What is the shape of love?

Love is shaped like a singularity, infinitely small, from which all of time and space was born in an expanding whirl of heat and light. Suddenly, there was hydrogen; suddenly, helium; protons fusing in violent birth. Love is shaped like stars, coalesced into points of light, igniting the first elements of the universe and fusing them until they burn out. Love is shaped like brilliant death, the glorious explosion of a star flinging the contents of the periodic table across the universe. Nearly fourteen billion years after hydrogen, after helium, these same protons and neutrons and electrons dance in our bodies: they sigh in our lungs, they spark in our brains, they pulse in our blood.

What is the shape of love?

Love is shaped like star-flung elements combined into molecules combined into amino acids combined into endless wreaths of DNA, the gritty spiraled bits of our humanity twining through our cells. The authors of the Bible knew nothing of DNA but they understood that human bodies are no different from the material that comprises the rest of creation, so they used words like dust and dirt and mud to describe our creation. They tell us that God reached into the dusty, dirty mud and shaped the first human being with God’s own hands and named them descriptively: Adam, which means nothing more than “mud person.” Mud Person was no different from the mud around them. Mud Person’s essential humanness was not in their gender; it was not in their race; it was not in their language or creed, for they were one, undifferentiated, full of the spectrum of human potential. Mud Person’s essential humanness was the way they reflected God’s own image.

Thousands of years later, we tell the story differently, but it is the same. Our DNA is a wonder, but there is nothing that makes our matter different from the matter in the stars, the sky, the trees, the ground. Our humanity is not defined by gender; it is not defined by our skin colors and cultures; it is not in our languages or religious practices. It is defined by something else. There was never an Adam, a Mud Person, but collectively, we humans are shaped like the same adam. Our many appearances, our many genders, our many cultures, our many arts, our many sciences hold a mirror to the face of God.

What is the shape of love?

Love is shaped like a promise, a covenant. Love looks like God’s rainbow promise that love always triumphs over vengeance and frustration as it hangs over God’s ark-shaped promise of salvation upon the flood.

Love looks like God’s starry promise of parenthood to elderly and childless Sarah and Abraham, their offspring to be as many and varied as the stars glittering in the sky.

Love looks like God’s oceanic promise of rescue as refugee slaves flee the dehumanizing conditions of captivity through a dangerous ocean held apart, then slammed together as they scramble onto the far shore.

Love looks like God’s tablet-shaped promise to accompany God’s people with the gift of the law, of Torah, from Mount Sinai: not just a list of thou shalt and thou shalt not, this promise tells God’s people, because I love you, because you are mine, this law shall mark you as my own.

Love looks like the words of the prophets inked carefully onto scroll after scroll, unrolling to display the voice of God promising the exiled people that no matter how far they go from home and no matter how many times they turn away from God, God will always turn back to them.

What is the shape of love?

Love is shaped like ash: gritty and harsh, caustic when mixed with water, so rich and dark a black that it confounds the eye, with just a tiny bit of sparkle. Love is shaped like last year’s palms blazing gloriously for seconds before subsiding into beautiful darkness to be collected into a tiny bright bowl. It is shaped like what remains when the spark of life is gone: a tiny pinch of dark dust, a chemical compound more than a living thing, so insignificant that the smallest gust of air could scatter it beyond retrieving. Yet no part of the original is lost: not one bit. The cells that once were lush and green return to their component elements; they combust and rise invisibly with the heat, or they crumble and fall: but always, matter is conserved, and energy. Not one atom winks out of existence. Nothing is ever lost in ash.

Ash is transformation. Ash is potential realized, and spent, and made potential again. Ash is carbon, the leftovers of death, the building blocks of life, the love of God that never leaves us, the assurance that we will never be lost to God.

What is the shape of love?

On Ash Wednesday, and every day, love is cruciform. Love is shaped like the cross. Love is shaped like death.

Love is shaped like Jesus beginning his final walk to Jerusalem. Love is shaped like Jesus’ final meal shared tenderly among friends. Love is shaped like Jesus’ consent to be betrayed by a companion and arrested unjustly. Love is shaped like a painful walk to Golgotha, dragging a heavy wooden cross. Love is shaped like a tree, once living, turned into an instrument of death. Love is shaped like Jesus’ own gift of life, emptied on the cross for the sake of the whole world.

Love is not heart-shaped. In the end, it does not look like bouquets of roses or boxes of chocolate. Love is cruciform, and it gives itself completely so that we too may receive its gifts: hope, joy, forgiveness, freedom, justice, abundant life.

Today, this is the love we receive: love made out of dark carbon ash, the stuff of the cosmos, the stuff of our very being; love a reminder of all God’s promises, made to our ancestors and renewed in us today; love in the shape of the cross, the instrument of death transformed into eternal life.