The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Falling in Love
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Falling in Love

Exploring the Intersection of Spiritual Formation and Creativity
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I’m a hopeless or hopeful romantic depending on the season. But as I’ve shared here before, when it comes to love, romance is but a small sliver for me. Leaning on C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, affection, friendship, and charity all account for other kinds of love that count towards the transformation that love ultimately fuels.

In Jesus Christ’s vision of life, he proposes that only two things are necessary to fulfill all the law. That is, do these two things, and all the things that we are supposed to do – all the things that are good – will take care of themselves. Talk about a concise knowledge set to pursue. Notably the two things are specific directions of love. First is love toward God, the Father, the Creator, the one who knows with a completeness beyond humanity. The second is love toward neighbor, those literally next to us in our journeys – whether at home or work or play. This second love is set in reference to the love that we have for ourselves. So, really there are three directions, but its all about love.

Love has a way of being all encompassing. It requires our presence, attention, energy, and will. It often also requires more than we think we have or want to give. This is where the love that Jesus speaks of becomes the bedrock of a life of transformation.

Transformation is a fact of life. It is not a specific thing that we do only at one particular time. Although some moments of transformation feel unique and special. The reality is that the person we end up being is not the person we start out as. We can see this in the physical, and the same is true for the spiritual part of our person, too. This process of becoming is always happening. Formation is always happening. Transformation is ongoing. So, instead of waiting for that special moment we might do well to consider the ways in which we can engage in the process of formation that’s already happening.

If we take Jesus Christs’ propositions at face value, there are at least two parties involved in this process. God has a part. Each one of us as individuals has a part. We cannot do what only God can do (although we might try), and God seems quite content to not impose Himself in areas of our responsibility to a remarkable degree. This makes the articulation of our part in this quite important. What is it that we can do?

There are quite a few things that we can do, actually. Often spoken of as spiritual disciples, these are activities that we can engage in that position us to be more ready to be in the work of transformation with God. The disciplines – like silence, solitude, fasting, study, or prayer – function as in-direct action. Practicing any one of the disciplines doesn’t make us a better person. Rather the practice of the discipline provides an opportunity to interrupt our regular patterns and draw closer to God. Being closer to God will make us better people. God is the source of the transformation towards goodness. The disciplines are not achievement-oriented but rather wisdom, as Dallas Willard describes them. They are not anything to become obsessed with or invest in for the returns other achievements can bring an individual. They are simply good things to do.

The danger of speaking of spiritual formation or individual transformation is that the whole thing can become achievement oriented. How many hours have you studied this week? How much time in prayer have you had? How many transformative moments have you experienced? It’s so easy to slip into the realm of comparison and competitiveness if this is the framing. Neither helpful nor worthwhile. Of course, we are attentive to the idea of formation because we want to become a particular kind of person. But this process is fundamentally relational, and that’s where love comes in.

There have been a few times in my life that I have fallen in love. Some of those moments have birthed amazing long-term relationships, while others have not. Regardless each moment has been marked by an inordinate amount of trust in entering the world of the person or thing I’ve fallen in love with. This immersion of sorts, was also accompanied by a willful, even enthusiastic, kind of reorganization of my life towards the life of the person or thing I had fallen in love with. I make a point to say ‘thing’ here in addition to ‘person’ because my journey in Tap Dance Land is one that has been couched in love. In reality there is a great difference between falling in love with a thing and falling in love with a person. But, the idea of enthusiastic reorganization – that I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of others who loved me – applies.

Love, the will to do the good of the beloved, brings with it a focus on the other. The lover must learn of the beloved. What is good for them? What can I do that is good for who and what I love? This shift in focus is what precipitates willful transformation. It is what puts us on the adventure towards something new, beyond even the scope of our own vision. It isn’t the vision of the final landing place that is most important. What comes to the fore is the desire to do good for the sake of the beloved. It is the relationship, in the present moment (and for balance maybe fore the sake of eternity) that takes center.

Inspiration

With love comes inspiration and dreams. Inspiration – literally the indwelling of a spirit (or will) – is the seed that allows for something new to happen. New wants lead to a reorganization of attention, learning, and even a recalibration of risk. I want to be with the person I love, so I risk inviting them into time that used to be private for me. I want to know the person I am in love with, so I learn to be with them and become attentive to them.

As I shift, my thoughts about what is possible in the near and far terms also begin to shift. I might think, “Maybe I could spend the rest of my life with this person? Doing this thing?” I might say to myself, “I never thought I’d have my life organized this way but look at me now.” Personal preference seems to take a back seat to this reorganization. The reason is that the reorganization is trusted to be good. Not in the way a few scoops of ice cream is good. Good in a now and future me and the world sense of good. So, even as the shift is happening there seems to be a desire for continuity – more togetherness, learning, attention, even risk.

Trust

This all hinges on trust. To give of oneself so fully as to find yourself in the world of another hinges on the trust you have that the other person loves you. That they, too are attentive, learning and willing to risk for your good. That they reach out to you, see things in you that you may not see in yourself, and desire to be with you so that they too are transformed is all part of what happens when the loop between two people who love one another is closed.

What I’m talking about here is not limited to romantic experiences of love although it is profound and potent there. I explored the communal nature of people in a earlier note, including how profound the relationship we have with friends can be. Every relationship has some potential to be an opportunity for transformational love. In a community, the practice of attending to one another is quite profound as the closed loop doesn’t have to be reciprocal (as in 1:1), but rather a loop that is closed when looked at among all the members of the community. Regardless, the loop between people who love one another is a beautiful thing to bear witness to when it is closed.

A Specific Application

Speaking of closed loops let me return briefly to close the loop on the proposition of life that Jesus Christ lays out in his two statements. What if these loves – the love of God, neighbor, and self – set us in a course of action that would ultimately lead to transformation? That if we had our priorities straight – our loves in the proper order – everything else would land in just the right place? What if love – specifically directed and ordered – really was the answer? I have to believe that Jesus Christ new something about how humanity worked. Even if I didn’t subscribe to who he says he is (which I do), I would be remiss to not at least take his ideas at face value. I would test them against the other ideas about life that are out there, some that I may have taken on without even knowing.

So, what is this thing that Jesus knows exactly? That if we might put our trust in him, and follow him – that is reorganize our lives to be more like his (even enter into his world) – we might come to experience a kind of life that is good in a way unlike any other. That if we love his life more than our own, we might find the life we were actually meant to live. That if we love him more than anything else we might be tempted to love, we might come to a life in which love flows effortlessly from us in all directions – even towards our enemies.

This is relational transformation. This is both deeply personal and profoundly universal. This all may sound fanciful or unrealistic. Then again, so does falling in love sometimes…

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The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
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