselves and our loved ones is much too low: "I just want to be happy," or "I just want my kids to be happy." The problem is not with happiness itself--in fact, I would argue that the main thing that God wants us our ultimate happiness in the long-run (which can only be found in Him, and usually involves some pain in the short-term). Rather, the problem is that happiness is a purely subjective measure. As such, it is highly variable and not a good indicator of the objective goodness or badness of a situation. In fact, I can think of some examples of people who are fairly happy and are doing very evil things: For example, the suicide bomber right before he kills dozens of innocent people, or the child molestor when he has finally seduced his victim into a secluded place.

    Obviously, anyone with a moral compass would prefer for his/her children a life of suffering as an upright person as opposed to a life of pleasure gained through hurting others. We see the importance of the objective standard very easily when the situation is so extreme, but we rationalize acts of selfishness for the sake of happiness when the negative consequences are farther off. For example, modern secular ethics here in the West place great important on consent as a criterion for determining if a decision involving two parties is right or wrong. Now, I agree that consent is a good starting point for ethics, but it is not the end-all. Most of us have known families in which grown men and women will consent to live together even though they are beating the tar out of each other, or even though just one of them is beating the tar out of the other. In this case, consent does not magically make the violence okay, especially not when children are in close proximity. Having worked with children quite a bit over the years, I have seen the effects that the consenting acts of adults (even those that are apparently benign) can have on their children. Having such a low ethical standard (invoking only consent and legality) can result in a tyranny of low expectations.

    Love holds us to a hard standard, but it is one that is worth having.