Love in Inconstant Times

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

(Shakespeare, Sonnet CXVI)

The young love to fall in love in spring. It’s not hard to understand why. One hundred million tons of sap leap into the air, erupting into leaves and flowers. Pulses quicken, sleepers awake. There is an ozone in the atmosphere, like the afterburn of lightning, the smell of resurrections.Empty Table, Autumn Leaves The intoxicating madness of it all masks the madness of falling in love. It is a seasonal form of Dutch courage, a pull from the whiskey flask before barrelling out of the trenches and into the discriminating exposure of bullets. Spring is when Kings march out to War. Spring is when the froth in his blood just might make a young man risk a blushing rebuff to hear himself say the words, “So…
Or reach across the acres of armrest in a darkend theatre, the outstretched finger of faith, to discover a hand that says ‘yes’. And in that touch, in that minutest square millimetre of epidermis, to discover one hundred million tons of sap rushing, leaves and flowers leaping, suns dying and rising, a hail of bullets and a surgeons knife. And he sits there in the dark with his barest fingerhold on love, and shakes and shakes and forgets to breathe.

Summer is for camping out, for savouring love, watching its colours turn to deep and green, while the land and air rock and uphold you. Summer is full of the self-forgetfulness upon which love thrives.

Later, when the air is hard-edged and the truth is plain, in Winter, we put the games away because we have less need for fun, and more joy of each other. We carry each other’s love around with us: your smell in my scarf, your embrace in the heaviness of my coat, your hand in my pocket. I grow old every winter. We bed the fire down in its hearth and sit by and doze.

But how do we love in Autumn?
It’s my favourite, but the most difficult of seasons. It’s the season least conducive to love. With a great sigh, the leaves relinquish their last hold and fall. Their breath swirls through the streets, early with darkness. Those who can hear surprise themselves weeping. And a man’s thoughts turn to doubting. It’s an acquired taste I suppose.
How do we love in Autumn?
With constancy. In the season of swirling, lovers hold themselves steady. Constancy is a form of attention that resists the autumnal impulse toward introspection by turning our gaze outward onto another. In a loving constancy, we pledge ourselves to a fundamental steadiness in this relationship: to constancy in pursuit (not trying to win a woman’s heart one week and being cold to her the next); to constancy in forgiveness (when a bloke blows hot and cold to you); to constancy of seeking good (not conditional on how you’re feeling or how it is received); to constancy of receiving good (not placing conditions on how we respond to each other, weighing past rights and wrongs before delighting in a renewed attention).

What is the first positive assertion Paul ventures about love in 1 Cor 13?
“Love is patient.”
And what is the last?
“Love never ends.”

Constancy is the very essence of bravery, it makes soldiers into heroes, sinners into martyrs, and ordinary self-absorbed, crummy men and women into lovers.

But I think you can only really be constant in love when you know at the core of your being that what matters most about you is safe. You can’t be constant in love when you are constantly worried about protecting yourself from being hurt by lovers. However, the answer isn’t reckless self-disregard: martyrs aren’t suicides. Rather, they confess to us, along with the Apostle Paul, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3 NIV). The real you, the one part you can’t afford to lose, is permanently and constantly safe. Whatever you might risk in love, you are not risking that. Whatever regard, or lack thereof, in which you are held; whatever heart-wrenching part of you might be broken when she loves you for a while but turns away; even if it breaks you so completely that it touches all your ability to ever love again – and that could happen – you are safe.

Christians are like most people in the world in that we aren’t really sure Who We Are (in the biggest sense of that question). But Christians are completely unlike other people in trusting that someone else does. Even if I become completely demented and my sense of self is utterly lost to me and others, I believe in Jesus. I believe that he remembers me, that he knows my true name. And when he speaks my name, I will remember myself. Perfect love drives out fear. “We love because He first loved us.” (1John 4:19 HCSB)

One more thing: constancy always needs honesty. Honesty gives constancy its value. Love without truth is always morally questionable. It’s the difference between forgiveness and indulgence. The constancy of God’s love for us is not that he ignored our sins, but that he forgave them. Forgiveness combines constancy-in-love with clear eyed honesty. Without the honesty, God’s love for us would always be morally questionable, or open to the suspicion that one day he might get sick of the lies and stop loving.
I think its the same for us. If constancy in love isn’t accompanied by truthfulness about our pains and delights, we will always be under suspicion that our love is just a sophisticated tolerance, or masochism, or an abuse of the other by preventing their change and growth toward the good. Constancy without honesty always leaves us doubting: if the truth were spoken would we still love the same?
And if we are to be good lovers in an Autumn season, there must be no room for doubts.

For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully,
as I am fully known.
Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

(1Corinthians 13:12–13 HCSB)


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