Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Conservation of Love -- a reflection and poem by Mother Natalia

As we finish up the Nativity Fast, we wanted to make sure we shared this beautiful reflection from Mother Natalia with you. She wrote it for our eparchial magazine, Horizons. Even though the fast is now coming to a close as we are now in the prefestive days, we hope it will bless you and give you some inspiration as we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. 

When I was studying engineering physics, a basic concept that often came up in our courses is
that of the conservation of energy. Simply put, this law indicates that energy can be neither
created nor destroyed; it just is. And this energy that exists is merely converted from one form
into another. So if I need solar energy, I can’t just create it out of thin air; I have to harvest it
from the energy source that is the sun. Similarly, when I convert one kind of energy into another
–kinetic energy into thermal energy – it can go from kinetic into thermal energy, but it doesn’t
just disappear into nothing.

I was reminded of the principle when an engineer visited the monastery to go on poustinia.
During this personal retreat he shared this idea: In the universe there exists not only the law of
conservation of energy or the conservation of mass, but there is also the law of the conservation
of love.

This concept struck me and stayed with me, so much that I took it to prayer with me on my own
poustinia. This concept that brought together two of my great loves – physics and the spiritual
life – brought together for me two passages from the apostle John. At the beginning of his
gospel, he writes about God’s creation of the world: “All things came to be through Him and
without Him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). And then in his first epistle, he tells us that “God is
love” (1 John 4:8). Everything that was created exists in God, and it is good, and it was created
in love by Him who is Love.

As we enter into the Nativity fast we are given an opportunity to re-order our loves. But as we do
so we must not fall into the trap of thinking that rightly ordered love means to turn away from
food or drink or other material things because they are bad. These are good gifts given to us by
our good Father. But they lose their goodness when they become the object of our love as
opposed to a gift received in love. Nor does love of God in the Christian life mean turning away
from human love/love of neighbor. Quite the contrary! As we read throughout scripture,
especially in Matthew 25, the very act of loving our neighbor is loving God. C.S. Lewis reminds
us that our desires are “not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about
with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants
to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a
holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory).

God placed in us a desire for the infinite; this desire is like a magnet inside of us drawing us back
to Him, because only He – the infinite – will satisfy our deepest longings. When we turn our gaze
from God, we divide our love among other things, or worse, we place our infinite desire on finite
things, turning them into little gods. This not only gets the proper order of things wrong, flipping
it on its head, it also means that I’m not loving all of these things and these people with fullness.
We have to go back to the law of conservation of love: I can’t just create love out of thin air. I
have to harness it from a pre-existing energy source, and St. John tells us what – or who – that
source is: God. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His
Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1
John 4:10-11). I must first go and receive from the Source, and having done so, I can and must
transfer that love to the world around me: to my neighbor and to my daily work.

The Nativity fast is, as all fasting periods are, an opportunity for us to refocus on where we are
directing our love and our desires. Are we willing to sacrifice passing or temporal pleasures for
the sake of conserving and appropriately directing love? In order to receive God’s love, we have
to remove all those little gods that distract us from him; temporarily removing them so that we
can return to them with a proper love, a love without idolatry.

Conservation of Love

Nothing brought into being
can just slip into non-existence.
And all that is,
ever has been,
or still is to come,
came into being through Love.

Thus love must be conserved,
even if it changes form.
It can move
from God to mammon
to sex, food, or sleep.
In each, love aches for the Good.

But the ache isn’t enough.
We must pursue love
in its purest form.
For when spread out,
we find a disintegration,
each separation feeding into destruction.

Yet herein lies the paradox
that when love is focused
singularly on Love,
we find it permeates
even sex, food, and sleep…
when in everything we seek You.

The forms can be deceptive,
for really, there are only two:
I can love You
or love myself.
And each day, hour, moment,
You offer me this choice.

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