Biblical Studies · Spirituality

Of love, compassion and the unexpected angel of mercy

Without passion there’s no compassion. In the same way there has to be eros in the mixture if there is to be agape as well.

Thus open this morning’s ‘Lent Daily Reflections’ by the World Community for Christian Meditation. Both those sentences ring entirely true to me. It is through suffering that we learn to be compassionate; and true love is always marked by agape and eros.

The reflections then refer to Luke 22:41-44:

[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed. He said, ‘Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done.’ Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

I have quoted this passage from the fairly new Common English Bible. Anyway, the reflections conclude:

This is no fairy tale. For any mature person it resonates with our own experience. Aloneness, anguish, fear, physical symptoms, the unexpected angel of mercy. But at the heart of it is the love [Jesus] felt holding him, which empowered him to love those he did not even, at that instant, consciously know.

There are two insights in this that resonate deeply with me: that we are empowered to love by being held in/by love ourselves, and that it is particularly in those experiences of intense suffering that we meet the unexpected angel of mercy.

Theology

Love life fiercely

Love for beauty; care for the material life that gives pleasure and joy; appreciation for the numinous world, revealed by the Spirit in life; and embrace of the eros that empowers human beings as social creatures to seek others – these are spiritual powers that deliver salvation.

We reenter this world as sacred space when we love life fiercely, and, in the name of love, protect the goodness of our intricate web of life in all its manifold forms. We recommit ourselves to this world as holy ground when we remember the fullness of life that is possible through our communities, our life-affirming rituals, and our love of beauty, of truth, of goodness.

Rita Nakashima Brock, ‘Paradise and Desire: Deconstructing the Eros of Suffering’, in F. LeRon Shults and Jan-Olav Henriksen (eds), Saving Desire: The Seduction of Christian Theology