This was posted last week at Out of Ur blog but I’d like to re-post it here.
A peculiar development occurred in the medieval age about love.
Behind closed doors and in the rush of brief encounters there developed
what has been called “courtly love” or “romantic love.” Married men
found themselves emotionally carried away with either another married
woman or a single woman. This courtly love, so we are told, remained at
the emotional and non-physical level. Some call it Platonic love. The
interpretation of many is that the Lover, because of the emotion it
generated, preferred the nearly intolerable absence of the Beloved over
the presence of the Beloved.
The Lover preferred the titillation of
fantasy over the toughness of fidelity. The essence of courtly love was
to become intoxicated with love. It was to be in love with love, it was
to prefer the fire of love over the Beloved, and it was to delight in
the experience of love over the presence of the Beloved.
and Isolde. Perhaps even Romeo and Juliet.
Friends of mine are speaking of the consumerization or commodification in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. These folks love church, and what they mean by loving church is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend the churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship.
They love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of singing long enough until their feelings are evoked or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper. Such folks might like sermons that create powerful contrasts between God’s wrath and their sinfulness or stories told so well to usher them into the depths of human loves and hates and tragedies and comedies. What they like is the freshness of discovery or the flush of shame or the intoxicating sense of learning something new. They may create such a stir of silence in expectation of some great preacher or some great leader that the sheer presence of that person swoons their soul.
This is not worship.
My contention is rather simple: the shaping of a Sunday service or a worship event or a concert in order to generate a profound experience might emerge from a courtly love sense of worship. The expectation of such an experience on the part of the worshiper might also emerge from a courtly sense of worship. The opening of the Bible to read in search of an experience, or the entrance into a prayer time in order to rediscover some powerful emotion may also emerge from the intrusion of courtly love into how many today understand spirituality.
Let’s call this was it is: spiritual eroticism and those who are good at it can be called spiritual erotics.
So, what can be done? The same thing that good critics, like C.S. Lewis, of courtly love did about that distortion of love. Love, proper love – the love of God and, by extension, love of others that both Moses and Jesus reveal – is to focus on God as the Sole Beloved worthy of our entire heart. Eros, Lewis argued in his The Four Loves, wants to be a god, wants to be an idol. Eros, left to itself, will not lead us to Charity. Eros needs to be tamed by Charity. When Eros is tamed by Charity, what happens?
Charity leads us to the Beloved. Charity skips over the intoxication with the experience of love and leads us straight to the face of the Beloved. Those who know the Beloved and desire nothing but the glory of that Beloved may well know the experience, but they are so enthralled with the Face of the Beloved they forget where they are and dwell in the presence of God with but one thought: God deserves praise, God is worthy of praise.