Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Love as a Decision of Fundamental Orientation

"Beloved, let us love one another," (1 John 4:7). The command to love God and one's neighbor as one's own self is at the very core of Jesus' teachings and his actions. It indicates that love involves a very particular decision regarding one's fundamental orientation to life and others. This must be the case because something can only be exhorted or commanded insofar as one can muster and mobilize the will to carry out the command. In a culture where love is reduced to a mere emotion or romanticized to the point of being devoid of real substance, it is valuable to examine from time to time how love also involves decision and fundamental orientation.

Love as a "fundamental orientation" means that a person chooses to look at the world in all of it's ambiguity, uncertainty, complexity, glory, and yes, it's capacity to harm, injure, and even kill, with a certain reverential regard and underlying belief that, perhaps even against the greatest of odds, goodness and beauty is somehow mysteriously woven through it all (or holds it all together). This fundamental orientation to believe in love is a decision that, while mindful of the empirical evidence that life offers, also chooses to view the empirical through the ultimate "court of appeals" of the spiritual. In other words, rather than taking the evidence at "face value" and stopping there (the empirical viewpoint), the person who makes a fundamental orientation to believe in love ponders the raw material of an event more deeply and either derives, or fashions, meaning and significance from the event. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz and famous therapist, constructed an entire school of therapy based largely on his experience of how the fundamental orientation to love enabled many to endure the horrors experienced there.

In his classic book, Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl writes, "The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in a positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way - an honorable way - in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment." What helped Viktor Frankl endure the "empirical evidence" of the horrors of Auschwitz was the thought, image, and contemplation of his beloved wife. It was this fundamental, and spiritual, orientation to love that essentially kept him alive and even helped him to find meaning in the midst of what many found to be utterly and horrifically meaningless. It would seem that with regard to fulfilling the command to love, before we can act out of love, it must be something that we have long since decided for. Pat, TOR