Editor's note:

As students of Jesus we are invited into a deep study of life with the Master of Life as our teacher. We can be at ease as we delve deeply into topics concerning all the most important questions of life. What else would be worth paying most attention to other than that of love? Our approach to the study of love should be one of curiosity, intellectual rigor and openness. Take your time to prayerfully consider the ideas concerning love in order to embody them in your daily living.

—Ville Kavilo

Excerpt from The Four Loves

God is love. Again, “Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us” (I John 4:10). We must not begin with mysticism, with the creature’s love for God, or with the wonderful foretastes of the fruition of God vouchsafed to some in their earthly life. We begin at the real beginning, with love as the Divine energy. This Primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give. 

The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it we can hardly avoid the conception of what I can only call a “managerial” God; a Being whose function or nature is to “run” the universe, who stands to it as a headmaster to a school or a hotelier to a hotel. But to be sovereign of the universe is no great matter to God. In Himself, at home in “the land of the Trinity”, he is Sovereign of a far greater realm. We must keep always before our eyes that vision of Lady Julian’s in which God carried in His hand a little object like a nut, and that nut was “all that is made”. 

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the medial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

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For the dream of finding our end, the thing we were made for, in a Heaven of purely human love could not be true unless our whole Faith were wrong. We were made for God. Only by being in some respect like Him, only by being a manifestation of His beauty, lovingkindness, wisdom or goodness, has any earthly Beloved excited our love. It is not that we have loved them too much, but that we did not quite understand what we were loving. It is not that we shall be asked to turn from them, so dearly familiar, to a Stranger. When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His. 

In Heaven there will be no anguish and no duty of turning away from our earthly Beloveds. First, because we shall have turned already; from the portraits to the Original, from the rivulets to the Fountain, from the creatures He made lovable to Love Himself. But secondly, because we shall find them all in Him. By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we now do. But all that is far away in “the land of the Trinity”, not here in exile, in the weeping valley. Down here it is all loss and renunciation. The very purpose of the Bereavement (so far as it affects ourselves) may have been to force this upon us. 

We are then compelled to try to believe, what we cannot yet feel, that God is our true Beloved. That is why bereavement is in some ways easier for the unbeliever than for us. He can storm and rage and shake his fist at the universe, and (if he is a genius) write poems like Housman’s or Hardy’s. But we, at our lowest ebb, when the least effort seems too much for us, must begin to attempt what seem impossibilities. “Is it easy to love God?” asks an old author. “It is easy,” he replies, “to those who do it” I have included two Graces under the word Charity. But God can give a third. He can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural Appreciative Love. This is of all gifts the most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true center of all human and angelic life. With this all things are possible. And with this, where a better book would begin, mine must end. I dare not proceed. God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love. 

Perhaps I have only imagined the tasting. Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there. And if I have only imagined it, is it a further delusion that even the imagining has at some moments made all other objects of desire - yes, even peace, even to have no more fears - look like broken toys and faded flowers? Perhaps. 

Perhaps, for many of us, all experience merely defines, so to speak, the shape of that gap where our love of God ought to be. It is not enough. It is something. If we cannot “practice the presence of God”, it is something to practice the absence of God, to become increasingly aware of our unawareness till we feel like men who should stand beside a great cataract and hear no noise, or like a man in a story who looks in a mirror and finds no face there; or a man in a dream who stretches out his hand to visible objects and gets no sensation of touch. To know that one is dreaming is to be no longer perfectly asleep. But for news of the fully waking world you must go to my betters.

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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Excerpt taken from The Four Loves: An Exploration of the Nature of Love (Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, 1971).