From Love Never Faileth by Eknath Easwaran.
“Saint Paul’s “epistle on love” (I Corinthians 13) is an eloquent, practical little manual for loving, so pregnant with meaning that I recommend it to everyone for use in meditation. Some will prefer the King James Version, with its elevated beauty of language. Others will find that the words of a contemporary translation speak to them more directly. It does not matter; this is a personal choice. What is important is to translate Saint Paul’s words into our thought and action, and for that purpose I want to comment on this masterpiece of Christian mysticism almost line by line to show its application to daily living.
“Earnestly desire the higher gifts” of the spirit, Paul begins, “and I will show you a more excellent way.” The way of love is perfectly suited to our times. Instead of telling friends you are leading the spiritual life, which sometimes makes people raise their eyebrows, you can say, “I’m learning to love.” It is the same. “He who loves not knows not God,” Saint John says; “for God is love.”
Learning to love in this way is the most difficult, the most demanding, the most delightful, and the most daring of disciplines. It does not mean loving only two or three members of your family; that can often be a kind of ego-annex. It does not mean loving only those who share your views, read the same newspapers, or play the same sports. Love, as Jesus puts it, means blessing those that curse you, doing good to those that hate you; that is the real measure of love. Of course, words like these describe great lovers of God. But little people like us can learn to love like this too. The first condition is simple: we must want to love. Desire is the basis of all learning.
In the style of his Master, Paul is asking, “Do you want to love – not just those who like you but even those who dislike you, the very sight of whom sends you hurrying in another direction?” All of us, I think, would like to answer yes. All of us really want to love. Nobody wants to be hostile, angry, or afraid, and all these states arise from lack of love. But we do not know how to love; and perhaps we do not even know that love can be learned.
Here Mother Teresa has given us a practical clue. Universal love, she points out, is first learned in the home. The family is our primary school for love, for it is within the circle of the family that we see ourselves most easily as part of a larger whole. When sociologists say that the days of the family are numbered, this is like saying that the days of our love are numbered. To love is to live, and not to love is to have nothing to live for.
Once we earnestly desire to learn this, we start to school in love. Most of us do not begin by blessing those that curse us. That is graduate school. We start with first grade – being kind to people in our family when they get resentful. Eventually comes high school, where we learn to move closer to those who are trying to shut themselves off from us. College means returning good will for ill will. Then we are no longer simply mastering words and behavior; we are actually changing the way we think. And finally we enter graduate school: “Return love for hatred.” There we learn to give our love to all – to people of different races, different countries, different religions, different outlooks, different strata of society, without any sense of distinction or difference.
Paul, I must say, can really strike hard. His words are utterly contemporary. “I may have all the knowledge in the world,” he says. “I may be able to speak fourteen languages, including one or two spoken only by angels. I may have crossed the Atlantic in a canoe with only a cat for company. What does it matter? If I haven’t learned to love, I am nothing.” (87-89)