Life does not take place on that cold and starlit intellectual plain. Life is lived on a very different, far from ideal level where even the best of men make big mistakes in the daily pursuit of their fullest humanity. Man is engaged in a process of growth, and while he needs ideals about such things as hoping and loving, these must not be so distant as to be totally beyond him. One of the worst failures of the institutions, such as the Churches and the universities, which are meant to help man, is their estrangement from the ordinary experience of imperfect men. Professors and theologians necessarily reflect on life in an intellectual way. The problem arises when they forget that hardly anybody else can handle life very effectively on that level. Politicians, at least, have a feeling for the disordered state of human affairs and for the strategies that work in getting things done. Somewhere between the impossibly ideal world of the scholar and the sometimes cynical real world of the politician is the territory where most men live.
We live, as a matter of fact, in an age of reaction to the over intellectualization of life. Anthropologists and other observers have been reminding man in books like The Naked Ape and On Aggression of his animal inheritance and the damage he does to himself when he forgets it. Man is not just intellect, they seem to be saying, and his planning and theorizing take him only so far. There are limitations and conditions to life - a body, feelings - that are also man. Man struggling to rediscover his unity and to achieve some of the wholeness that comes when everything that he is, mind and body, intellect and emotions, fit together. Man wants, in other words, to get back into relationship with himself, to take up the friendship that is fundamental to all others.
There is something more touching than offensive about his present symbolic and anti-rational struggles to lay hold of relationship to himself again. His protests arc fragmentary and half-formed at times and as varied as only things man does can be. At one moment he is man the infantile and narcissistic; at another, man the playful and poetic. The protest is, however, the same; down inside, man is groaning for something more than cold, clear knowledge, and for something better than liberation for his animal urges. He really wants something to match his deepest if garbled yearnings; he wants to experience, in all the aspects of his personality, the meaning of friendship and love.
Man wants this in a language he can understand, from those who show some signs of having experienced life as it is rather than as it might be in some ideal world. It is not an easy task or an easy time in which to take it up.
The Gospels, if they are about anything, concern love and man's efforts to learn how to love more deeply and more creatively. Beautiful words and glowing sermons may be as unreal for the average man as intellectual speculation about remote theological themes. But, as pioneer psychiatrist Otto Rank once said, "The only therapy is life," So, too, the only way to avoid intellectualizing love is to write from what you have learned about it in your own experience.
To speak about love in something other than stained-glass tones, you must face and deal with it as you have encountered it in your own life. What you say will not be perfect and will not fit all cases; it may lack a certain theological finesse, but it will at least be real. As such it represents human experience reaching out to other human experience. Shortcomings will be present, but there is a chance to make up for them by a real willingness to share what you have suffered yourself.
The problem of life is really the problem of love. Anybody who thinks otherwise has not really faced much of life yet. Everywhere I go, I see lonely people who, even though they cannot put their longing into words, are still hoping for some experience of love and understanding that will give them the strength to face life with a little more courage. As the narrator of Thornton Wilder's Our Town noted, "You knows' well as I do: people are never able to say right out what they think of money, or death, or fame, or marriage. You've got to catch it between the lines; you've got to over-hear it." Of man's longing and loneliness, there is much to be overheard. What you can hear tells you how much people need and want the substance and direction that only real love brings into life.