Before I comment on this latest installment of the interview, I’ll postulate what I believe to be some givens regarding love. First, it requires an "Other". Second, it requires work and compromise. Third, it requires honesty. There’s certainly more, but this is a good beginning.
When Jesus was asked about the most important part of the Law, he quoted two parts of the Torah: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and all your soul" (in other words, your whole being), and "You shall love your neighbor as your self." As many have noted, that second statement requires that you love your self. If you hate yourself, and treat others as you treat yourself, you’re not likely to treat others very nicely. Similarly, if you love yourself more than your neighbor, you are likely to treat your neighbor poorly (at least).
So, the ideal would seem to be that you treat the Other as you would like to be treated, and treat yourself at least as well you would the Other. The best baseline we have for this is our family and society. After that, we have the example of the world’s sacred writings. It will be noted that some do not have good modeling in their family, and that many social groups are a better model of "what not to do". I’ll admit that I’m discussing ideals, and doing my best to explore their practical applications.
Installment 14 of "Augustine Interviews God" seems to me a model for the work and compromise love requires, as well as the honesty required. The first thing one notes when surveying the panels in this illustrated interview is the sifting sizes of the principles. Sometimes the interviewer, Augustine, is bigger than God; sometimes God is bigger; sometimes they are the same size.This reminds me of an esoteric gag:
- Q: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
- A: As many as God wants to.
It would be simple enough to say it is Augustine, as the artist, who controls the sizes. For me, this is too easy and facile a solution. I suspect the action is more fluid than that.
In the panel I quoted above, God appears smaller than Augustine. This reflects the point God is making about his physical size. In the next panel, God appears bigger than Augustine.
In this panel, Augustine is asking whether God is involved with humanity. As God points out, Augustine is actually asking whether God is watching us, and cares about what He sees. Again, the relative sizes reflect the content of the panel – Augustine is thinking of God as a Bigger-Than-Humanity Eye in the Sky.
In the next panel, the principles are the same size. This reflects the work and compromise of an honest relationship. Augustine honestly admits that God has recognized the underlying meaning of her previous question. She goes further; here her question is "Does what I do matter", which might as well be "Do I matter?" This is a question which will arise again later in the strip; it is also a question at the heart of a loving relationship.
In the sixth panel, Augustine is larger than God. Her question is aggressive; as God points out, she’s actually asking Him to "prove it". Again, in the next two panels, the principles relate to each other as equals: Augustine admits that she’s asking for proof. When God suggests that he might refuse, Augustine honestly expresses an emotion (in her facial expression) and expresses an opinion: "That wouldn’t be very nice."
God’s response, that her reason for asking is not very nice either, puts Augustine on the defensive. Again, she is aggressive and bigger than God in the following panel. When God says her motives are insincere – she seeks the fame of creating a clever comic rather than information – Augustine becomes small again. Not only has she been caught out, she feels judged, as reflected by her blush and the down-cast position of her head.
Augustine remains small in the following four panels. Here, she is again asking whether she matters: isn’t it my duty to prove God exists? If not, what is my mission? Surely, you have a plan for me!
All these questions reflect a view of God as a parental figure or boss, and the panels mirror that theme. The thing is, a mature adult loving relationship is a partnership; one person is not the boss or parent of the other. It may be true that one partner takes the lead occasionally, in areas where that person is especially competent or gifted; but the other partner will take the lead when the occasion warrants.
The final three panels are among my favorite of the entire series. "Oy vey!" says God, "Mission Schmission! Can’t you just take me for a walk?" "Where do you want to go?" says Augustine. Now God is the smaller, child-like figure holding her hand, and says: "You decide."
Again, the panel reflects the dialogue. God is smaller because He has asked Augustine to take the lead. And I think this is only possible because of the honest discussion they have had in the previous panels.
Augustine is expecting a big flashy mission – to prove the existence of God. But God’s suggestion is basic: walk with me, be in relationship with me. I am reminded of the words of the prophet Micah: “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:1, RSV).That's the energy of love in action.