Friday, June 04, 2010

Kierkegaard's Works of Love - Part II - Love Abides

Kierkegaard begins with a long refrain about all manner of difficulties in life but he says love abides. This abiding though must be present relationally. A lover must abide in love and so relate to another. There is present then three, as love itself is present, manifest in an act. If love abides then "if one ceases to be loving, then one never was loving." Because love abides. We can say that we had many things but if we cease to love then we never had love. Because love abides.

The clear example is erotic love. We say that a couple falls out of love. "But this expression Christianity does not recognize, does not understand, is not willing to understand." This is a wonderful corrective (as this book has been full of) for a Christian reconstruction of marriage. Erotic love is not denied but positioned by or flows from neighbour love.

When one speaks of reaching a breaking-point, this is because one is of the opinion that in love there is only a relationship between two rather than a relationship among three.
If love was only between two then a break, a falling out, would make sense and would be advantageous to be the breaker if necessary as the broken would be defenceless.
But this certainly would be wretched, if an innocent one should be the weaker. So it is in the world, to be sure, but eternally understood it can never hold together this way. What does Christianity do about it? The earnestness of Christianity immediately concentrates the attentiveness of the eternal upon the singly individual, upon each single individual of the pair.
When this occurs then it can be seen that the only break that can occur is of one individual breaking away from love not from the other person. In this way the innocent becomes the stronger so long as he or she does not also fall away from love.
If love were simply and only a relationship between two, then one person would continually be in the other's power, insofar as the other was a base person who could break the relationship. When a relationship is only between two, one always has the upper hand in the relationship by being able to break it, for as soon as one has broken, the relationship is broken. But when there are three, one person cannot do this. The third, as mentioned, is love itself, which the innocent sufferer can hold to in the break, and then the break has no power over him.
It is the stronger that suffers as that person falls away from love. And so the true lover never falls away from love and so she never reaches the breaking point as love abides. SK asks then whether it is possible to prevent the breaking point. He admits that in a certain sense it only takes one to break
but just the same, if the lover does not fall away from love, he can prevent the break, he can perform the miracle; for if he perseveres, the break can never really come to be. By abiding (and in this abiding the lover is in compact with the eternal), he maintains superiority over the past; thereby he transforms what is a break in the past and through which a break exists, into a possible relationship in the future.
From the perspective of the past the break remains and even grows clearer over time but from the perspective of the future (aided by the eternal) "the break is not a break, but rather a possibility." The past views a broken relationship but the lover sees a relationship not yet completed. So someone breaks off the relationship and says that it is over. But the lover asks how one can know it is over when one cannot predict the future? So there is no contact, silence. But this too can be a part of communication. But it stretches out over the years. This, though, is a perspective from the past. The past has no power of the lover for it only sees what is still possible. The lover abides in the strength of the eternal and is only weakened insofar as she succumbs to the past. In light of this SK speaks of the lover,
What marvelous strength love has! The most powerful word which has been said, yes, God's creative word, is: "Be." But the most powerful word any human being has ever said is, if said by a lover: I abide. Reconciled to himself and to his conscience, God's friend, in league with all good angels, the lover goes without defence into the most dangerous battle; he only says: "I abide." And as he is truly the lover, he will still conquer, conquer by his abiding. . . . As he truly is the lover, there is no misunderstanding which sooner or later will not have to give up and yield to his abiding - in eternity if not sooner.
SK concludes this chapter by contrasting the true lover with the erotic lover who waits for her love unto death. Though she remains faithful he love still changes because erotic love is not in the order of eternity. Even the most faithful erotic love wastes away. But true love's only home is eternity as such is always open, always in the moment of reconciliation.
While the conclusion comes off as a little weak it is an important reminder that SK is not talking about erotic love. And so while much of his work can be related to marriage this is not his direct audience. For this reason the conclusion remains useful as this chapter has nothing to do with a poor heartbroken lover who hangs on with hope-against-hope that his or her lover will return. This speaks of someone who can move on from a 'broken' relationship and continue to live in the possibility of the future which includes some form reconciliation as nowhere does SK imply that what would be consummated would be another relationship of erotic love with the past lover but only the love that we are all called to offer our neighbour.

No comments: