"Perfect" love

We English-speakers "love" so indiscriminately. We "love" our spouses and kids, and the deal we just got at Target. We use the word to cover our desires, our passing fancies and our deepest attachments. Of course we know the difference, even if we can't express it.

But it becomes problematic when we try to embrace a seemingly simple declaration outside of our experience, such as "God is love." Is God's love for me, God's very nature, like the constancy of our closest relationships, like the sacrifice of those who have helped us get where we are, like my desire for the latest tech toy (which I would love to have)? All of the above? Something beyond all of these? And what about my love for God?

Take a minute to think about how you experience the love of God.

John's first letter urges us to respond to the love God has for us with "perfect love."
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. – 1 John 4:18
The very phrase "perfect love" makes me fearful. I am far from perfect, and the exhortation reminds me how far away I am. The last clause closes the case: See, if you fear, you haven't done it right!

At a workshop this weekend, Fr. William Meninger, one of the originators of the Centering Prayer movement, offered a very helpful way to think about perfection. Rather than some hyperactive, compulsive act of ours, he suggested that perfect love is the love that God has, and is. It is love that delights in the beloved without any thought to the rewards or feelings that come back to us. There can be no room for fear in this love because it's there for good, no matter what – we can't change it or reject it.

We can, however, receive it – or not. We choose to participate in it. This doesn't mean that we commit to getting it right, but by returning God's love God can make our imperfect love more and more like God's, in God's time.

Now there's a deal!

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