A Love that Beckons, Destroys, Transforms: Kahlil Gibran On Love
Language is not enough to describe the emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions that encompass this word we humans call “love.” This last weekend, I had the privilege of hearing Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf speak, and he talked much of love in all its forms- mother, father, sister, brother, wife, child, lover, friend. Infinite possibilities in our experience of relationship- felt in color, shape, texture, form.
One of the most beautiful and articulate ways I have heard love described is in the poetry of Kahlil Gibran. In his poem “On Love” he begins with the following,
When love beckons to you follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
Such dark and foreboding words. In some ways the antithesis to the softly flowing garbs and gentle whispering voice so often associated with love. And yet, those who have loved deeply know the dangers of which Gibran speaks. Love doesn’t just exist. It gets expressed, lived, and eventually, let go.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth. Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart
What does it feel like to be ground into powder? To go into the fire? To be consumed?
A love that crucifies, a love that crowns, a love that grows you, a love that breaks you away from yourself, this is the love that I know. In love, I am stripped of what I thought I was, I am made to be something beyond my own will, I am held in the hands of another and shaped by those hands. After loving, I have become somehow larger. Something of myself, even more of myself, yet also of something “other than.” In the words of Marilynne Robinson, “… it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.” So how can we possibly hope to understand or explain?
And yet, like so many of my ancestors, I feel compelled to try and do so.
The poem could end here for me. And yet it continues,
…. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude….
Maybe the poem doesn’t end there because love doesn’t end there either. Like life, it is always evolving and never ending. In the words of Richard Rohr, “Every time we choose to love, we are choosing to die.” It happens over and over. We are set on fire by love, we are moved and transformed, we die to ourselves, we are birthed again as something new.
The only thing that will stop the cycle is a refusal to participate in humanity, a blocking of off “self” and “other.” And that, in itself, is another kind of death- a death of our own truest humanity.
I am obsessed with love- in all its forms. While society tells us it is something small and special, something perhaps between two people, maybe shared within a home or a family, it is actually something so large it is hard to even imagine or process- like the meaning of life, the size of the cosmos, the existence of a higher power. It is that big. It is that unknowable. It is that present in everything and all.
This life is, for me, a pilgrimage of love (not my words, but Mel’s). How can I love greater, love more, love so truly that I never close my heart no matter how much it hurts. How can I spend my life doing justice to this tiny word tasked with naming the infinite.
What are the most beautiful words you have ever heard to describe love? The truest?
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