What is Love? Homily for Epiphany 4

by Sonya Dykstra

When I was reviewing the various passages in preparation for today, I gravitated towards 1 Corinthians 13, specifically the section on love. It’s a big topic, but I thought to take a stab at it and I want to open my reflection with a poem my good friend Natasha Ramsingh wrote titled,

Love Has Come For Me.

Love has come for me

It stands there
Demanding to be let in.

I thought.

I wanted it

I thought.

I invited it in

But as I stand here
Trembling on the threshold
I realize
I had no idea what love was going to bring.

Love demands of me to be open

To split myself apart
To show up
Stop hiding.

It demands of me
A laugh.
This laugh
That comes from so deep in me, it belongs to a thousand different versions of me
Long gone.
But that have been waiting to laugh
…This laugh

I thought I knew what love looks like
I have read a thousand books, heard a million songs,
Dreamt many a dream
I thought I would invite it in

But I didn’t know

All the shadows
The hidden parts
The broken pieces lurking in corners
And forgotten
Pieces that need
And yearn for love

Love has come for those places.
And it won’t leave till it has seen them.

Love is not here for my pretty places.
My edited, sanitized, perfectly curated places.
It has come for the nitty gritty.
The sadness, the unresolved, the uncharted –
My sacred places.

Love is coming for me

And I can not hide.
It is asking for the World.
Of Me.

It isn’t gentle and tender
Knocking politely.
It has come like a Hulk
Shaking my walls
Cracking me open

Love has come for me

And it’s not going to stop
Till it has overturned every stone
Looked behind every door
Shone light in every crevice.

It is looking for me

And it won’t stop till it has seen all of me
All of Who I am.
All of What I am.

I tremble

I didn’t know you would leave me standing here naked
For all the World.
For MeTo see

And for You
This person with the soft green-gold eyes
Who wants to see all of me
What will You find.
What will I see
Are either of us ready
To be laid bare

My dark corners tremble
I am afraid of what I will see

You’re clearing a path
In me
Making room in me
For all of me

I am breaking open

And I see now,
That this, has only ever been the job of love


I open the door

Even though I tremble.

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What is love?

When I mentioned to a work colleague that I agreed to give a reflection at my church and one of the readings was the famous, “love is patient, love is kind…” text, someone in earshot let out a loud chuckle. Someone, I might add, who has been married long enough to have two young daughters and who I assume, has lots of experience with love. I suspect the chuckle came from a place of knowing. Of knowing that love is not always patient; not always kind.

What is love?

I asked this question to a friend who has been in a long-term relationship and who shared with me last week that he reached a milestone, making it his longest one. He responded and I quote ‘love is work; love is hard.’ Paul in his message to the Corinthians doesn’t include these adjectives in his description of love and yet, I believe them to be just as true.

So, love is patient, but not necessarily? Love is kind, except when it’s not? Love is hard work? I asked more people the same question and got more answers – some serious, some lighthearted like, ‘have you asked Siri?’ I could ask even more people and likely get as many varied responses as the folks I ask. And all with valid notions, understandings and insights into love. It seems then, love is subjective.

Not long ago, I tested my vocation at the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, a community of sisters living near Yonge & Finch. It turns out I’m not nun material, but one thing that stands out from that experience is something my notice director once shared with me which is we base the majority of our decisions on two emotions: love and fear. When I look at my life, I can cite examples where the guiding force behind a decision has been fear, perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

And it seems appropriate to share with you a recent example. On the cusp of deciding whether or not to speak today, I listened to someone stand up here and delivery an excellent homily. For someone, like myself, who has an aversion to public speaking, the fears intensified: the fear of not measuring up, the fear of not having anything to say, the fear of disappointing people, the fear, the fear, the fear. I remember sitting right in the front pew and deciding most definitely, I would not give a reflection. And it was precisely at this moment that the notion of love versus fear entered my mind. I knew I could choose a different path. And saying ‘yes’ wasn’t just saying yes to the invitation to speak, it was, in fact, a yes to love. When I shifted the emotion from fear to love and framed my decision from this new perspective, I was able to move out of myself to the other. Perhaps something I say today or something from the interactions I had in prepping for this homily, will have a positive effect on someone. Perhaps not. But the possibility of good coming out of giving a reflection is 100% greater than the possibility of good coming out of not giving a reflection.

It’s a rather small insignificant example but we also have a rather large significant example. When Jesus was facing death, death on a cross, I’m sure he was filled with fears. Things would have turned out differently if he chose to act on those fears. He moved from fear to love; from self to other: not my will, but yours be done.

When I said yes to today, I noticed two things:

One, I began dipping into an untapped reservoir: of inspiration, of beauty, of bliss – a reservoir I didn’t know even existed….until I say yes.

Two, the fears didn’t go away but I felt more comfortable sitting in them. I can describe it best as a knowing: that whatever the outcome, I need not fear because I acted from the place I was meant to – from a place of love.

Saying yes to love has allowed me to give birth to something new: my first ever homily. I use the phrase ‘giving birth’ intentionally because the other readings inspired, for me, this notion of love birthing new things.

The psalmist declares in verse 6 “upon you, I have leaned from birth, it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.”

In Jeremiah, God says “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

I like to think when we say yes to love, we are becoming more and more the person God created us to be while we were yet unborn in our mother’s womb. And now, in the womb of the world, we can continually be formed and transformed by love.

With all its definitions and subjectivity, love, like faith, is at its root life-giving. And with each nod to love, we give birth to new life in us and around us.

May we each have the courage to open the door to love…even when we tremble.