I was listening to Faith Hill yesterday on the way home from the farm when a lyric jumped out at me. “It consumes you, But that’s a given, That’s how love moves.”
Maybe I was just feeling quarrelsome, but the use of that word “consume” bothered me. To consume something is “to destroy or expend by use; to destroy, as by decomposition or burning; to spend wastefully,” according to an online dictionary. Not until the fifth meaning do we reach “to absorb; engross,” which is how the songwriter intended it.
It’s natural for creative types to try to express the most powerful moments in life in such a way that the next person to read/see/hear it says, “Hey, I get it! That’s me!” So throughout the ages, people have consumed (“spent wastefully”) words, trying to define love—just like I’m doing today. 😉 The trouble is that we tend to read too much art into life. What I mean by that is that what we read in a book, see in a movie, or hear in a song influences what we expect out of our own lives and relationships. But if you are consumed by love, used up by it, then it’s not really love.
I like St. Paul’s definition, in which love is a verb instead of a flighty emotion: patient, kind, not jealous, bearing all things, hoping all things, believing all things. This is love as it was meant to be: something true, something lasting, something that reflects the love of God who created all of creation because He was so full of love, he just had to share it. This poem by James Weldon Johnson is one of my favorites.
Fr. Richard Hogan distills a complex theology down to five points taken from Christ’s passion. I hope you’ll stick with me, because this is really beautiful stuff. Love is a union of wills (not my will but Thine). It is done to uphold the dignity of the human person (to save humanity, in which Christ saw fragile, fallible beauty). It was a gift of himself—his very life—and it was given of his own free choice. After all, he could have walked away from the Cross, but he chose not to. And it was permanent—after the Cross, everything was done. Even the Resurrected Christ was not the same as he had been before his death. He was no longer of the earth; he walked through walls and came and went instantaneously. And finally, love is life-giving—in his case, eternal life for the whole world. Far from consuming him, his love exploded into something self-sustaining, something that gives and receives in return.
What an example! Hard to live up to, but worth striving for in marriage, don’t you think? Far better than being “consumed!”
Many years ago when I was in high school our concert choir sang a musical arrangement of “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson. I loved his poetry so much I bought a collection of it. This poem is truly a song celebrating the love of God. Glad you referenced it.
I think I like the word consumed in the sense of sometimes it requires absolutely all of me as I love the people around me – I am completely poured out…
love isn’t always pretty at my house 😉
I think it would be right to say that the love of Christ consumed Him; love for His Father and for us.
amy in peru
That is very true. I’m thinking in terms of human relationships, and even when you give all of yourself (which you’re right, we must), holding nothing back, we aren’t consumed–used up–because the answering self-gift gives us back everything we gave. Does that make sense? I just don’t like the idea of being “used up.” Even Christ didn’t cease to exist. His complete self-gift, his emptying, brought about Resurrection. It didn’t end in immolation.