But the greatest of these is love
The shot is not photoshopped. It caught my eye passing by the powder room, where a stray beam of autumn sunlight just happened to be hitting the mirror and bouncing back onto the wall, splitting into a prism. It seemed oddly mystical, shimmering right by that Faith Hope Love plaque on the wall, almost like the domestic equivalent of Constantine’s vision of the Cross in the sky. Celestial portents, things too wonderful to imagine.
Everyone knows that verbal triad, made famous by Saint Paul, faith, hope, and love. Written perhaps in a teddy-bear moment when he was reflecting on his great struggle to build the Church and thinking over what was worthwhile. “And these three things shall remain, faith hope and love, but the greatest of these is love”. These words are considered sage enough to adorn most wedding ceremonies, even for those who are not religious.
It made me think of an extraordinary obituary I stumbled across while reading the paper a while back. It had been written in advance by the deceased. To me, that means he knew the end was coming and he had some time to think about it. There are lots of things you could put down at such a juncture, people who had wronged you, explanations for things which had not gone as planned, but not for this man. Instead, he made up a long list of all the things he had loved in his life, and it seems there were a lot. Love may have been what defined him. It seemed from the description that what was unfolding was the satisfaction and joy of a life well lived. I almost thought it was worthy of being framed. It might be considered everyday vernacular for what Saint Paul had expressed.
He had loved gardening. He had loved travel, good Italian food, he had loved his work, and he had loved his family whom he took the time to name, one by one starting with his wife of sixty-some odd years on down to the grandchildren. He loved to fix things. He loved his neighbours. He loved his co-workers, and he loved the many people he ran into of all stripes, from every religion, creed and colour. He loved his Church, he loved barbecuing. He loved camping and he loved his dog. He loved to read. He loved to take walks and enjoy nature. To top it off, he even said he loved love.
It is not often that reading an obit will have such a positive effect on you. Most give you a bit of a twinge, but this one left you with a glow. It was one long beam of sunlight, hitting the wall and breaking up into colours, beautifying all that it touched.
From someone saying goodbye to life, it seemed like a sound piece of parting advice. Good things are all around for us to enjoy. We just have to drink them in, and they are there to appreciate for those who will notice.
Maybe it’s time to review that entire passage from the Bible. It is beautiful enough to be read in its entirety.
From Saint Paul’s thirteenth letter to the Corinthian Church.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(taken from the New International Version)