The Capacity to Love

I receive the musician Nick Cave’s newsletter The Red Hand Files, where he responds to letters. One correspondent wants to know about love, another wants to know how to avoid a broken heart, and Cave addresses their questions in tandem. In Issue #177, he writes:

The surest way to avoid a broken heart is to love nothing and no-one — not your partner, your child, your mother or father, your brothers or sisters; not your friends; not your neighbour; not your dog or your cat; not your football team, your garden, your granny or your job. In short, love not the world and love nothing in it. Beware of the things that draw you to love — music, art, literature, cinema, philosophy, nature and religion. Keep your heart narrow, hard, cynical, invulnerable, impenetrable, and shun small acts of kindness; be not merciful, forgiving, generous or charitable — these acts expand the heart and make you susceptible to love — because as Neil Young so plainly and painfully sings, ‘Only love can break your heart.’ In short, resist love, because real love, big love, true love, fierce love, is a perilous thing, and travels surely towards its devastation. A broken heart — that grief of love — is always love’s true destination. This is the covenant of love.

[T]o resist love and inoculate yourself against heartbreak is to reject life itself, for to love is your primary human function. It is your duty to love in whatever way you can, and to move boldly into that love — deeply, dangerously and recklessly — and restore the world with your awe and wonder. This world is in urgent need — desperate, crucial need — and is crying out for love, your love. It cannot survive without it.

To love the world is a participatory and reciprocal action — for what you give to the world, the world returns to you, many fold, and you will live days of love that will make your head spin, that you will treasure for all time. You will discover that love, radical love, is a kind of supercharged aliveness, and all that is of true value in the world is animated by it. And, yes, heartache awaits love’s end, but you find in time that this too is a gift — this little death — from which you are reborn, time and again. I have only one piece of advice for you both, and it is the very best that I can give. Love. The world is waiting.

The first portion is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, who wrote:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Love makes alive. Christian people believe love is the animating force of the universe. It is the generative self-giving virtuous energy that binds together God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the dynamic overflow of this personal, eternal dance of relationship which gave birth to the creation. We’re made to love because we were made by love. And, with our loves having been corrupted by the fall, our wrongly directed loves must be redirected by a more powerful, more beautiful, and more deeply truthful love. We have been redeemed by love and we are drawn and destined by love, the God who is love.

I recently heard the artist and filmmaker David Lynch say, “Negativity is the enemy of creativity.” Love, on the other hand, is creativity’s great friend. Acts of love are creative acts. Love brings forth life, not only in us, but in others.

Nick Cave writes that the world needs love, and that the world needs the love of each unique person, even with all the risks that entails. W. H. Auden wrote, “We must love one another or die.” But why is that the world’s need? And from whence do we receive this capacity for love?

The world needs love because it is the world God has made. The world also needs love because it is broken. Our capacity for love comes from God, who not only loves us, but works through us to flood forth the healing, binding and restorative power that is love.

We tap into this capacity when we see with clear eyes the degree to which we are loved, evidenced most fully in the work of Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. Love incarnate, love embodied, love given sacrificially, and love raised up to reign forever. That love, the love of Christ claims us, changes us, and commissions us. We’re made for love, to love, by love, to give love.