Some words and ideas are worth holding onto, especially ones that take us to deeper places of the heart, that ask us harder questions of the heart — and even more, ones that offer the hope that all is not lost, and that our fragmented selves can be reordered, that we can be made new.
For a very long time some of the most thoughtful people in the world have been asking about the ordering of our loves, seeing in that task the most important of all questions, i.e. who are we and how shall we live? We do love, and we will love; everyone of us, homo adoramus that we are. Sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we will adore someone or something. But when we disorder our loves, loving the right things in the wrong way, and sometimes loving the wrong things in the wrong way, we falter, and the world around us stumbles too.
Last night I spoke for the Downtown Discourse in the very center of the city of Colorado Springs. A visionary hope to engage the city with questions that matter most, month by month they invite someone to address the nature of the common good. Yes, who are we, and how shall we live— a conversation with consequences for both the personal and the public good.
My task was to take up the question of love. What is it? How do we understand it? Are we our loves? Is it possible to imagine a life or a world in which we are different than our loves? How do our loves shape us? How do they form us?
A long time ago I began thinking about this reading Augustine of Hippo who 1500 years ago asked the most probing questions, seeing that the ordering of our loves is a crucial issue for human flourishing. I lingered over the relationship of love to longing, remembering that Augustine has long been seen as “the apostle of longing,” because he knew what was most true of us, that it is in our loves and longings that we are most fully known.
Much could have been said, but it seemed right that we hear once again “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles, and “California Girls” by the Beach Boys,” seeing them as songs of the young heart, windows as they were into adolescent longing. As pubescent as they were, as unable to sustain longer loves as they were, they were songs full of longing in their own time and place. But then we heard “40” too, seeing the song of U2 as one born of a deeper, more serious longing, aware as we must be that we feel the wounds of the world in our very bones, and we wonder, “How long do we have to sing this song?”
If our music tells this tale, then our books are also very important windows into the nature of our longing. The Quest of the Holy Grail. A Pilgrim’s Progress. Anna Karenina. Kristin Lavransdatter. Grapes of Wrath. Hannah Coulter. A Father’s Tale. Silence. In their very different ways they are all stories about what we see as most important, what we love more than anything else; simply said, they are about the ordering of our loves – literally, the ordering of our charities – the “ordo caritatis.” And if we have ears to hear, we can learn from good books which in their unique ways tell the truth about the human condition, wrestling through the centuries with what is worth loving, and what isn’t.
The remarkably gifted contemporary musicians, The Brilliance, sang for us too, with their song, “See the Love” beautifully offering a vision of the very meaning of love for everyone everywhere. Before we were done, I drew Bernard of Clairvaux into our conversation with his seminal work on the nature of love, his words ringing across time. “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” And as hoped, the questions went into the night.
A downtown discourse it was… a good conversation among good people about the good life, everyone there because of love for their city, everyone there longing for the flourishing of their city.
Steven Garber is founder of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture and author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. In addition to his work as a speaker and educator, he consults with leading organizations such as Praxis Labs, the Wedgwood Circle, Blood:Water Mission, and Mars, Incorporated.