When we think about loving something or someone we rarely think of nonviolence. And certainly there is more to authentic love than nonviolence. But one moment of thought will help us to know that the basic element of love is, in fact, nonviolence.
When we speak, for example, of loving a person, we may think of good feelings and of intimacy and sharing. When we speak of loving a thing, for example ice cream, or a vacation spot, or a sports team, we may think also of good feelings. But what is most in common in the use of the word “love” to describe our relationship with people and things is what we do not feel toward them. We do not feel adversarial or hostile.
There is certainly more to love than nonviolence, but the common and basic element in our many uses of the word love is our sense of nonviolence toward what we say we love.
Nonviolence is the bottom line in our loving.
This helps us to understand what Jesus means when he says “love your enemy.” He is clearly not suggesting that we like our enemy, because if we felt “like” toward the person we experience as the enemy we would not have an “enemy” in the first place. By cultivating feeling of hostility we “make” and keep the enemy.
If, for whatever reason, we have feelings of dislike for a person and thereby make that person our “enemy,” Jesus is asking that we abide that negative feeling, not cultivate hostility, and thereby give love a chance. We give love a chance by simply not being violent toward the “enemy.”
I think this is the way Therese understood “loving the enemy.” Meditating on Jesus’ words she wrote: “We don’t have any enemies in Carmel.” But then she quickly qualified her statement, adding the insight: “but there are feelings.” The feelings that “there are,” and that Therese did have, were feelings of dislike and repugnance. She bore these feelings with as much patience as she could, did not cultivate these feelings into hostility and violence, and in that way came to “love the enemy.” She gives examples of this in the stories in the final section of Story of a Soul, as she describes her nonviolent relationships with the difficult sisters she lived with.
Therese clearly liked some sisters and disliked others, but she loved them all. The sisters she disliked were her “enemies;” but she “loved” them by building her relationship with them on a spirit of nonviolence toward herself and toward them.
Therese’s spirituality has no violence in it. It is the spirituality that we need personally and institutionally in these days of such subtle and overt violence.