A few years ago, an Italian singer called Max Pezzali sang a song called ‘Quello che comunemente noi chiamiamo amore’ which translates as ‘What we commonly call love’. It is an interesting song, which — as the title suggests — explores what love is. About love he says,
“Is it poetry? A song? A paradox? Maybe it’s something that everyone wrote about, without really knowing what it actually is”.
And the song goes on to say,
“Maybe it’s the only reason why we are here, the only thing that makes us worthy to go through life. Maybe it is the reason to complete this journey (ed. The journey of life) and try to understand what we commonly call love”.
It’s a wonderful song, if you are an Italian reader, check it out. If you are English, challenge yourself and listen to it. You can always read the translated subtitles.
Whether you listen to it or not, I guess that everyone of us has interrogated ourselves with the “What love is?” question. Answers to this question vary, of course. Sceptics may say that it’s just a chemical reaction in your body; children may say that it is mum baking their favourite chocolate cake; romantics may think it’s a bunch of flowers with chocolates on Valentine’s Day; my Grandma probably would say that love is enduring and sticking at life with my Grandpa “till death do us part”; for a parent, it may be the smile of their children; for a teenage girl it may be a Twilight love story, or for a lad it may be their favourite footballer kissing his favourite team shirt. Sorry for the stereotypes, it’s not good to make generalisations, but the truth is that, if they are not, all of the above can be true, because
all of us have a different perception of what love is, and none of us really know how it’s made.
We are given many different understandings of love, in movies, music, art, literature. Romantic, passionate, companionship, selfless or selfish. Probably the Italian singer Max is correct, no one will ever know what love is; but it is also true that all of us need love. At least our own shape of love. An interpersonal catalyst that brings us closer to someone else, in different shapes, different ways.
I am not a psychologist, nor a neuroscientist, and this little article is definitely not going to give a definite answer about what love is. But at this stage in life, I want to share with you something about love. This infinite sea of emotions in which everyone of us will swim in at least once in our lives. But I want to share with you what I’ve learned about love from this “Love story” we’ve gone through at Christchurch Xscape based on Song of Songs. Bear with me, it’s not going to be long, just three wee things. Don’t read just the titles, read the paragraphs, so we can discuss them.
Love can be imperfect
We’re humans. Who of us is perfect? Answer: no one. Love is an expression of who we are and cannot be perfect. Probably we are too used to the type of love shown in rom-coms. A wonderful love story where everything happens as it should, everything works for the best of love. Don’t get me wrong, there is something fantastic about that. But probably it’s too fantastic. Just to stay in the theme of a rom-com, let me make this analogy; rom-com type of love, to me, it looks like fake flowers. They are perfect, wonderful colours, shiny, fantastic to look at, but once you touch them it’s plastic, no smell, nothing real. It’s something we constantly look at, fascinated from afar, but once we get closer, there is a sense of disappointment expressed in one sentence: I thought they were real! If you are a soap opera lover, or a Twilight fan sorry to break your heart, please don’t hate me.
Song of Songs, in its pictorial — almost rom-com — way, describes the relationship of this couple, it also underlines the imperfection of the relationship. There is this episode in Chapter 5:6 in which we are told that things were not going exactly how she expected them to go and she feels lost. (check our latest episode to know more about it). Why, because they’re humans. She expresses her disappointment in these words:
“My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.”
Of course, this idea of an imperfect healthy relationship can also be extended to other interpersonal interactions such as friendship, parent-child relationships, brother-sister and so on. Yet, although love brings two imperfect people together, love is the thing that pushes people to become better for the sake of the other. Probably this is the key to a healthy relationship; to tear down the barriers of selfishness and egocentrism, and be willing to walk together into a path that leads to the same purpose.
Even in our relationship with God, love is not perfect on our side. It is through Jesus that love is made perfect. But for the sake of God’s love for us, we have to try to improve every single day toward the goal of sanctification.
Real flowers, at times, can look a bit imperfect, but their perfume is definitely better than plastic ones. Although, this is not the only difference between the two types of flowers.
Love is a choice
It doesn’t matter where you put the fake bouquet of flowers. You can place it in a vase, in a cup, in a crystal bell (Beauty and the Beast type of thing). You could even put it at the back in the highest top corner of the cupboard. Maybe it will gather some dust, which you probably won’t be bothered to clean at all. But a real bouquet of flowers needs water, light and care. You can’t store it anywhere in the house; you can’t let it get dusty or forget to water it. It will wither, it will lose its colours; the wonderful characteristic perfume will become a stingy, displeasing, mouldy smell. Its colour will become yellow, then brown, then it won’t be anymore, because that bunch of flowers will soon meet the bin. In other words, true flowers need care, intentionality. You can’t simply stop at the first sight of it, if you want to keep its beauty.
In the same way, love requires care which can only be moved by intentionality. By the will power of seeing that love blossoming and spreading its colours and beauty. A loving relationship must be cultivated and cared for. That can only happen if we choose to do it. In Song of Songs, the reflection of this choice is seen in the first two verses of Chapter 2 where the woman affirms to be just a “normal flower among other flowers”. But for him, as it is affirmed in verse 2, she is a beautiful flower not even among flowers, but among thorns. Moreover, in Song of Songs the choice of seeing the beauty of each other is something that is constantly repeated in the sweet and loving lines of both the bride and the groom.
Beauty is subjective. And when you choose to love someone, that person will become the most beautiful person. The challenge, then, is not about how beautiful someone is — which in modern day society can be rated by likes and posts on Instagram — but what you are willing to give to make that person beautiful in your eyes. And the hardest part of this is that it is a continuous job, it’s a commitment that we should be willing to make when we want to love someone. Care, intentionality, respect, empathy are things that no one can put in a relationship for you if not yourself by choosing to give them.
What we commonly call love
There is one last thing I’ve learned about love from Song of Songs. Looking at these romantic and profound lines, I understood what love is not.
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is strong as death, its jealousy (or passion) unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” (Song of Songs 8:6–7)
I think that no one else can describe better than these words what we commonly call love. Love is definitely not possession; it is loving belonging. It is not toxicity; it is to treat as the most precious pearl the one who is next to you. Love is not obsession; love is kind, admirable, respectful acts of care. If you want to know more about what love is, check 1 Corinthians 13:4–8. Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13); and this just expresses that love is not selfish, it is selfless.
But the last part of the two verses is what really gets me. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house to buy love, he would be utterly scorned. Love cannot be bought. It’s priceless, love is the most precious of all things.
So probably we will never be able to actually say what we commonly love. But surely, we can get a glimpse of what love is by looking at Jesus.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16)