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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

February 16, 2024: By following the path of love, we affirm our agency. We affirm our commitment to personal growth. And we affirm our commitment to lives of action rooted in love.

 

Friday, February 16, 2024

By following the path of love, we affirm our agency. We affirm our commitment to personal growth. And we affirm our commitment to lives of action rooted in love.




THE ACTION OF LOVE

When February rolls around, the finches gather happily every morning in my leaf-bare apple tree to snack on the last few mushy apples left, and I think about love. And when I think about love, I think about bell hooks (1952-2021). hooks was a black feminist author who redefined my own ideas of what love is, from the words "I love you" to concrete values and actions such as respect, commitment, responsibility, care, and open and honest communication. I actually wrote down these values on a piece of paper and put it on my fridge so I could be reminded of how to discern what love actually is day to day.

 

In the past, when someone said "I love you" but did not back up their statement with these values or actions, it felt very confusing. I now understand it was the dissonance between words and actions, which hooks’ writing helped me to name.


Words without action behind them can actually be manipulative and abusive. This was a liberating notion for me, as someone who had grown up in a home where the words "I love you" were mixed with disrespect, domination, and neglect.


I believe many can relate to this dissonance across a range of experiences, such as a church that said God loves all, but in action despised some of its members for having a non-heterosexual orientation; or white people denying their own racism while advocating for separate spheres from people of color; or in our political world, as those who claim to love and defend life clamor for more war and missiles. This abuse of the word love in our lives applies to all its aspects—romance, friendship, activism, family, and work—but I will focus on what we often celebrate around the feast of Saint Valentine (c. 226-229), romantic love.

 

In her book All About Love and Communion: The Female Search for Love, hooks describes how many women fear accepting and stating that love truly matters to them. I didn't even realize I had this fear until I read those words. Of course I yearn for love! But have I ever said those words out loud? Feminism was meant to open the world to women, and it has in many ways. However, I’ve noticed that it is often more socially acceptable to speak of pursuing status, power, and success than to speak authentically about pursuing love.



As hooks describes, “We are indeed living in an age when women and men are more likely to long for power than they are to long for love. We can all speak of our longing for power. Our longing for love must be kept secret. To give voice to such longing is to be counted among the weak, the soft."

 

As we approach Valentine's Day, we celebrate all kinds of love. Love between friends, family, partners, and lovers. I have enjoyed many Valentine's gatherings myself! However, hooks' words cause me to slow down and ask myself: What are the true longings of my heart? Do I have the boldness to look at them with open eyes? We don't need to jump to the how of fulfilling such desires, nor the litany of roadblocks we can instantly list. But rather, how can we pause for a moment, be honest with ourselves, and see our yearnings for what they really are?

 



Secondly, hooks challenged my belief that I am an expert at love. She wrote, "Women can be arrogant when it comes to matters of the heart." I have been in a relationship for many years, so I thought I should know all about love and be pretty darn good at it. However, hooks names the insidious truth that many of us claim or equate care as the primary and sole ingredient of love. Of course caring is a loving action, but what about receiving care in return? What about the other essential ingredients: respect, commitment, responsibility, care, and open and honest communication? To narrow down our earlier question: What parts of love do we actively yearn for? Perhaps we experience certain aspects of love in our life, such as care or commitment. But what about respect? Or honest communication? How can we move towards the fullness of love in our lives?

 

hooks argues that women are no more capable of giving love than our male counterparts, we are just taught to believe so. Because all humans long so deeply for love--should we dare to acknowledge it--we equate that desire with actually knowing how to perform the actions of love. Rather than embracing the faulty thinking that encourages us to believe that women are inherently more loving, we can make the choice—woman or man—to become more loving.

 

A pastor friend of mine used to say, “A good pastor is one who empowers his people to action.” Ever since then, I've had trouble sitting in a pew with the masses where little to no action is asked of me. I am much more comfortable in a democratic circle of like-minded individuals discussing concrete actions and having impactful conversations, as modeled in Starcross' chapel.



We must face the uncomfortable truth that our most favored values, such as love, compassion, and faith, are more rightly understood as life lived rather than sentiment professed. Saint Valentine's day was not only a day of celebration—it was a call to action. This month, let's step into choosing love. By following the path of love, we affirm our agency. We affirm our commitment to personal growth. And we affirm our commitment to lives of action rooted in love.


Reflection by Laura Holford

Laura is a community health nurse and mom living in Sacramento. She is the co-founder of Introspective Spaces, a social venture building reflective spaces for women in healthcare.

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