Ah, February, the month that is, for those of us in northern climates, the coldest, darkest, and, blessedly, shortest month of the year. It is also the time when, as the St. Valentine’s Day holiday approaches, our thoughts turn to romantic love.
On this Feb. 14, many couples will become engaged. Others will mark the date with romantic gestures toward significant others, with flowers and candle-lit dinners, touchstones for remembering why we fell in love in the first place.
Recently, two friends of mine asked me to do a reading at their wedding. They are a literate, funny, artistic couple—she a deeply spiritual educator and he a thoroughly intellectual attorney who doesn’t suffer gladly anything with a whiff of the religious.
I thought long and hard about what I would share with them. The ecstatic poetry of Rumi came to mind, as did several beautiful blessings by the late Irish poet John O’Donohue and a passage or two from Madeleine L’Engle. In the end, what I settled on may strike some folks as odd, but to me, it’s a powerful explication of the kind of love to which we are called by the Creator of Love.
When my turn came to approach the lectern, I read from Tom Robbins’ 1980 novel Still Life with Woodpecker. It is the whimsical love story between a red-headed, environmentalist princess (deposed) named Leigh-Cheri and a tequila-swilling outlaw called Bernard. I chose an exchange between the unlikely lovers that took place in written dispatches sent through Bernard’s attorney.
“The most important thing is love,” said Leigh-Cheri. “I know that now. There’s no point in saving the world if it means losing the moon.” …
The message continued, “I’m not quite 20, but, thanks to you, I’ve learned something that many women these days never learn: Prince Charming really is a toad. And the Beautiful Princess has halitosis. The bottom line is that (a) people are never perfect, but love can be, (b) that is the one and only way that the mediocre and the vile can be transformed, and (c) doing that makes it that. Loving makes love. Loving makes itself. We waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love. Wouldn’t that be the way to make love stay?”
The next day, Bernard’s attorney delivered to her this reply:
“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words ‘make’ and ‘stay’ become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
What a beautiful, radical portrait of love. This kind of love is not idealistic—it knows that no lover is perfect, but perhaps the love between people can be. The best we can do is to “aid and abet”—to clear the way for true love to move, grow, flourish, and multiply. When we choose to love another for life, it is a decision that must be made freely and one that can be fulfilled only within the freedom that real love creates. We will disappoint each other. We will fall short. We’ll be more frog than prince, and surely, every once in a while, we’ll have terrible breath.
But we have the hope of creating a perfect love—a scandalous love—crafted in the image of the love with which God loves us. That love—agape, the Greeks called it—is perfect. Unconditional. Everlasting. God’s love for us exists outside of karma or any law. It is grace alone. And that is the ultimate outlaw.