Happy Sunday. This is the second Sunday of Advent, and the theme is Love. Check out the video below from Bible Project on “Agape-Love”:
A few Saturdays ago, I woke up and started getting ready for the day. K and I had an optometrist appointment at noon. So I bathed, and as I brushed my teeth, still wrapped in a navy blue towel, I suddenly felt dizzy. Then my heart started pounding so loudly, I thought maybe it had migrated to right inside my left ear. I sat on the toilet seat hoping to feel normal. I did just long enough to spit out the toothpaste and place my brush in its holder. I said a quick prayer and then called for K using his full name- something I do so rarely I knew he’d understand the urgency.
He came from the kitchen to the bathroom to find me shaking. “I can’t make it to the bedroom… I can’t walk… I feel like I’m going to pass out.” It was a struggle just to speak. He reached an arm out to steady me, but I was too far gone for a guiding arm. I held on to him as everything in my field of vision went dark. It’s really strange to be able to see one second, then not in the next- with my eyes wide open.
I struggled to speak but gibberish came out. I gave up. I felt K’s arms lift my still damp but towel-less body off the floor and onto our bed.
There have been numerous times over the years during our marriage during which K swooped me up into his arms under completely different circumstances. He did more than once on our wedding day: for a picture after taking our vows, and many hours later when we arrived at the hotel for our mini-Honeymoon.
So romantic, right? It’s Superman with Lois. It’s Flash with Iris, her arms wrapped around his neck. How about Spidey swinging around Manhattan with MJ? It’s action, strength, excitement and adrenaline. It’s a meme for titillating romance.
Welp, memes can only represent, send shorthand messages, usually photographic. And let me tell you, romance, while quite lovely, ain’t love. That picture above is, in my humble opinion, sweetly romantic. It can be perceived as a representation of love.
But love is drying her with that navy towel and wrapping her in blankets. It’s bringing water, a banana, and the blood pressure monitor to her. It’s kissing her on the forehead when her BP comes back 80/50 (i.e., worryingly low). It’s being relieved and supportive when a medication change results in an immediate rebound to normalcy. It’s driving her to at least 3 more doctor’s appointments in the following week.
Over at The Marginalian, Maria Popova writes on love and being, by way of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, in his book, On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme:
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” the great French philosopher Simone Weil wrote shortly before her untimely death. An epoch after her, Mary Oliver eulogized the love of her life with the observation that “attention without feeling… is only a report.” Looking back on centuries of love poems by people of genius who dared to love beyond the cultural narrows of their time, the poet J.D. McClatchy observed that “love is the quality of attention we pay to things.”
Because our attention shapes our entire experience of the world — this, after all, is the foundation of all Eastern traditions of mindfulness, which train the attention in order to anneal our quality of presence — the objects of our attention end up, in a subtle but profound way, shaping who we are.
Defining love as “that sense of spiritual perception with which one seems to touch someone else’s soul, to feel its contours, the harshness or gentleness of its character,” Ortega notes that love reveals “the most intimate and mysterious preferences which form our individual character.” He writes:
Half a century after William James — one of Ortega’s greatest influences and philosophical progenitors — laid the groundwork of modern psychology with his statement “My experience is what I agree to attend to,” Ortega adds:
Fascinating. Read it all here. Next, this story by Robert P. Jones at Religion News Service:
Just ahead of the first Sunday of Advent this year, a painting depicting Mary cradling the body of the crucified Jesus was stolen from the wall outside the Mary Mirror of Justice Chapel at Catholic University of America law school, just down the street from my neighborhood. The contemporary painting, titled “Mama,” was created in a well-known style referred to as a Pietà, meaning pity or compassion, most famously represented by Michelangelo’s white marble “Pietà” (1498-99) in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
As Religion News Service reported, the painting — and Kelly Latimore, the St. Louis-based artist who created it — was targeted after the Daily Signal, a website owned by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, posted a critical story about it on Nov. 22. An online petition claiming to be from CUA students quickly gathered more than 4,500 signatures.
The objections? Both Mary and Jesus are depicted with brown skin. And the figure of Jesus in the 2020 painting bears a likeness to George Floyd, whose dying words included the heart-wrenching cries, “Mama … Mama!”
CUA officials received numerous comments they characterized as “racist and offensive.” Latimore received death threats. And then the painting disappeared.
In an interview with RNS, Latimore — who is white and grew up in a white evangelical church — characterized the threats he received as “white supremacist, racist stuff,” including derogatory remarks about George Floyd and objections to any depiction of Jesus as Black. But he understood the painting, commissioned to mourn the death of George Floyd, as consistent with the “nature of the personhood of Christ”:
I believe Christ is in that image, just as much as it would be in a “normal” Pietà — the European version of Christ … In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks us to find him in all people, especially those who suffer as George Floyd did.
What does all this have to do with Advent, the season leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas? The Pietà images are most closely related to a different part of the Christian liturgical calendar, Lent and Easter, which commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus. But these two seasons, the contemplation of death and birth, both focus Christians on the body of Jesus. And in the evangelical Protestant world of my upbringing, where Easter was focused on a bare cross rather than a crucifix, it was Christmas that imaginatively evoked the most detailed images of an embodied Jesus.
In Christian theology, the Incarnation is inescapably tangible. The Gospel of John tells us the “Logos,” or the Word — the unifying creative force in the universe — became flesh and dwelt among us. God took specific human form.
On white Christian mantels and white Christian church lawns across the country, nativity scenes continue to depict, in illuminated plastic and with robed volunteers, a white Holy Family surrounded by a throng of other white folks. If there is anyone in the scene with brown skin — and there wasn’t until the 15th century — it is one of the three “wise men” or kings (specifically Balthasar, the one bringing the gift of myrrh).
So why not a white baby Jesus for Americans of European descent? Given the history of white supremacy among us, there’s a particular danger in perceiving Jesus — the God-man born to save the world — as white. Setting aside the wild inaccuracy of such a conception (the biblical texts clearly tell us Jesus was a Jew of Middle Eastern descent), our contingent history creates theological peril. If what’s past is prologue, we white Christians face a nearly irresistible temptation to turn a counterfactual imaginative act into a weapon of exclusion and domination.
Finally, here’s Musiq Soulchild’s classic, “Love.” Have a great week.