Without Love We Have Nothing – Excerpt from my book – The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together

by Mark Votava

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This communal imagination to love in a place will liberate us all to become more human.  This has been my own experience.  I understand my own humanity better because of the embodied, relational, communal imagination that I am a part of in my neighborhood.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away …

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love… (1 Corinthians 13:1-8,13).

I love this passage of Scripture because it is the major theme of all of the New Testament.  Love is the story that we are to enter into.  It is everything.  We are to inhabit our local context as the body of Christ living into this posture toward all of life.  This is what will shape us relationally.  I want to become an expression of 1 Corinthians 13 together with my friends in our neighborhood.  Thomas Merton states:

When we lose sight of the central element in Christian holiness, which is love, and we forget that the way to fulfill the Christian commandment to love is not something remote and esoteric, but is on the contrary something immediately before us, then the Christian life becomes complicated and very confusing. It loses the simplicity and the unity which Christ gave it in his gospel, and it becomes a labyrinth of unrelated precepts, counsels, ascetic principles, moral cases, and even of legal and ritual technicalities.  These things become difficult to understand in proportion as they lose their connection with charity which unites them all and gives them all an orientation to Christ.

Such things as tongues, prophesy, knowledge, giving my body to die in the flames, a faith that can move mountains, giving to the poor, and fathoming mysteries all amount to little without love.  I would say that without love everything we do amounts to nothing.  Boasting and pride are not a part of love.  Being rude and self-seeking is not a part of love.  Anger and bitterness is not a part of love.  These things are unhealthy for the social capital of our neighborhood.  Love is hospitable to patience and kindness.  Love is hospitable to celebration and protection.  Love is hospitable to trust and hope in others.  Love is hospitable toward the strength of perseverance.  Faith and hope always stem from love.  And love is the greatest quality of our faith as the body of Christ together in the parish.

Without love nothing makes sense in the place that we live.  Everything gets really weird really fast without love. How many of us have known people who get really weird by becoming controlling, judgmental, and manipulative around “spiritual” themes or “ministries”?  I think this happens because we are not rooting our faith in love.  It is rooted in something much more appealing to us. There are a million things to root our faith in besides love and we are being pulled to do just that.  But David G. Benner says, “No account of Christian spirituality is complete if it fails to give a central place to love …”  Love is what makes the communal imagination holistic.  Love makes the body of Christ live. Love is what brings healing to our lives.  Love builds community in our neighborhood.  Love is what will shape the body of Christ in the particulars of everyday life.  Love keeps us sane.  Love makes us human in so many ways.

John M. Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, emphasizes that, “Loving each other… might just be the greatest thing we can do …”  Our love could be the thing that brings liberation to us all in the parish. Our love is to be a part of our salvation, redemption and sanctification as the body of Christ.  As we live together in the proximity of a neighborhood, we will all be shaped through relationship.  We can become great through love.  We cannot become great in any other way!  Our love as the body of Christ together in the particulars of everyday life will do miracles among us.

How we show that we are spiritually attuned to reality is by our love.  Love is the way of a relational life in the parish.  Love guides and teaches us how to discern what is real.  Love is the only relevant factor in our relationships within the body of Christ in the particulars of everyday life.  “There is one thing we must understand, however,” writes William A. Meninger, “and that is that our love must dominate our action and give it direction …”  If love is not present within us, we literally have nothing to build our faith on together.  If love dies within us, we soon become less than human.  We become objects to the systems of our culture and cease to be a “peculiar people” in our local context.  Love must possess and dominate all that we do.  Love must shape us and change us constantly.  Love must capture our imaginations and become communal in the place where we live.  Everything we do must stem from this love that Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13.

We need to see our lives as the expression of this 1 Corinthians 13 love as the body of Christ in the particulars of everyday life together in the parish.  This is God’s will for us.  We cannot escape the call.  Our local context will teach us how to love, being kind to one another and showing patience.  This begins in the particulars of life now.  The relational context we find ourselves in will constantly manifest love all around us.  Catherine Doherty says, “The kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of love, begins here and now.”

God is already working in the neighborhood all around us in our locality if we would only become aware of what is going on.  The neighborhood is the medium where we learn to love relationally.  The communal imagination will be cultivated through this 1 Corinthians 13 way of life in the particulars of each situation we find ourselves in.  Love is calling out to us relationally in all of life.  Every relationship brings opportunities to love.  This is what should define us over the course of our lives.

Love has been a hard reality for me to face as I have tried to reduce following Christ to something else.  My local context always calls me back to the reality of relational love toward others when I tend to do this.  God is constantly teaching me through the relational context of the neighborhood that love is all that matters.  Anything less will not do.  So many times I have lost the focus of this 1 Corinthians 13 love.  But I am coming to understand that this is what I need to base my life on.  Jesus is calling to me through the seasons of life, through the wind I feel on my face as I walk outside in my neighborhood, to love.  I cannot ignore this call to love.  I cannot ignore this call to the parish.  I cannot ignore this call to live relationally.