1 Corinthians 13 might be the supreme piece of condensed theology in the entire Bible. The whole message of Scripture is there. In this one short part of a longer letter, Paul shows himself to be an excellent philosopher, theologian, mystic, teacher, and psychologist. If he had written nothing else, he would still deserve a place in spiritual history. Honestly, I could preach for two hours on this one chapter and wouldn’t scratch the surface of its brilliance.
I have to compare the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 with our cultural understanding of love—largely a romantic infatuation that does not and cannot last. It’s fine as far as it goes, but we need a much, much larger understanding of love.
Paul has to list a whole bunch of descriptors to even get close to this mystery he calls love. He grabs for moral superlatives: “Love is patient, love is kind, Love is not jealous, Love is never boastful or conceited, Love is not rude, nor does it take offense. It takes no pleasure in other peoples’ faults. It is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure. Love does not come to an end.”  It has an infinite quality like the very being of God!
Divine love that is God’s Self is an absolute open-heartedness. When you’re in that space, your energy flows outward and even expands. When you’re not in that space, your energy sucks in. It’s all about who did me wrong and why I don’t like those people and how my aunt never talks to me and why so-and-so is a jerk.
It doesn’t help that our brains have evolved to hold onto negative thoughts (like Velcro) and let the positive thoughts slip off (like Teflon). To retain a positive experience, you have to intentionally hold onto it for at least fifteen seconds to allow it to imprint on your brain. You have to deliberately, consciously choose to love and not hate. Because people haven’t been taught that, we have even decent people in our country, in political parties, and even in leadership positions in our churches who are much more at home with hate than they are with love. And they do not even know it.
Spirituality is whatever it takes to keep your heart space open. That is daily, constant work because your ego and the events of life want to close it down. The voices in the dominant culture tell you to judge, dismiss, hate, and fear. If you don’t have some spiritual practice that has kept your heart open in hell, I know you’re going to be a grumpy old man or a hateful old woman. By the last third of life, negativity is all you have left.
You have to work to live in love, to develop a generosity of spirit, a readiness to smile, a willingness to serve instead of to take. Each morning you take your inner temperature, observing if your energy is loving and flowing outward or negative and sucking in. Contemplative prayer helps us witness and recognize these outer flows and inner suckings.
Sooner or later, by God’s patience, many of us eventually fall into Love and learn to draw our life from that Infinite Source “which has no end and never fails.” Yes, the nature of Love and the nature of God are the same thing.