In 1862, as token of love and remorse,--Dante Gabriel Rossetti buried a sheaf of original manuscript poems with his dear departed wife,--Elizabeth Siddal. In 1869, having reconsidered his romantic gesture, Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhumed his wife, retrieved and subsequently published the buried poems.
Romantic love is an illusion because it was created by entertainers. The poets, musicians, dancers, and painters--under the direct instructions of the Powers That Were--created lyrics, melodies, movements, paintings, sculptures, and the now-notorious etchings to praise the ruler's next, or most recent, sexual conquest with the same enthusiasm (and exaggeration) they used when documenting the Great One's military victories. The entire Old Testament book, Solomon's Song of Songs, seems bent on making King Solomon's physical passion high fashion. It was written around three thousand years ago, perhaps by Solomon himself or, more likely, by one of Solomon's temple poets.
It is, shall we say, unabashed in its celebration of the more erotic pleasures. God is mentioned only in passing, like the perfunctory grace murmured by ravenous diners after the food is already on the table.
If the Song of Songs were not part of the Old Testament, the Bible thumpers would have demanded its banning long ago. It is more an erotic miniseries than Bible lesson, with the characters Lover and Beloved exchanging passionate pleasantries--sort of an erotic Can You Top This?watchmen of the walls!" Hardly the behavior--or the treatment--of the king's latest bride, one who is surrounded by handmaidens, and discourses the afternoon away on the tender pleasures of love.
Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
Like their twentieth-century counterparts, the lovers use time-honored seduction techniques on each other:
Gifts (or at least promises of gifts) . . . We will make you earrings of gold, studded with silver. (1:11)
Flattery . . . Take me away with you--let us hurry! The king has brought me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you! (1:4)
Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. (4:5)
How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant. (1:16)
Which leads inexorably to the main event . . .
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love. His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. (2:3-6)
I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: "Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night." I have taken off my robe--must I put it on again? I have washed my feet--must I soil them again? My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock. (5:2-5)
He promised me earrings, but he only pierced my ears.
Dripping with myrrh and dripping with metaphor, these could be passages from a romance novel published today. While the many seductive and erotic portrayals of true love in ancient literature, painting, and sculpture seem to prove that nothing really changes when it comes to human desire, significant elements have been incorporated into today's notion of romantic love that were unheard of until only a few centuries ago: monogamy, "till death do us part," equality of women, and average lifespans topping seventy years.
Prior to all that newfangled thinking and longer living, almost all marriages were arranged. From peasants to princesses, the families--not the participants--decided who would get hitched to whom.
These arrangements were often made at birth, and families would sometimes have an extra child especially to mate with an unspoken-for child in another family. To allow your parents to choose your spouse was accepted as a genetic inevitability--like eye color, balding pattern, or height.
These marriages often took place as soon as the couple was "ready for marriage"--specifically, when each had reached puberty. If you were able to reproduce, you were ready for marriage. In the Hebrew tradition, for example, a boy around thirteen would declare, "Today I am a man." His marriage followed shortly thereafter--sometimes on the same day.
In such marriages, till death do us part was the rule. Considering, however, the pestilence, wars, epidemics, droughts, floods, and any number of wrathful gods who would wipe out entire populations just to make a minor point, even if you survived for very long, your spouse probably wouldn't. Till death do you part, then, was usually a five- to six-year contract. With an average lifespan of about thirty-five, the husband or wife who lived to that ripe old age could have five or more domestic partners.
In olden times sacrifices were made at the altar-- a practice which is still continued.
Nobility had arranged marriages, too, but nobility (naturally) had a loophole. The loopholes went by the name of mistresses, concubines, courtesans, lovers, palace guards, and, of course, multiple wives. Solomon dismissed--but acknowledged the presence of--his erotic entourage as he wooed his latest prize:
Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her. (6:8-9)
This arrangement was described by Oscar Hammerstein II in The King and I:
A woman must be like a blossom, with honey for just one man. A man must be like a honey bee, and gather all he can. To fly from blossom to blossom, the honey bee must be free. But blossom must not ever fly, from bee to bee to bee!
In theory, the queens and concubines remained faithful, but in practice, well, what the honey bee doesn't know won't hurt him.
The word court originally meant a walled space in front of the house where chickens and other livestock were kept. The wall was a sign of wealth and power--and offered some protection from nosy-greedy-jealous neighbors. As the power and wealth of the powerful and wealthy grew, the courts became larger and larger, becoming covered spaces. Eventually, the great hall where the powerful brokered became known as the court. As it was also the ruler's job to dispense justice, royal courts became the basis for our courts of law today (where the majority of married couples will end up for divorce proceedings).
Naturally, the courts of the rich and powerful attracted rich and powerful wannabes, hangers on, and anyone the ruler found amusing. Hence, courtiers and courtesans, raising flattery and pleasure to world-class levels. Among the courtiers and courtesans, of course, would be some dangerous liaisons. Among these, romance was high on the list. The members of the court wooed with what they knew--praise and presents--which led to the word courtship.
We declare that love cannot exist between two people who are married to each other. For lovers give to each other freely, under no compulsion; married people are in duty bound to give in to each other's desires.
MARIE, COUNTESS OF CHAMPAGNE--1174
All of these are French words because romantic flattery reached a peak in the courts of France. Troubadours were hired to sing songs of love, lust, and longing to any objet d'desire. Fashion was used to attract romance. Satin clothing, lace, high heels, elaborate wigs, and jewelry, jewelry everywhere. (The women dressed nicely, too.)
The end result of all this courtship was, occasionally, one of those till-death-do-us-part marriages. What a concept! Getting married to the person you feel passionate about. What would the French think of next? Although the custom met with limited acceptance, by the time of the French Revolution--and especially after--it became a more popular pursuit.
The United States in the 1800s became a hotbed of select-your-own-spouse activity. Any number of people left the Old World and its old customs because they wanted to have some say in who their spousal roommate might be--and even more left to escape the mate selected by fate (that is, their parents): "I am not exactly sure what I'm looking for, but I know it is not that."
Another significant difference between then and now is the way in which women were viewed. Inexplicably, throughout the history of what we call Western civilization women have been treated appallingly. In biblical times, for the most part, they were viewed as one step above cattle. The man owned his wives, and listed them among an inventory of his possessions. Well into the nineteenth century, women had no rights, could not own property, and could not enter into contractual agreements. The reason prostitution is the world's oldest profession is that the only thing a woman who was not under the "protection" (and the thumb) of a man could sell was her body. In legal or criminal disputes between men and women, men always prevailed.
Perhaps in time the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own.
G. C. LICHTENBERG
To wealthy families, women were such a burden that the father offered money to any man who agreed to take the daughter away and spend a fraction of her own inheritance taking care of her. In Taming of the Shrew, when Petruchio arrives in town, he proclaims,
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.
It was not the daughter, but the size of her dowry that aroused the passions of eligible men. In poorer families, the solution was often more direct--excess female children were murdered at birth. Children who were not able to start working in the fields--as most boys were--within a few years of birth were dispensed with.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote, "all men are created equal," he meant men, not women. The year 1776 was not the year of independence for American women. Women were arrested for smoking cigarettes as late as 1904, and Margaret Sanger was jailed in 1916 for teaching birth control. As hard as it is to believe, women did not have the right to vote in the United States until 1920. Even more astonishing: in Canada women did not have the right to vote until 1948.
In romance and marriage, the concept that women are equal to men is only a few decades old. A great many people in this country still haven't heard the news.
Another radical difference between then and now is lifespan. In the past three to four centuries the average lifespan has nearly doubled. Reaching thirty-five was once considered an accomplishment; today pushing seventy is commonplace. Thanks to indoor plumbing (which took septic waste away) and improved transportation (which made fresh fruits and vegetables available all year), combined with the three A's of modern medicine (antibiotics, anesthetics, and antiseptics), "happily ever after" has become a long, long, long time. Whereas "till death do us part" meant five to six years in the Middle Ages, it means--for the average twenty-one-year-old embarking on this adventure for the first time--more than half a century.
But enough on why romance isn't working. Let's focus instead on the solution.
All hatred driven hence, The soul recovers radical innocence And learns at last that it is self-delighting, Self-appeasing, self-affrighting, And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will.
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
There's an old story about a brainstorming session called by God to discuss plans for the creation of the world.
"Nearly everything's taken care of," God observed, looking over the vast blueprint for Earth and all its inhabitants, "except we still have a few very important decisions to make. One of the most important is `Where do we hide humanity's true self?'" This was important because, at a previous planning session, it was decided that one of the games people would play on Earth--just to keep them from getting bored--would be Hide-and-Go-Seek. God would hide certain things on Earth--such as humanity's true self--and it would be up to human beings to find them.
This question prompted a flurry of suggestions. "Let's hide it on the highest mountain!" one of the architectural archangels recommended.
"No," said God, "someday human beings will climb the highest mountains and they'll find it."
"Let's hide it on the dark side of the moon!" one of the seraphim suggested.
"No," God said, "one day humanity will explore the moon--even the dark side--and the true self will be discovered."
"Let's put it at the bottom of the deepest ocean," offered a cherub.
I was told that the Chinese said they would bury me by the Western Lake and build a shrine to my memory. I have some slight regret that this did not happen, as I might have become a god, which would have been very chic for an atheist.
"That's the best hiding place so far," said God, "but some day humans will even plumb the depths of the deepest oceans and find the Titanic of their true selves." God's little pun was met with polite laughter and a few celestial groans. "Besides," God continued, "we don't want all humanity to find their true selves at the same time. Then the game would be over forever. That's no fun."
A great peace settled on the heavenly conference room. Eventually, the voice of a timid but thoughtful angel broke the silence.
"Why don't we hide humanity's true self inside each and every human being?"
"Excellent!" proclaimed God. "Hide it in plain sight. Put it in the most obvious place of all. It will take them forever to find it inside themselves." God, who loves games, chuckled with delight.
"If it's going to be all that difficult, shouldn't we provide some clues?" asked an angel who was particularly fond of Earth.
"Yes," said God, "I suppose that would be only fair. In fact, we'll have all the great teachers of the true self tell humanity precisely where it is." God turned to the right. "Jesus."
"Why don't you say something like this when you're down there: `The kingdom of heaven is within you,' or `the kingdom of God is within you,'--something like that? Where else would the true self reside than in the kingdom of God?"
Men talk of "finding God," but no wonder it is difficult; He is hidden in that darkest hiding-place, your heart. You yourself are a part of him.
"Sure, Dad," Jesus replied, writing in his notebook. "I'll say it in Luke 17:21."
"Isn't that a little obvious?" asked one of the game-loving angels. "I mean, isn't that giving it away?"
"No," said God, "on Earth only the hummingbird has a shorter attention span than the human being. Most humans won't even hear it. Those who do hear it, and believe it, and discover it's true, will most likely forget it."
"Do you think we should give humans a few more memory chips?" an electrical engineering angel asked.
God pondered this for some time and finally remarked, "I don't think so. Maybe. Let's see how they do with the current allotment. But, just to be fair, let's give them another clue. Jesus, add to your statement about the kingdom of God being within something like `seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.'"
"Sure, Dad," Jesus said, pulling out his notebook again. "I'll say that in Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31."
"There," God said, "are we all agreed?" There were murmurs of approval and delight. The angels couldn't wait to see how much fun human beings would have playing the Hide-and-Go-Seek-Yourself game. "Great! Let's break for lunch--it's on me. Diet Ambrosia for all!" There were general cheers and hurrahs from the satisfied but famished angels.
Here is where they usually put the fade-out in this story. It's as though this were the last major decision to be made. Most people assume that the cosmic construction crew got to work and six days later, there was Earth. The storytellers usually fail to relate what happened in the afternoon session. Another very important decision was yet to be made.
"Human beings have an in-built desire to love and to be loved," God said, "to care for and to be cared for; to support and be supported; to please and be pleased. Where shall we hide each human being's true love?"
"Begging your pardon, God," said the angel in charge of budgeting Earth, "but do humans really need any more love? After all, we are sending down legions of angels--at enormous expense--who have nothing to do but love and protect human beings. These angels are, it is well-known, exceedingly lovable. Then there is all the wonderful energy flowing in and around everything--what do you call it . . . ?"
"Life," God answered. "Or life force, spirit, cosmic energy, creative intelligence--it has a lot of names."
"Yeah, that," the CPA cherub said. "This energy seems to be loving; in fact, it seems to be ostentatiously loving."
"Well, that's because it is," God reminded the budget-conscious angel.
"Do you have any idea what it costs to maintain this energy, every day, all the time?"
"Yes," God said with a knowing smile, "I know, I know."
"Then we have all the emissaries you will be sending to Earth on one loving mission after another. The travel budget alone is astounding. And we have to amortize the cost of blessings, grace, miracles. Take your son Jesus, for example . . . "
You must believe in God, in spite of what the clergy say.
"That won't be very expensive," said God. "A few robes, a couple of pairs of sandals, a donkey . . . not much."
"But there's the resurrection," sighed the cost-cutting angel in exasperation. His eyes would have rolled heavenward were the angel not already in heaven. "Do you know how expensive a resurrection is? Why, the paperwork alone . . . "
"Yes, I know, I know . . . "
"And then there is you," the fiscally responsible angel said, checking his Earth Construction Cost Analysis; "it says that you will personally dwell within each human on Earth!"
"If that's where we put the kingdom of God, where else am I supposed to dwell?"
"But have you considered the duplication costs?"
"Haven't these already been approved?" asked God.
"Yes, yes, I'm just trying to avoid redundancy. Certainly if you are inside each human being, loving them from the inside out, can't they just love you back and let that be enough loving?"
"Humans loving humans is like bananas on cereal," God said. "It's certainly not necessary, but it is nice."
"There were a lot of nice things we didn't include--television without commercials, Hagen Dazs as a health food, honest politicians, televangelists who have at least skimmed the Bible . . . "
"Oh, the unkind things they do in my name!" said Jesus, shaking his head.
"You agreed to be crucified by those on Earth," God reminded him.
"Yes, but I didn't think it would be like that," said Jesus.
"Always read the small print in the contract, son," God reminded him.
"If I may continue," the financial angel said.
"Please," said God.
"...eyes in the back of human heads plus one on top, a tropical climate for New York City--the list of unfundable niceties goes on and on . . . "
"Let's put humans loving humans into the category of very nice, then," said God, exercising his godly prerogative.
"You mean like songbirds, sunsets, and portable CD players?" the CPAngel asked, reviewing the very nice list. "Spacious skies; amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties; above the fruited plain . . . "
"Yeah," God said. "That list."
"Very well," the CPAngel (who was always secretly pleased when God bumped something wonderful up to a higher budgetary category) said, "we'll put it in here--right under colors, music, and forgiveness."
"So," said God returning to his original question, "who would be a human's perfect human lover?"
It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.
G. K. CHESTERTON
"What are the qualities of a perfect lover for humans?" an angel asked.
"Good question," said God. "Ideas?" he asked the assembled throng.
"The lover would have to know the beloved well," suggested one angel. "Likes, dislikes, wants, preferences--and then be willing to supply the good rather than the bad."
"Yes, and the lover would have to know when the beloved wanted the preferred good," another angel added, "and how much, and for how long."
"They would have to be together all the time," a third angel suggested; "that way when one or another of them wanted something, the other one would be always there to provide it."
"And this would mean that they would have to be able to live together, sleep together, eat together, and bathe together. They would have to be together during sickness and in health, in good times and bad, till death do them part."
"It would be nice if they both got into movie theaters for the same price," one of the more practical angels suggested.
"Yes," said God, "these are very good characteristics of ideal lovers. Who, then, is each human being's ideal lover?"
A flurry of suggestions cascaded in:
"The one who says `I will.'"
"Their star-crossed lover!"
"No, no, no," God said at last, "you're all considerably off track. Think deeper on this; think practically about love. That's something we can do that human beings don't seem to be capable of. It's our job, then, to provide the right answer, and to leave lots of clues about that answer all over the Earth."
The world embarrasses me, and I cannot dream That this watch exists and has no watchmaker.
Another silence descended on the heavenly conference hall. Some angels went into deep reverie. Eventually, the thoughtful but timid angel who had suggested that humanity's true self be hidden within each human being spoke.
"The answer is simple," he said. All of heaven turned to listen to his words of wisdom. "We'll just make sure that every human is a Siamese twin."
"Closer," said God, "but not exactly there."
"And very, very expensive," said the CPAngel.
"Dad," said Jesus, looking through the notebook he was preparing for his earthly journey, "when in Matthew 19:19 and Mark 12:31 I repeat your commandment `love your neighbor as yourself,' it doesn't just mean to love your neighbor. Aren't you also telling people not to love any other human more than themselves?"
"Very good, Jesus," God said. "Just as `the kingdom of God is within you,' it is quite clear, but will be astonishingly misunderstood. Human beings must learn to love themselves first, and then they will be able to love their neighbor. They won't be able to help it, in fact."
"I don't remember `love your neighbor as yourself,' being one of the ten commandments," said an angel.
"It's not, but it is one of the two commandments that form the foundation for all the Old Testament teachings," God said. "Jesus, what do you say at Matthew 22:37-40?" asked God.
"About the same thing I say at Mark 12:28-31 and Luke 10:25-27," Jesus said, looking through his notebook.
"The one at Matthew 22:36-40 reads:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
"Why does it say that the second commandment is like the first?" an angel asked.
There is a Law that man should love his neighbor as himself. In a few years it should be as natural to mankind as breathing or the upright gait; but if he does not learn it he must perish.
"Although I certainly like being loved," God said, "the reason humans are asked to love God is that loving feels good. If they're loving me with all their heart, soul, and mind, they are immersed in love and, therefore, in good feelings. The second commandment is like it because . . . Jesus, why don't you take this one?"
"One of the things that can interfere with loving God is hating what's on Earth. If humans are preoccupied with hating themselves and each other, they will be filled with hate and not love, which is neither enjoyable nor productive. In other words, if you are a human being and you're loving God, yourself, and your neighbor as yourself, then life is bound to be primarily loving."
"My boy!" said God proudly.
"Are you saying, God, that the best human lover for each individual human is himself or herself?" asked an angel.
"Each human is a lover and beloved in one?" asked another.
"Precisely," said God. "First, love God as you understand God to be; yourself second; and then everyone else. Those are the rules for a happy, productive, satisfying human life."
"That won't cost much," said the cost-conscious angel, "in fact, if they do that, this Earth venture could be nearly self-sustaining."
"Does this agree with what you will be teaching, Moses?" God asked.
"Fine, fine," said Moses.
"Confucius?" asked God.
"Yes, yes," Confucius nodded.
"Buddha?" God asked.
"Ah, yes," said Buddha.
"Of course," said Krishna.
"Certainly, yes," said Mohammed.
"Tony Robbins?" asked God.
"He's out making another infomercial," said one of the angels.
"Oh, that's right," said God.
"But I think Tony would agree, too."
Love is a metaphysical gravity.
R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER
It was getting on toward evening. The heavenly bodies gathered 'round the place in time and space earmarked for the construction of Earth. They looked into the void that would soon be separated into the heavens and the earth.
"Will the human beings practice what we teach them and be happy," one of the Earth emissaries asked in a soft voice, "or do something else and be miserable?"
"Each human being has that choice in each moment of human existence--it's that free-will clause we are experimenting with."
"Will most human beings choose to love God, love themselves, and love their neighbors?"
"If they accept God for what they perceive God to be and not what other people proclaim God to be, then loving God is easy," said God. "They will then have all the loving they need to take care of themselves, and to give to others from the abundance."
"Will most human beings choose to do so?"
"Most human beings will choose to do it at least some of the time," said God.
"Eventually, what choice will most human beings make most of the time?"
"That's the end of the story," said God. "Do you really want to know the end of the story?"
"No, I guess not. It's more fun to watch and see what happens."
"I agree," said God. "That's why even I chose to not know the ending myself."