"No one can blame you for falling in love. It is rare and beautiful."
The Emotional Aesthetics of Romantic Love
In human life many of us are drawn to two competing ideals: harmony and intensity, peace and adventure, order and chaos, unity and individuality, rest and zest. Whitehead brings them together. He reminds us that harmony needs chaos and vagueness; that spontaneity is as important as predictability; that harmony is not always good and disharmony is not always bad; that intense experiences can be ever the more intense because they bring things together harmoniously; and that even as we might enjoy various kinds of harmony, we ought not rest in them too completely, because life includes novelty and incompatible perfections. For Whitehead harmony is not stagnation. It is the living reality of differences held together, beautifully, for a time. Different feelings, different ideas, different people, different lives - together for a time.
Falling in love and being in love are examples of where harmony and intensity come together, for a time, in a rare and beautiful way. The perfection of the experience does not last forever, and it is incompatible with other kinds of perfection, for example that of generous celibacy, which likewise has its beauty. In the Whiteheadian view of things, there are many forms of beauty, not just one.
It is sometimes thought that "religion" - however defined - is the enemy of romantic love and the passionate intensity it brings with it. There are strands of the historical religions that are quite prudish when it comes to being in love; they choose harmony over intensity, peace over adventure, order over chaos, and rest over zest. They are for unity, but not of the sexual or romantic kind.
But the open and relational or process tradition appreciates those kinds of religion that do not hide from pleasure or bodily experience, speaking of a divine lure at the heart of the universe as Eros. Process theologians see God in, not apart from, the openness and relationality of being in love. They add that the rare and beautiful togetherness of being in love can be a springboard for many other kinds of love, including love of neighbors, strangers, other animals, ideas, and the earth. A love of life itself. The passion of romantic love can flow into a passion for justice, for service, and for hope.
Indeed, romantic love has an eschatological and revelatory side. The harmonious intensity of romantic love reveals the possibility that we humans can be together with one another in deeply generous and intimate ways, unshackled by fears. We can fall into romantic love, yes, but the joyful side of this falling can be expressed in familial love, neighborly love, community love, world love, and even, ought we hope, love of enemies.
None of these other loves need supplant the beauty of romantic love itself, of falling in love and being in love: a rare and beautiful togetherness.
- Jay McDaniel, October 5, 2022
Falling in Love
A Rare and Beautiful Togetherness
Where is God when people fall in love? God, say process theologians, is in the falling and the love.
Falling in love a response to a lure within the whole of the universe toward beauty, intense harmonies, and creative transformation. If there is highly sentient life on other planets (and surely there is) they, too, will be receptive to this lure. They, too, may fall in love. The cosmic lure is local but also universal. It is everywhere.
In human life, the falling has two sides: a falling away from a fear of life and connection, and a falling into intimacy itself as a place of holy communion. The fear that drops away is a fear of vitality, of passion, of pleasure, of joy, of intimacy, of fun, of laughter, of holy communion. As this fear drops away, a new kind of vitality emerges: a rare and beautiful togetherness. Falling in love is falling into this togetherness, this intimacy. The intimacy is wonderful, vulnerable, and dangerous: dangerously wonderful. It brings with it pain as well as pleasure, unhappiness as well as happiness. And sometimes it is unrequited. Moreover, even when mutual, it does not last forever. But things do not need to last forever in order to be valuable. They can last only as long as they last. The idea that something needs to be permanent, unchanging, and everlasting is fallacious: t fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
And they can prepare the way for new kinds of intimacy, deeply intense in their own right: as in the intimacy of a very good marriage. Falling in love is not necessary for a very good marriage, but it can set the stage for such a marriage. And the memory of having been madly in love can itself be a sacrament by which the marriage is nourished again and again. See Process Theology and Marriage for what a healthy marriage might look like.
In any case, the act of falling in love is an embrace of life and a window into a divine Intimacy. Open and relational theologians in the process tradition speak of this intimacy as God. God is a lure toward togetherness within the universe, present in each living being, and also a receptacle for all that experiences that are beautiful in their own right, one of which is falling in love. Carmen understands.
In Malta there is a family and church tradition for a younger sister to devote her life taking care of an older brother who has become a priest. In this story, inspired by true events, Carmen (Natascha McElhone) has followed this path from the age of 16. She is now 50, so when her brothers dies, she has no way to support herself or any idea of what to do.
Writer and director Valerie Buhagiar has created a very creative and jubilant movie about the spiritual practice of transformation. Carmen sneaks into the church to sleep and, when she hears people coming, hides in the confessional booth. Soon people are confessing to her, and she is dispensing advice. Her words may be unconventional, but they are happily accepted by the villagers. For example, when a boy asks why God allowed his mother to die, Carmen explains that sometimes God is very tired and he makes mistakes.
There are some magical moments in the story; Carmen seems to be led in new directions by following a pigeon! Her spiritual transformation is amplified when she meets Paulo (Steven Love), a handsome young antique dealer who introduces her to the joy of a romantic relationship. He also makes it possible for her to fulfil her yearning to ring the bell at her late brother’s church. Natascha McElhone gives an enchanting performance as a-50-year-old woman who opens her heart, body, and mind to a new life. Her other outstanding performances have been in The Truman Show, Ronin. Mrs. Dalloway, and Solaris.