The other day a good friend of mine texted me a picture of her 11-year-old son’s latest school project. At the top of the page it read, “What is love?”
“Love is when you give up your freedom and soul for marriage,” he wrote. “Love is when your girlfriend steals all your money.”
Funny. But also sad.
Even sadder was listening just a few nights ago to two accomplished researchers insist that, at its most fundamental level, love is best described as a chemical reaction that originates in the brain.
I get it that when we feel affection toward someone – platonic, romantic or otherwise – certain chemicals in the brain are ignited, and that we’re able to observe this reaction using sophisticated machines. I also get that describing love in these terms in no way diminishes that unique sense of wonder and delight that often accompanies this emotion. Even so, I’m pretty sure this is not how most people would define love.
For me, love is not a chemical reaction but a divine inspiration. It’s not so much what we think or even what we do but what God – what Mary Baker Eddy defines as that singular divine principle governing one and all – is forever causing us to see and to be, even when we resist. “We love,” declared the apostle John, “because he [God] first loved us.”
Love is not what we possess. It’s what we reflect. It’s what we express.
To assume that love is in some way chemically dependent is to assume that some of us have it and some don’t; that some are capable of manufacturing it and some aren’t. It also opens the door to the myriad ways – some more risky than others – in which any missing chemicals might be replaced.
Could it be that all that’s really missing is a greater, more practical awareness of love’s divine source and substance?
To their credit, the aforementioned researchers were quick to recommend a number of non toxic ways in which those presumably in need of these chemicals might be able to jump-start their system – everything from taking a walk in the woods to cultivating a sense of gratitude to buying a dog. Even so, they remained steadfast in their claim that, at its root, love is best explained in matter-based terms.
Such a notion becomes all the more absurd when considered in the context of John’s description of God or Spirit – the very opposite of matter – as love itself, something that, although subjective in that it’s expressed individually, is also undeniably objective since its effects are both measurable and observable.
Speaking of which, even if we can’t agree on what love is, there’s a fairly broad consensus on what love looks like and what love acts like.
“Love suffers long and is kind,” wrote the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
No mention of chemicals. No mention of the brain. No mention of giving up our freedom or our girlfriend stealing all our money. Just pure, unadulterated love.
As it should be.