In the interest of full disclosure, you should know I'm writing this meditation on June 5th, preparing to depart for Jerusalem and my best friend's wedding. Amidst all of the planned festivities, my friend has invited a small group of us to share a quiet moment together at the end of the Sabbath, and she's tasked each person to bring a favorite quote or bit of biblical insight to offer the group. I suddenly realized this morning that I had never actually picked out a quote, but-as I searched frantically for something appropriate, something profound without trying too self-consciously to be so-I stumbled across this advice from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his letters to a friend*:
It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving, for a long time ahead and far on into life, is: solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in themselves, to become world, to become world in one's self for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on each of us, something that chooses one and calls them to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves ("to hearken and to hammer day and night"), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.
I know that's quite the block of text, but I'd highly recommend it. The way Rilke describes romantic love echoes almost perfectly the challenge that I think lies at the heart of Christianity. It's the task for which we were born and baptized. Our lives are "barely large enough" to begin to properly love our neighbor (partners included), but we are called again and again into the fullness of that communion, striving to recognize the Divine in the "world" of each and every person. We choose that love not because it is easy, but because it's the only thing that allows us to become wholly ourselves. It's what it means to be the Body of Christ. So, as I prepare to witness my friend's wedding, as we remember the Pulse massacre, and as Baltimore celebrates Pride once more: Love boldly. You are world, the kingdom of heaven come near, and God has so much salvation to offer in your "upward-beating heart."
* Rainer Maria Rilke, "Seven: Rome, 14 May 1904," Letters to a Young Poet.