My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true like ice, like fire
People carry roses make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
Bob Dylan, Love minus zero/No limit
I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on graffiti crimes, but as I tell the guys at the Salvation Army, confession is good for the soul, so here goes. When I was in high school my friends and I spray-painted the above lines from Bob Dylan’s song Love minus zero/no limit on the wall of a building that was on the old carnival grounds in Brockport—it was a message to the world—and most importantly at the time—to the girls we knew. It was a reaction—a reaction to the unfathomable mystery of love. By the time we were 17 we knew that the overly sentimental love songs and hallmark cards felt plastic, phony, that they reflected a consumerist culture’s attempt to sell us something—we already knew that love was deeper—we knew it was mysterious, that it was infinite—beyond the simple definitions. The corporate poets were liars. But then we heard Bob Dylan. He was different, he spoke to us creatively, poetically, he was some kind of 20th century Jewish prophet, and he said yes, love is depth, love is mysterious—love, she speaks like silence—and most appealing to young adolescent males with no money—valentines can’t buy her. She is beyond the definitions and clutches of a consumerist culture. Even the title “love minus zero/no limit” pulled you in, took you deep…takes you where Paul goes in 1 Corinthians 13:8—when he says, “Love never ends”. Paul and Dylan dare to go deep, into the beyond—they are talking about the love that is way beyond an emotion. Way beyond a love that ends, way beyond a love that can be prepackaged for sale or contained, or broken or conquered by divorce or death, a love Way beyond something that can be possessed.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 works on us like a great poet, leading us into the deepest, most transcendent of spaces. Before he does this though he has, if you remember from our earlier looks at 1 Corinthians, discussed at great lengths, the Body of Christ, and the One Spirit that we are all—Jew and Greek, slaves and free—made to drink of.
As always with Paul we have to remember he was a first century Jew whose Christ-mysticism formed the center of his theology. He considered the divine in all its forms, God, Christ, Spirit to be the undivided wholeness within and beyond all individual things—the singular, whole, restless, creative flow within all of us—the One energy that connects us all—the One energy system that we are all grounded in. This is, as I said a few weeks ago, not something we share so much as it is something that shares us.
It is this One energy that the mystics seem to tap into by eliminating the sensation that they are separate selves—and in doing so they experience what many of them call love. In the 21st century we must deal with the fact that No one organized religion has the market cornered on love. Just because someone calls themselves a Buddhist or a Jew or a humanist or a Christian does not mean they are more loving. In fact those labels often— but maybe not always--create a barrier. We know All of the world’s great traditions have produced persons that have realized the One true love. And true Love is the felt experience of this One, singular creative flow that we are all grounded in, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. It is the realization of the one flow that unites all of us, of the energy that is looking through your eyes, our eyes, right now—seeing itself in all its different manifestations from all of its different perspectives. After all, the divine, the kingdom of heaven, is within us. Paul says at some point we will know fully, even as we have been fully known—perhaps in the fulfillment of the kingdom, or after our perspective is de-centered. True love of course is also the realization of that which even conquers death—it must, for it never ends, it just keeps going. Once this is felt—the anxiety of the possessive ego-centric type of love is conquered—for we see that a relationship might end—but relationship itself can never end—to be is to be related—to be is to be united with the other members of this One body—the One energy—the One energy that we are. This is why Paul says “Love never ends”—he felt it. It is as infinite as the universe. Love is synonymous with God---and for God all things are possible—love is infinite.
In the first verse of chapter 13 we hear that if we don’t “Have” or more to the point—awaken to this love—even if we sound really great and really spiritual—we are noisy gongs or clanging cymbals—we are nothing but egos running on and on, consciously cut-off from love—the felt experience of Oneness. I went awhile back to hear a preacher that I had been told was just a great-great speaker. I went with a friend who spends very little time listening to preachers. The speaker finished and I said to my friend, “he’s pretty polished—not like me, I’m pretty sure I look like a fish trying to climb a tree”. And she said, “He’s loud, he’s an egomaniac”. She’s always been a lot smarter than I am. I fear our churches and our culture in general encourage the noisy gong or clanging cymbal in all of us. We certainly love noise.
It is the separate self-sense or what some call the ego that will turn love into something that can be bought, sold, marketed—it turns love into something we possess or not. It turns lovers into objects that we have legal rights to—or not.
In verse four Paul says love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful—in other words Love is not your ego—that can come to an end. Verse 4 is of course frequently read at weddings—and many people are skeptical when they hear it—but of course, married people are no worse or better at awakening to the kind of love Paul is talking about than non-married folks. This is a challenging, in your face, piece of scripture, it is designed to make you see yourself, and my full-time job reminds of this. Just recently I read it at the Salvation Army before a men’s issues group started. A couple of cliques of guys had been having problems---this kind of stressful environment makes recovery nearly impossible so I wanted to discuss the importance of group unity. I reminded them that you can’t think your way out of an addiction but you can love your way out of one—by getting out of yourself and recognizing your intimate relation to those around you—then I read Paul’s words—and things go well in the meeting. By the time the group let out, I had been there way too long—and a guy, who had not been in that group, came at me with a lot of frustration and anger—and I began to react with my own. You know, with that contained but “I’m gonna lose it” look on your face. Anyway, I went back to my office and another guy came in smiling, having just seen the conversation. And smiling, he said, Chris, “love is not irritable or resentful”. I looked at him and said, “Yeah love hasn’t been here for thirteen hours.” Love is funny too.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”—including, um, this, sermon. Love is. It is beyond, and within all there is, it is the power in all of us driving us forward, moving us to overcome estrangement and separation. Behind the scenes, behind all our partial or fragmented experience, It is all there ever will be. It is looking at itself right now. It is mysterious; it is beyond all definitions, all explanations, and all efforts to contain it.
I knew Dylan was cool, “Love minus zero/no limit”. Amen.