Weak love

Photo via Creative Commons

Photo via Creative Commons

Fear mostly seems stronger than love in my mind. Fear is a tangible thing – a quickening heartbeat, a shortness of breath, sweaty palms and heat in my face. It strikes at small things like a fast-moving spider across the room or a sudden loud noise. It can be a deep ache as I consider a future alone or the outcome of a friend’s bad situation. It can loom like a cloud when thinking about the state of the planet and how far we have to go to end inequality, poverty, and war in the world.

Love, on the other hand, feels like a tepid, weak thing. In a lot of Christian circles, basic kindness and choosing not to be an ass is a huge feat of love. For some it’s equated with a general mix of lust and sentiment. For others it can be measured in acts of service done despite oneself, the sacrifice itself causing the act to fall into the “love” category. But these definitions have always seemed pale to me.

Yet we are told throughout the Christian story that love is a power unto itself, that it can change the world and, even more impressive, can soften a hard heart. At its height, love was crucified for love’s sake, which means loving people will often involve pain and suffering. It has the power to hurt, which ends up feeling a lot more like fear.

When I was a kid my absolute favorite movie was Legend. It’s a story of good and evil, fairies and demons and humans working with and against each other to determine the fate of the world. At the center of the story is a pair of unicorns, and let me tell you my little five-year old heart could have exploded with wonder and joy every time unicorns were present in any story. The unicorns are the source of light and purity and love in the world. The male unicorn is incapacitated to the verge of death by a crew of goblins. Their orders are to kill both unicorns thus ushering in an eternal darkness over the world, but complications ensue and they believe that killing the male (being the “stronger” of the two) is sufficient. At hearing their reasoning, their master bellows out that they couldn’t be more wrong as the female carries within her the very power of life. Our protagonists’ job is clearly to save the unicorns before an endless dark winter shrouds them all. Our heroine begins to be overtaken by a form of this darkness, and is freed by the power and the beauty of the unicorn. Of course, today we are all healthy and fine and the sun is still rising, so our heroes clearly win the day and reunite the unicorns. All is well in the world of elves and men.

When Passenger wrote, “Love is the last unicorn” in his song “Coins in a Fountain” I don’t think he had Legend in mind. But my inner five-year old, watching a last unicorn fight to keep pure, strong love alive and defend a world that doesn’t deserve them, knows that is exactly what love is about. It’s about fierceness and tenacity, an unwillingness to let darkness win even one heart. Thirty years later, I know that love isn’t either an emotion or action. I know that it’s the emotion that drives action, and actions that crack open the hard places in our hearts to allow the emotion to flow. I know that love did die, and come back to life again, and invites us to not only die with him but to experience new life through love in him. I know that love should never strip a person of their worth, their humanity, their dignity even if it does cost everything else. I still don’t know how to live out this reality all the time, how to maintain boundaries and healthy expectations while bearing all things in love, how to be wise in dealing with broken people while believing all things for the sake of love. But I do believe that love never fails, just as the last unicorn didn’t fail. I suppose that’s because love hopes all things, and love without hope is a shell of a thing. Love that hopes, though, that’s a love with teeth. With power. That’s a love that feels tangibly stronger than any fear.

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