This is the second in a series of Advent posts my friend Grace and I are writing. Read her latest over here.
I believe that beyond sorrow and pleasure and deeper than depression or health there is another thing to be prayed and prized, which is called love, meeting, presence. I believe that it can be possessed by both happy and sad—a smile is not its token—but that when it is held it transforms all that is not itself. And I believe that one who knows it would choose rather to live forever in grief and loneliness but in the light of this presence than to have, without it, the highest degree what is otherwise called the good life.
Here is the pearl for which no price could be too much. Here is enough buried wealth that one would sell everything to buy its field, to win the right of digging for it with bare hands—if it could be found by digging; if it could be bought with money. But it does not come in the way of human generation, by blood or by the will of the flesh or the will of men: it blows in the untamed wind through everything built to catch it. And so it is that though the Advent candles of many years have gathered flame and burned down to the wreath, still I find myself admiring love without having it.
Acquainted am I with its substitutes: I know about affection and need and banding together to form clubs; and I know too about gritting your teeth as gently as you can and duteously discharging a moral demand, hearing its very soft whisper of merit. But where is the free, strong love without which service of God and neighbor is finally doomed to weariness?
I’m like the page of good king Wenceslas (I commend to you a carol less familiar than it seems). The page knows his obedient place. He ventures out on someone else’s errand of mercy and trudges along as well as he can for a good league hence, until: Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger. / Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer. Then it is well for him that another walks before him, since, in a very quaint miracle, heat is spreading over the ground his sainted king treads, steam rising from the snow to ease freezing limbs.
And it is well for us—not to speak of our neighbor—that we are not the first to move toward her in service, that our love is not our own, that he who carried it with him from the deep store of the Trinity outpaces us in its distribution. In his own freedom he rushes ahead to give his own gifts; with his own mercy he looks back to us who wheeze and sputter in his wake.
But if such a one will show us the movements of love, if he will lead, then—tired as we are—let us go a little farther with him. Who knows but that the whole league’s journey may be traveled in these little farthers?