Princeton University Religious Life

God is Love

The Rev. Dr. Alison L. Boden
Princeton University Chapel
November 2, 2007
Marriage of SJ and M

Love does not come to everyone. How fortunate are we to whom it does come. How blessed are we, how blessed are you, SJ and M, not because all will now be well, but because all – whatever becomes or befalls you – will be enriched by the love that you share, will be shared by the love that enjoins you. Love doesn’t make everything all right, but, if lived out fully, love does make everything more bearable, and that is a blessing indeed.

 For those of us blessed with love comes the mandate to fulfill “works of love” (that’s Kierkegaard’s phrase) with the whole of our lives. We are to make all that we do a response to our love for each other, and a mirror of the love of the Holy One, who, as the Apostle wrote, “first loved us.” Love is the furthest thing from self-indulgence! It’s a calling to extend ourselves beyond the circle of our own feeling for our beloved and to love equally the whole hurting world, not just in sentimental word but in audacious deed. If we love one another, we live it out with all of our being: in our working and in our resting, in our leisure and in our toil, in our solitude and in our over-extended craziness, we love the people and the world around us. Indeed, it was to a very ordinary group of people that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world!” Anyone who loves proclaims the same thing to all who are near every moment of the day. “Make many acts of love,” wrote St. Teresa of Jesus, “for they set the soul on fire and make it gentle.” What a perfect description of holy love – one that simultaneously burns its subjects, sets them alight, makes them never more alive and crackling with desire and passion and fervor, all the while making them tender and understanding and compassionate, not just toward the object of their love, but toward all humanity and creation. To love another person is to join the human family in a new and indescribably more intense way. It is not to seclude oneself but to participate all the more wholeheartedly. No wonder van Gogh had to conclude, “The best way to know God is to love many things.”

 I’ve said that love makes life’s vagaries more bearable, but love is likewise a thing, even a burden, to be borne. William Blake wrote, “And we are put on Earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” And love is, indeed, a yoke upon the shoulders at times, in the hospital room, in any room alone, when it is unrequited, when it faces an impasse, when it is deserted, or when it stands at the graveside. We are put on earth by the God who is love to learn to bear love in its fullness and in its absence, to learn to bear it and keep returning it no matter what the present and future may hold. We are put on earth to bear the burden of being loved – loved by God, loved by our parents, loved by our beloved, loved by our children, loved by one whom we do not love in return, loved by communities we embrace and/or resent, loved in spite of ourselves. We bear the beams of the love we never asked for but are yet servant to, the love we never asked to receive and yet to which we must grant a response. We love and are loved, and if we are graced indeed, we learn to bear the beams of them both.

 God is love, the First Letter of John boldly proclaims. That is as bizarre a news dispatch today as it was almost two thousand years ago. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew (and many today agree) that intelligence is the central attribute of the Divine, not love. God must be Pure Intelligence (think Aristotle); God must be the Good, even the Good beyond Being (think The Republic and many Platonists since). God is love? Agape is the cornerstone of the Divine? Unthinkable to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and to many today who need but a millisecond to recall in harsh detail the more excruciating aspects of human living and dying. God is love? Yes- when our lives are lovely and when they are not, because in love we truly glimpse the heart of the Divine, the love that will not let us go, the holiness that comes to life most vividly when we live out our love for one another – eros, philio, agape.

 SJ and M, may the God who is love pour out abundant blessings upon you. May God nurture you in community of lovers of God and wisdom and justice.


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