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It seems that love holds a special key to our spiritual journey in life. It is easy to see its absence in the exploitation and violence meted out in our world daily. Battered shelters are filled with damaged and broken children and spouses whose relationships have turned ugly. They have seen love turned to control, menace and the destructive lash of another. Rehabilitation centers are filled with individuals who pour into their existences toxic elements to replace the void of love. Homosexuals dangle from their nooses in a declaration to rejection and pitiful hatred. Immigrants cower in fear of the authority of power and the verbal stigma of being defined as illegal. African Americans find an economic depression in the midst of other’s recessions because they lack access to equal opportunities. Love finds itself lost in a labyrinth of power, violence and repression legitimized by the status quo. Love is an answer to these challenges, but not the only one. Love represents both the simple and complicated ascension to the reconciliation of brokenness in this world.
Let’s be clear though, love is not the sum total of everything that makes up the spiritual life. There are many other spiritual gifts and spiritual motives like joy, peace, justice, mercy, kindness, wisdom and gentleness. Love is considered the height of virtue, but it is not all virtue. Yet, it would be impossible to think of any of these necessary values of the spiritual life without charity at their core. Without love they become like clanging cymbals.
As a virtue love appears to pervade all aspects of the other gifts of the Spirit, but does so as an impetus and not their complete definitions. We are impelled to show mercy in our relationships with others because of a burning conviction of love. Still, love is not mercy itself, mercy stands alone as something practiced in the context of one who loves neighbor and self.
We are shown the great example of love compelling mercy through the divine. God loves the world so much that the creator sends the only begotten Son into the world because God is unwilling that any should perish and all have life eternal. God shows love through his merciful interjection into our existences by affirming humanity through Christ himself. Love for humanity compels the divine to show mercy. This not only saves the perishing to life but allows humanity to participate wholly in the eternal.
In the same way we see Christ using the example of love as an impelling force toward his hope for his disciples. It is his loving relationship with Abba that gives him hope that disciples of his way might through this same love find unity with each other.
In these two incidents love becomes the ignition to mercy, hope and unity. Yet, it is hard to accept that any of these spiritual values would could be initiated independently without love. Without love they become orders of duty in a lifeless religion. They become merely a code of ethics without a change of heart. Love is at the center of faith that has a law that is transformed from paper and stone to the heart.
Even though we do not find love to be the end of all gifts of the Spirit we find it beginning and permeating those gifts so thoroughly that for them to be life giving they must contain the essence of it’s forceful presence. This means love is the height of spirituality with only life itself super ceding it. Love may not be our ultimate outcome, but it finds its presence springing from all life giving spirituality.
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