TO LOVE or not
(This article was first published in the Carleton University Magazine of Spring 2008. It was then updated and submitted in view of the 2013 elections.)
At the mention of the word “love”, the collective human psyche of the 21st century conjures up images of young men and women in the bloom of health, romantic picnics on top of the world, sinfully delicious melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, red roses, candle-lit dinners and sunsets in paradise – all of this, of course, culminating in a fairy tale wedding.
In contrast, the reality in Kenya at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 was vastly different: political rhetoric and a flawed general election opened the floodgates of violence and hatred – anything but a fairy tale. The deluge of hatred was so violent that the country was drenched in the blood of the innocent – while the political kingpins continued with their chest thumping and grandstanding.
It is very difficult to see universal love in such an environment. Wisdom found in abundance in religion and philosophy may help to shed some light on the subject of unconditional love. The one thing that comes very clearly through is that romance is a very insignificant (and short-lived) part of love; and that love is not an emotion, but rather the sum of the individual actions that result in the harmonious relationship between each person and the universe.
Broadly speaking this is the Christian definition of love, as eloquently spelled out in the 2005 encyclical letter by the Pope, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). If, as some philosophers claim, there is no evil but rather the absence of good; no darkness but rather the absence of light; then what Kenyans witnessed after the 2007 general election was the definite absence of light, goodness and love – a love that is unconditional and all-inclusive, a love that is blind to regional, ethnic and socio-economic differences.
This deficiency in love was all the more disturbing because an estimated ninety per cent of the Kenyan population professes to be of the Christian faith. In fact, the junction of Uhuru highway and University way in Nairobi is referred to as “God’s Corner”, because four houses of God are strategically built around it: a Catholic chapel, a PCEA cathedral, a Lutheran church and a Jewish synagogue. It would seem that as a society Kenyans had enjoyed peace and stability for so long that they forgot that these are the fruits of a constant labour of love; they had become so engrossed in the minute details of their individual lives that they had lost sight of the call to love their neighbours as they love themselves.
Certainly, it can be said that it is sometimes hard to appreciate or recognize love until it is gone. All it took was one moment of madness. The post-election violence quickly erased the memories of peace and stability in Kenya. In one moment of madness, the delicate balance of co-existence was lost. The immediate cost was hundreds of lives lost, and many thousands of people displaced – not to mention the billions of shillings lost in trade and business. The long-term costs are incalculable. There are thousands of children who will be traumatized for life. But there was a valuable lesson that Kenyans can share with the rest of the world, and do well to remember in future: all other definitions of love are utterly meaningless in the absence of unconditional and all-inclusive love of one another.
(What follows was added for the Vineyard Magazine.)
In one of his sermons, Peter Marshall paints a poignant scene of Peter’s moment of madness; just after he has denied Jesus for the third time:
The group standing round the fire was silent, shocked at the vehemence and the profanity of Peter’s denial.
It was a torrent of foulness, but it was his face that startled them.
It was livid
mouth snarling like a cornered animal.
It was not a pleasant sight, and they kept silent.
It was a silence so intense that the crowing of a distant cock was like a bugle call . . .
Immediately Peter remembered the Lord’s prophesy:
“Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.”
Like a wave there swept over him the realization of what he had done. All of a sudden he remembered what Jesus had said, and with tears streaming down his face, he turned away from the fire.
Through a mist of tears he saw ahead of him the stairway that led to Pilate’s palace . . .
And by a terrible Providence, it was just at that moment that Christ was being led up the stairs to appear before Pilate.
The Lord had heard!
The Lord had heard every hot searing word . . .
The Lord had heard the blistering denial . . .
the foul, fisherman’s oaths . . .
He – He had heard it all!
Christ paused on the stair, and looked down over the rail – looked right into the very soul of Peter.
The eyes of the two met . . . at that awful moment.
Through his tears all else was a blur to Peter,
but that one face shone through the tears . . .
that lovely face
that terrible face
those eyes – sad
tender . . . as if they understood and forgave.
Ah, how well he knew Him, and how much he loved Him.
(Note: Marshall’s passage above is reproduced exactly as it appears in Peter Marshall’s book Mr. Jones, Meet the Master. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1949. The book is available in the St. Paul’s Library on the first floor).