Paul Tillich: Why Love Is a Constant Spinning
Yesterday I wrote a post about a deep affinity between the deconstructive philosophy of Jaques Derrida and the activism of Thomas Merton. I concluded by suggesting that “love is a constant spinning,” by which I mean that love is always sensitive to the changing dynamics of the love situation, both in ourselves as the lover and within the object loved as the beloved. If love is to be authentic it needs to be seeking that which is real in the other from the place of what is real in our self. Love is a union of what is real. It cannot live in the house of pretense, superficiality, or caricature.
The reason that love must be a constant spinning—that is, a constant unresolved sensitivity to the concrete love situation—is that reality, be it the reality of the other or of our self, does not easily and obviously disclose itself to us. We live by way of mental concepts and images that, to varying degrees, are “relatively adequate,” to use David Tracy’s phrase. This relative adequacy stands in tension with the absolute drive within love to unite with reality.
The single most important text for me when it comes to this idea of love being a constant spinning is Paul Tillich’s words on Christ’s love and the overcoming of the absolute and relative tension in reason. If he’s too abstract for you, try the couple paragraphs that follow him. He says,
The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law; it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete. The paradox of final revelation, overcoming the conflict between absolutism and relativism, is love. The love of Jesus as the Christ, which is the manifestation of the divine love—and only this—embraces everything concrete in self and world. Love is always love; that is its static and absolute side. But love is always dependent on that which is loved, and therefore it is unable to force finite elements on finite existence in the name of an assumed absolute. The absoluteness of love is its power to go into the concrete situation, to discover what is demanded by the predicament of the concrete to which it turns. Therefore, love can never become fanatical in a fight for an absolute, or cynical under the impact of the relative. Systematic Theology V I, 152.
The phrase “love is a constant spinning” is an attempt to mirror what Tillich is saying here. It is an attempt to unite the absolute and the relative tensions in human thought and action. Love is absolutely a constant spinning. As long as life is moving, love never lands. It is always sensitive, always moving, as life itself moves.
Years ago dear friend and mentor of mine captured this insight in a way that has never left me. His name is Jim Bjork and he was a friend to countless young people as well as a potter. His pottery provided him with seemingly endless analogies between is craft and a life well lived. So if I may borrow a page from his book, what I’m getting at is that, like a potter who is endlessly attentive to the clay spinning on her wheel, to its texture, speed, shape, even smell, love is endlessly attentive. The novice who see his own ideas more clearly than the clay upon which he works will end up both personally frustrated and having to deal with a pile of mush. The difference is, of course, that eventually the potter’s wheel stops, whereas life moves on. Have a look at the video below for a beautiful look at the work of an attentive potter.
From this I hope it can be seen that, in both Derrida and Merton, their refusal to accept settled answers is not evidence of a superficial relativism, but rather it is the logical response to a deeper absolute, the absolute of love.