Love is courage in action

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Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Given that outer is a reflection of inner, love begins within. I sow love by bringing its warmth and compassion into the cold, dark, unloved places deep inside me. I wonder it’s this region that is moved to tears when touched by a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Or the beauty of the world in general, which has much to teach me about love. Red berries touched by snow, whitecaps on water, a young boy singing the high soprano notes opening “Once in Royal David’s City.”

The film “Still Alice” is a lovely exploration of this verse. While she, and her family, hated what was happening to her well-honed intellectual mind, they made the choice to seek solace in the love that bound them together. That love, and the attendant grief of loss, illuminated unique aspects of each of them. The youngest daughter, Lydia, had the fiercest courage to face her emotions, and so she let her love turn to curiosity. She asked her mother what she was experiencing, giving her the precious gift of being witnessed. To stand in helplessness with that much power requires tremendous love and awareness.

They say the opposite of love isn’t hatred, but fear. And doesn’t fear play its role in preventing simple expressions of love when they are most needed? Fear has a self-centered quality; it is a drawing inward, a withholding in response to some imagined and unwanted outcome such as the pain of shame or loss

Aggression and aversion are two habitual responses to events and people that disturb us. Both are sourced in a resistance fueled by fear and hatred. Fear is the recoil response and hatred is the outward manifestation. You could say that hatred is fear in action, and that love is courage in action. It is beautifully fitting that the word, courage, comes from the Old French root meaning heart.

How do these opposites show up in my life? Everywhere. When I’m in love with my work, I feel a glowing expansion of my heart, the warm light of joy, purpose and diligence. I’m not much of a hater, but fear is a constant companion. Fear and the pain of grief grip me in this same place, creating an unbearable ache, which often causes me to lash out in reactive frustration or denial. The word, heartache, is indeed apt. My family is home to me and, though they challenge me and call me on my crap, I (usually) do not doubt that they love me. When I do doubt, it’s a reflection of internal doubt, not reality.

Where I’ve had to do the most work and cultivation has been with myself. I suspect I am not alone in this. The stories embedded in me by our culture, in the form of parents, teachers, media, news, bosses, and clients, tell me in myriad and explicit ways that I am inadequate, unusually flawed, hopeless. In short, unlovable. John O’Donohue calls this the neon light of modernity. Nothing looks good under neon. It takes daily dedication to nurturing practices and deep listening inside to counter that harsh light. No wonder I light a candle when I sit in the pre-dawn to write in my journal.

What can I do to cultivate love today? When I feel it, show it. And be aware of feeling it. I’ve had a policy for a while now that, when I have a kind or complimentary thought about someone—friend, loved one, or stranger—I tell them. Out loud. That I even have this pact with myself should tell you how deep a hole I’ve been in. Again, I am not alone; Brené Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability are proof of that.

How generous love is: a turning outward, an expansion. A conscious act of connection and inclusion. None of that is possible without self-love, which begins with acceptance. I love that the word, sow, in this verse implies the dynamic process of an ongoing day-to-day choice to love, in the face of all challenges.

Read St. Francis’ Prayer here.
A consideration of the first line of the prayer is here, and the third line is here.

2 thoughts on “Love is courage in action

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