Tuesday, September 01, 2009
A peculiar development occurred in the medieval age regarding love. Behind closed doors and in the rush of brief encounters, there developed what has been called “courtly love” or “romantic love.” Married men found themselves emotionally carried away with either another married woman or a single woman. This courtly love, so we are told, remained at the emotional and non-physical level.That is a powerful illustration of much of what is wrong in the church and in the greater Christian community. We tease, we flirt with Jesus, but we do not want to actually live with Him.
The interpretation of many is that the Lover, because of the emotion it generated, preferred the nearly intolerable absence of the Beloved over the presence of the Beloved. The Lover preferred the titillation of fantasy over the toughness of fidelity. The essence of courtly love was to become intoxicated with love, to fall in love with love. It was to prefer the fire of love over the Beloved and delight in the experience of love over the presence of the Beloved. Think Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps even Romeo and Juliet.
Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.
Such is the nature of our sinful state. What bothers me, endlessly, is how willing the church is to pander to this tendency rather than work to solution. As I understand things, one of the major purposes of the church, of our coming together as Christians, is so that the institution we create can serve to remind us of such things when our own sin permits us to fail to do so.
But now it seems like all we do is build "flirty" institutions. Of course, is that surprising when the divorce rate in the church is the same as that out of the church and both are way too high indeed? Which brings up another issue - as we seek to reach to pop culture by adopting its forms, do we adopt its mores as well?
So, what can be done? The same thing that good critics of courtly love, like C.S. Lewis, did about that distortion of love. Love, proper love—the love of God and, by extension, the love of others that both Moses and Jesus reveal—is to focus on God as the Sole Beloved worthy of our entire heart. Eros, Lewis argued in The Four Loves, wants to be a god, wants to be an idol. Eros left to itself, will not lead us to Charity. Eros needs to be tamed by Charity. When Eros is tamed by Charity, what happens?I am pessimistic today. Are we capable of that?
Charity always leads us to the Beloved. Charity skips over the intoxication that comes with the experience of love and leads us straight to the face of the Beloved—Father, Son, Spirit. Those who know the Beloved and desire nothing but the glory of that Beloved may well know the experience, but they are so enthralled with the Face of the Beloved they forget where they are and dwell in the presence of God with but one thought: God deserves praise, God is worthy of praise.
Well, God is - and therein lies my hope.