Valarie Kaur & A New Definition of Love

Valarie Kaur & A New Definition of Love February 14, 2024
Valerie Kaur
Valerie Kaur via Wikimedia Commons

“I believe revolutionary love is the call of our times.”  ~Valarie Kaur

In See No Stranger, A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, the social activist and faith leader Valarie Kaur wants to introduce us to a new concept of love. It’s a love not based on romance, or the brotherly/sisterly love known as agape, but “love in a time of turmoil.”

Kaur is a civil rights lawyer and a member of the Sikh religion who chronicles her own journey growing up as “a brown girl in California farmland.” She details the violence her Sikh community has had to face, especially after 9/11, and her own role in fighting injustices across the US. But her experiences have not made her angry or bitter, they have helped shape her ideas on how we can use love to improve ourselves and, in turn, the world around us.

Her basic premise is that the solution to our problems is love.

If you cringe at the idea that love can be the solution to what ails us, so does Kaur. She believes that the deeper issue lies in “the way we talk about love.” She urges us to “reclaim love” as a force for justice and good in our lives and in our community. This starts with a new definition of love that expands its meaning:

 Love is more than a feeling. Love is a force: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again. This labor engages all our emotions.

I’ve called out 5 key points from Kaur’s memoir that illustrate her unique take on love and capture the essence of her thinking. The words below are hers with some light editing on my part.

5 Ways to See Love in a New Light

  1. The “call to love” echoes down on us from the lips of spiritual leaders and social reformers through the centuries. Guru Nanak called us to see no stranger, Buddha to practice unending compassion, Abraham to open our tent to all, Jesus to love our neighbors, Muhammed to take in the orphan, the Hindu mystic Mirabai to love without limit. When we expand the circle of who counts as one of us, we increase the number of people who are worthy of our love.
  2. Loving only ourselves is escapism. Loving only others is ineffective. Loving only our opponents is self-loathing. But when we love ourselves, love others, and even love our opponents, it makes love revolutionary.
  3. Wonder is where love begins, but the failure to wonder is the beginning of violence. Once people stop wondering about others, once they no longer see others as part of them, they lose their instinct for empathy. And once they lose empathy, they can do anything to them, or allow anything to be done to them. When you see someone unlike yourself, say the words, “You are part of me I do not know yet.”
  4. Grief is the price of love. Loving someone means that one day, there will be grieving. They will leave you, or you will leave them. The more you love, the more you grieve. Joy is the gift of love and in turn, grief is the price of love.
  5. Begin with one person. Can you choose one person to practice wondering about? Can you listen to the story they have to tell? If your fists tighten, or your heart beats fast, or if shame rises to your face, it’s okay. Breathe through it. Trust that you can. The heart is a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

Valerie got me thinking of the following thoughts on love from two of my spiritual writers:

True love for the self always overflows into love for the other; it is one and the same flow. And your freedom to extend love to others always gives you a sense of dignity and power of your own self. In fact, you cannot have one without the other. Trying to love others without a foundational reverence for yourself ends up as neediness. ~Richard Rohr

God is love and love is unendingly unfolding—permeating and transforming and connecting All That Is. ~Mirabai Starr

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