When a video has 800 million views on YouTube, it’s probably fair to say that it’s tapping into something pretty deep in our common humanity. John Legend’s love song, ‘All of Me’, is one such video, with many commenters on the site saying that this is the song they want played during the first dance at their wedding. What is it about this song that’s so attractive? Have a look at the chorus:
‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you,
Love your curves and all your edges,
All your perfect imperfections.
Give your all to me,
I’ll give my all to you.
You’re my end and my beginning,
Even when I lose I’m winning.
‘Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you.
Am I the only one who hears this and thinks, ‘Theology of the Body!’? Here is love seen as mutual self-gift: ‘I give you all of me and you give me all of you’. Now we might have thought that in the age of casual sex the idea that love can be total and permanent was abandoned, but evidently not. Have you ever seen bridges in major cities decked with padlocks left by lovers as a symbol of their enduring passion? A friend of mine inspected one of these bridges once to see if he could find a combination lock – needless to say, he couldn’t. All of the padlocks were permanently locked, and their keys thrown away. Even if our contemporaries don’t think lasting, self-giving love is possible, they still think of it as ideal.
But where did this ideal come from? Of course, at one level we might say that it is natural to us, that it’s the most human way of loving. This might be true, but we should nevertheless recognise that not every culture has idealised self-giving love in the way that we do. If you want to know what ancient Greeks and Romans thought of love, crack open Ovid’s Metamorphoses. There you’ll find dozens and dozens of weird and wonderful love stories from Greek and Roman myths. In the vast majority of them, romantic love appears as something dangerous, crazy, destabilising, subversive and often unequal. The only counterexample I can think of is the story of the elderly Baucis and Philemon, whose gentle beauty serves to emphasise the destructive nature of amor in all its other incarnations.
So if contemporary Western culture views love as ideally self-giving, and if this ideal was more or less alien to Greco-Roman culture, where did it come from? I think we should look no further than the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper, memorialised in the Holy Thursday liturgy: ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’. These words, inscribed into Western culture by faithful repetition at innumerable Eucharistic liturgies, show the gold standard of love, marital or otherwise: my body, for you.
In the Christian life of love we give our bodies to each other like Christ gave us his. We are to be people who lend our ears to those who need to speak, who offer our hands in signs of peace, who give our smiles freely, who embrace warmly, and who refuse to dominate by force. This self-giving love is what John Legend’s 800 million listeners are attracted to. Each of them wants to be the type of person who gives him or herself entirely, body and soul, and they want to share their lives with others who reciprocate.
This Holy Thursday, let’s renew our faith in self-giving love, and let’s recommit ourselves to the Eucharistic life: ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’.