Credo by Elaine Apthorp

Spring 2010

This is Pride weekend, when those of us who are called to love a little differently than most affirm in joy that we are who we are, and our heterosexual allies who honor the rights and dignity of all people stand in solidarity with us and share their love in supportive action. Yesterday my partner Terri and I marched behind the UU banner with friends of all ages and orientations, and I felt deeply grateful to be among you. To all of you who were there and all of you who couldn’t be there but wished us well, bless your loving hearts.

We can’t choose how we’re made. But we have to choose whether to affirm ourselves and grow whole in who we are—or, for a kind of survival, to hide our hearts even from ourselves. To affirm our own and one another’s wholeness as sexual people is to honor the supreme gift that we’ve all been given: the call to love. 

The desire to caress another human being is rather like other instincts, but unlike the need to eat and drink and sleep and so forth, it draws us toward something more than purely physical relief. It’s the impulse to delight in and to revere another person in the most intense and comprehensive way. The call to love is the very highest calling of the soul. When we heed that call, the call to love well, to love truly, we’re blessed, in tune with the ground of all being and all becoming. Our ability to love one another is the best, most sacred capacity in our nature, to be nurtured, cherished, and celebrated.   

I learned about the call to love a long time before Eros entered the picture. My mother was Southern Baptist and my father Unitarian, and they couldn’t agree on a religious tradition in which to raise their children. So they agreed to let us find our own path. But meanwhile they taught us everything we needed to know about the spirit, because they treated us with patient compassion, justice, and unfailing love. They taught us their creed in every moment of our lives together: theirs was the way, the bliss, of loving kindness. 

My father was a pediatrician who worked with battered children. And he worked lonnnng days. He’d leave at 5 a.m. and get home around 8 in the evening. When he brought his car to a stop in our driveway, he’d sit in the driver’s seat for some time, just staring at the blank white wall of the garage door. I didn’t know then what he was doing, but now I do. He was putting it away, each part of it, all of the anguish of the day—putting it away, so he could turn to us without a shadow in his eyes.  I’d wait until he’d sat there a moment, but then I’d run out to him, and he’d open the door and look into my face with such joy. He always made me feel as if I was wonderful, fundamentally wonderful, like I made his day just by being. He spent the whole day bearing witness and advocating and healing children. And then he went home and gave himself lovingly to his own.  

I think my mother yearned for a daughter ever since she was eight years old and lost her mom.  I turned out to be an odd sort of daughter but she loved me anyway, just exactly as I was. When I yearned to go back East to boarding school she needed me to stay home, but her love for me was greater than her need, and she let me go.  It was not an easy gift to give.  Maybe the very hardest.  But she gave it, with all her heart.

They were my spirit teachers, mother and dad. And from them I learned that love is action—it’s a form of energy. And we feel its power most when it is not easy. It’s taking up the need right in front of you and being wholly present for it.  You do it for its own sake, because love makes its own reason.  When you act with loving intention toward something or someone, you generate positive energy, it comes back to you, and you feel, not depleted, but renewed, not invisible but more wholly present, more full, more real. You’ve expanded the boundaries of the ego to include somebody else.  

That’s what I know about the spirit. My parents taught me most of it. The rest I learned from falling in love.

I’d always thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t “boy-crazy.” I liked boys: they were my friends; I played football with them. But all the other things I was supposed to feel just didn’t happen. For a time I thought I was just kind of dead from the neck down or something. But not for long. When I was sixteen, I went off to boarding school and fell in love. With a girl. I had no idea how to proceed. I had no illusion that she would ever respond to me in the way I did to her. But I was full of wonder, all the time, just because I felt this incredible energy and delight in being around her. My parents had taught me how to love. So I didn’t lead with my need for her. I led with my delight in who she was.

Then I went to Chapel on Palm Sunday, and our Chaplain gave a little sermon about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  It made me cry so hard my pew-mates thought I was upset, but I wasn’t. I was surprised by the vehemence of joy with which the truth came over me. The feeling in my heart was sacred. It was love. Love is not presentable. It’s indescribably difficult. And it makes us so vulnerable. It’s the measure of all we have to lose. But for all its challenges and all its loss, to care for someone else, and to give ourselves in loving action, is to live in bliss.

I went off to college and majored in religious studies because I wanted to know more about what had touched me in Chapel that evening, and I loved what I studied, but my fellow religion majors told me I was “under conviction of sin.” I had studied enough by then to know what they meant by this, but it wasn’t how I felt at all.  For me, eros and agape came in the same complicated, astonishing package. They were somehow one thing. The day I realized I was capable of passionate love for another person was the day I found spirit and knew the ground of being. That love has informed every good thing I’ve ever done or tried to do in the world, as an educator and as a human being.

So this is what I believe.  I believe that we are here to love, and that the call to love is the highest faculty of the soul. It’s not just hormones and pheromones: it’s a journey ultimately spiritual, to expand the boundaries of the self to include other people. It’s the most powerful force in the universe. And you and I have it.