Novice at Love
I continue to work my way slowly through Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise. I figure if I have any chance of becoming wise, it surely will be a slow process. Each of her chapters is rather long. And each one is a big topic. Right now I am creeping through the love chapter. That certainly is going to take a while.
Fairly early in that chapter Tippett shares about her own marriage and divorce. That is always a story of love and love gone awry. I appreciated her poignant account of it. She said, “When my marriage ended, I walked into a parallel universe that had been there all along; I became one of the modern multitudes of walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love.” I suspect for many of the multitudes of the walking wounded, the story continues in that parallel universe. But there is where Tippett had a turn of events. And that is what attracts me to her thinking and writing.
She realized that love in her life continued. Listen to her words. “This is the opposite of a healing story---it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. I have love in my life, many forms of loving. As I settled into singleness, I grew saner, kinder, more generous, more loving in untheatrical everyday ways.” I am touched by her words. I like the idea of discovering scarcity in the midst of abundance. We usually are seeking the other way round. I find her description of herself to be refreshingly honest and creative in a very simple way.
I especially appreciate her self-description as one learning to love in untheatrical everyday ways. That is where most of us live most of our lives. Her self-description set me up to see things in a new way. The next sentence in her long paragraph took me a step further. She confesses, “I can’t name the day when I suddenly realize that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly use of an essential word.” I think I have dealt with a poverty of imagination all too often.
Tippett continued in a way that teaches me. She observes, “And here is another, deeper carelessness, which I am absolving in a spirit of adventure: I come to understand that for most of my life, when I was looking for love, I was looking to be loved. In this, I am a prism of my world. I am a novice at love in all its fullness, a beginner.” That is it! She has named my own place in my love pilgrimage. I am also a novice---a beginner. You would think someone my age would have figured much more out and been further down the love road.
No doubt like Tippett, I also thought I was looking for love, but in fact I was looking to be loved. Love never works very well in that kind of context. Too often, there is too much ego in the mix. I am happy to be loved, if and when it happens. And it probably happens much more often than I realize. To be loved is a wonderful experience. But it is different than loving. Like most people, I want to do both. But it is important to keep clear about the two different experiences.
The last phrase that I lift up from Tippett’s words is the phrase, “love in all its fullness.” When I read that phrase, I was sure I did not know about love in all its fullness. Of course, I know some things about love. But like Tippett, I am a novice---a beginner. How could I know about love in all its fullness? That is what wise folks know. That is what masters know. They know love in all its fullness. I am sure Jesus, the Buddha and the classical great spiritual teachers know. And that is what they want us to learn. Tippett is on the way; I am joining her on the great adventure, as she called it.
One last sentence from her love chapter puts it nicely. She declares her intention. “The intention to walk through the world practicing love across relationships and encounters feels like a great frontier.” The fullness of love will be learned and practiced across all relationships and encounters. That is the challenge and, she says, the great frontier.
Most of the time, it is relatively easy to love our family and friends. But sometimes those end in divorces and family fights. So even those are not guaranteed. And there are many more encounters and relationships than family and friends. There are foreigners, foes, enemies, strangers---it’s a big world out there. To be a novice at love means I won’t always know how to do it. In fact, sometimes I may not even know how to begin. But if I have the intention, it becomes possible.
Reading Tippett helps me be ok with my novice status. I can’t pretend to be any other thing. And I know that pretending has no place in authentic love. There is a role for imagination. Indeed, I need more imagination when it comes to learning about the fullness of love. But imagination is not pretending.
With Tippett’s help, I know where to begin. Any encounter---any relationship---is a practiced ground. It is the frontier of the day. I need awareness, imagination and courage to enter that frontier land of love. I may be a novice at love, but I will learn, grow and become wiser and more loving.