Love and Leaving

This week at home with little to do has been a great contrast from eight weeks at camp where there is everything to do.  It has been a great thinking week, one much needed before heading off to Madagascar.  One of the things that has most troubled me lately is how torn I am to be leaving.  On the one hand, I am eager with anticipation for this new season, but at the same time I feel very strongly attached to where I am.  I almost hate how reluctant I am to leave my beloved family and friends.  Leaving for Vanderbilt five years ago did not hurt this badly; I wasn’t a very caring person.  But somewhere in college, “The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes” and has now opened itself to feeling the weight of leaving family and friends for a year.  Is something wrong that I feel so sad at parting, especially since nine months really isn’t that much time?  I came across a passage in CS Lewis’ The Four Loves, last night and found it very reassuring; earthly loves have the sting of being transient, but still God does not call us to a life of cautious, guarded love.  The rest of the post is all from Lewis if you care to read:

“In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him (Confessions IV, 10).  Then he draws a moral.  This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God.  All human being pass away.  Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose.  If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the Beloved who will never pass away.

Of Course this is excellent sense.  Don’t put your goods in a leaky vessel.  Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of.  And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims.  I am a safety-first creature.  Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful!  This might lead you to suffering.’

To my nature, my temperament, yes.  Not to my conscience.  When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ.  If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.  I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less.  And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground–because the security (so to speak) is better?…

I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St. Augustine’s Christendom than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up.  It is closer to Stoic “apathy” or neo-Platonic mysticism than to charity.  We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he ‘loved.’  St. Paul has a higher authoirty with us than St. Augustine–St. Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that he ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died (Phil. II, 27)…

There is no escape along the lines St. Augustine suggests.  Nor along any other lines.  There is no safe investment.  To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possible be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to 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.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell…

We shall draw nearer to God, not be trying to avoid the suffering inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour.  If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break so be it.”

-CS Lewis, The Four Loves


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