The "year with bell hooks" Project: Letter #005
All About Love: Spirituality - Divine Love
Hello everyone! Today’s “year with bell hooks” letter #005 is by guest writer Taqiyyah Elliott. I fully believe the words below are truly transformative. If you find this guest letter mind-shifting and body-engaging, please consider sharing TCW to spread awareness.
The Primacy of Love
Love can be life-giving. Love appears in human and divine embodiments. Love holds power to be a transformative healing force.
But what truly is love? What are we aiming for when we love?
I believe love in all of its many moving and exciting adjectives; when it all boils down to it, love is a choice.
But we’ll get there. Let us converse with bell hooks first and her chapter, “Spirituality: Divine Love.”
bell hooks opens up with Saint Teresa of Avila’s declaration and yearning to be in community and in love with one that we can only assume, God, Jesus. She says, “Who He is, I want to be: crucified for love.”
Crucified for love? Odd.
Does love require crucifixion?
Must I be crucified to love?
Surely, love cannot be death-dealing?
hooks displays the way society has suffocated, hijacked, and remade love to be a part of individualism and capitalism, all in the name of God, particularly within the Christian tradition. This colonial makeover by organized religions and racialized capitalism has turned love into a death-dealer that commands individualism.
At the core of this sort of love, the community is forsaken, and we forget how interconnected and interrelated we are to humanity, nature, and all that is creation. This sort of carrying-on will have many adopting a belief that unnatural suffering by the hands of humanity [but masked as divinely ordained] is necessary to know, receive, and give love.
Surely, love is not death-dealing.
How has being embedded in a western, white Christian supremacist, capitalistic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, xenophobic society hindered you from experiencing the gravity of love?
hooks holds hope in love. hooks is invested in love. hooks believes love is a critical priority to dismantle societal ills. hooks grounding is in her truth that God is love. In essence, love is immanent and transcendent of our human existence as it dwells here in the earth and in the mystery of something greater than self, something divine.
In other words, love is not just life-giving but a living, moving force that has the power to change. In many ways, love is tangible yet incomprehensible and always relevant since it possesses the power to change and change is constant. Hooks has brilliantly undermined the narcissistic colonial need to center self, to believe it is all-knowing, and to childishly believe it can have everything, for one can never out best the reality that change is inevitable. And, we can never know all that change brings. But for hooks, the greater revelation is the entanglement of love and spirituality amid change. In fact, hooks offers that love can be resurrected in spiritual awakenings, and love can be seen and experienced in creation.
Hooks explicitly states it is in our “spirituality and our spiritual life that gives us the strength to love.” she specifically says at the beginning, “living life in touch with divine spirit lets us see the light of love in all living beings. That light is a resurrecting life force.” Then again, differently, “a commitment to spiritual life necessarily means we embrace the eternal principle that love is all, everything, our true destiny.”
No matter where hooks takes us in this chapter, love, spirituality, divine spirit are intermingling and co-creating forces of life, binding and resurrecting creation. She quotes multiple individuals, including MLK Jr, Merton, Fromm, and some Buddhist beliefs/truths. Ultimately, hooks declares love to be a life-giving, spiritual force seen in human and divine embodiments.
Yet, it is when hooks gets to dealing with how love operates within the world that I believe we must revisit how we define what love is so that it is accessible to those who believe in a higher power(s) or not.
Hooks offers that love is embodied in “the celebration of love as a spiritual force that unites and binds us all.” Hooks even says love functions in a way that, when active, “should lead us into greater communion with the world.” The greatest of loves duties, though, according to hooks is to expel domination and oppression.
If love is to unite, bind, and expel evil forces, then love cannot just be described with fluffy, pretty words that swoon and makes you yearn for it. Love cannot just be categorized and entangled within the spiritual awakening alone, leaving it abstract and existential.
Love must be consistent with its functional powers to change life. And, life changes by a culmination of choices. Love is a choice.
That is the primacy of love—the choices we make.
How this planet and all the critters and creation got here, that’s up to your belief system, which is still filled with choice.
However, how we, as an American society, got here—poverty, death of Black bodies, COVID, voting disenfranchisement, housing, and educational injustices, global warming, immigration violence, and it goes on, WE ABSOLUTELY KNOW.
It has been the choices forced upon us and/or we made, from the murdering and removal of Indigenous bodies on this stolen land, to enslaved African bodies, to Jim Crow, to hate speech and killings of the LGBTQIA+ community, to anti-immigration laws, to elitism, exclusivity, exile in churches in the name of “God”...
I just hope we continue to love [to choose] truths, languages, and behaviors that binds us to thrive individually and collectively among our similarities and differences.
What choices are you making? Are you choosing to bring life wherever you go? Or, are you choosing to death-deal because you are afraid of something different than what you know?
Don’t get me wrong, love is spiritually, physically, and emotionally awakening. Love, in its rawest and most divine form, does good; It heals, transforms, and makes things anew. But, if we are not actively making a choice that consistently draws us together, then we have not known, felt, or engaged with love.
The primacy of love is in the choices we make. I pray you make anti-racist, pro-Black, pluralistic [religious/spiritual wise], anti-xenophobic, anti-ableist, anti-white supremacy, and anti-Christian supremacy choices. I pray you choose love.
Who is She?
Taqiyyah Elliott, M.Ed. is a trailblazing Blackgirl Cartographer, Blackgirl Theologian, and Womanist Practical-Process Theologian. Balancing all she does with intellect and grace, she is a 2nd-year MDiv student at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Most recently, she launched ABCCN - A Blackgirl Community Care Network, which is a womanist-led, community-based, small learning group focused on building community with other Black women and femmes to support each other in caring for our minds, body, and spirit. She writes at taqiyyahelliott.medium.com.