Love

Been thinking about love lately.

Some new experiences have glowed in my body.

In a way, these recent experiences seem familiar.

Like the way I felt when I held my infant children, full of amazement that something so precious could come my way.

Or the way I feel when I see my husband smiling at me with a secret reminder that putting his arms around me is the peak of his day.

These are emotional experiences of love’s euphoria.

In another way, my recent experiences seem quite strange. Because they happen in the presence of people I have no social permission to love in this way, and in situations where euphoria would normally be judged a misguided response.

Recently I’ve felt this euphoria in the presence of a mother and daughter, their lives at loose ends but their love for each other strong. I felt it sitting with a quiet man grateful to be in outpatient psychiatric care. I felt it chatting with an OCD teen as he carefully dissolved a precise number of sugar lumps in his tea.

Each time, my heart whispered, “You are beautiful and I am privileged to be in your presence.”

But this whisper wasn’t an affirmation I used to inspire my professional presence. It wasn’t a technique. It wasn’t patience, or attention. It had nothing to do with how I thought I ought to comport myself.

It was simply overwhelmingly real in feeling and in body.

These feelings coincide with my emerging intellectual understanding of my rabbinic mission: to love people. To discern in each person what Reb Nachman of Breslov called the nekudah tovah, the good point.

But this feeling of love is not an intellectual understanding.

And its arrival coincides with the return of my illness, an undiagnosed condition that includes exhaustion and pain.

I’m burning up with emotional energy.

To add a dash of realism: Feeling more love doesn’t alter clock time, shorten travel distances, or cook more casseroles.

It doesn’t make me superhuman.

The euphoric feeling doesn’t increase my physical capacity to give.

My capacity to give does not match people’s needs. Their needs are rooted in the ebb and flow of their lives, not in the ebb and flow of mine.

As a pastoral caregiver, I have to trust that the quality of loving attention I give in the time I have makes a difference.

This week, I have thought a great deal about Saint Theresa of Avila and her luminous book, The Interior Castle. Theresa describes stages in the evolution of God’s presence in her psyche.

One surprising theme recurs at every stage. Theresa lives in a social environment, where other people’s lives touch hers. In the spiritual community of the convent, each nun rides the tides of her own life. No matter how suffused with God’s love Theresa feels, she still has to figure out how to deal with her companions.

No matter how much love I feel, I still live in a physical and social world.

Theresa finds this endlessly frustrating.

I just find it endlessly challenging.

Which is, fortunately, another familiar side to these strange new experiences of love.

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