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♪ The Nature of Love in the Work of Leonard Cohen
by Jiří Měsíc

What is love according to Leonard Cohen?

“It is in love that we are made; / In love we disappear,” Leonard Cohen sings after having been abandoned by the “Crown of Light, O Darkened One” with whom he experienced a momentary union (“Boogie Street”). Love is seen as a force which chooses the singer to serve it (“Love Calls You by Your Name”); it is a scorching power in which he extinguishes [End Page 1] his existence (“Dance Me to the End of Love”); a purely divine phenomenon which unites both masculine and feminine forces inside him (“Joan of Arc”) and gives meaning to his earthly existence (“There Ain’t No Cure for Love”). “Love Itself” is seen as the light coming “through the window, / straight from the sun above,” a kind of transforming power that opens the door towards the Divine (“Love Itself”).

In an almost liturgical language, as we shall see, Cohen describes the receiving of love through prayer, repentance, and bodily pleasures. Yet he is also afraid of love, as he sings in a cover version of Frederick Knight’s “Be for Real,” “I don’t want to be hurt by love again.” Moreover, Cohen presents himself as a slave to both Divine and Human love, a man who continuously fails in his faithfulness to each. His work propounds that the profane does not exclude the sacred in the language of love and that the human body, and lust for it, may anticipate the attainment of Divine love (“Light as the Breeze”).

Divine Love and Mysticism

In the song “Love Calls You by Your Name,” the singer implies that love arrives when one is between two unspecified states: “But here, right here, / between the birthmark and the stain, / between the ocean and your open vein, / between the snowman and the rain, / once again, once again, / love calls you by your name.” According to him, love is a force that is revealed neither when one is alive or dead. It is somewhere between, in the liminal space, on the margins of daily life. One receives it in loneliness when “you stumble into this movie house, / then you climb, you climb into the frame.” It appears when we are able to leave the human existence behind, or when we are capable to forget our self and let the soul escape into some “other frame.” Then love comes and calls us by our “name,” which means not only that it recognizes us, but also that it recognizes us as worthy of love.

Here one may ask, but where is the other person to give and accept love? Cohen does not portray love in such a way. To Cohen, love is not limited to the relationship between two partners. Indeed, in the very same song, he sings that he has to leave the woman for some other kind of love: “I leave the lady meditating on the very love which I, I do not wish to claim.” He even describes the “bandage,” the symbol of healing, loosening and calls: “Where are you, Judy, where are you, Anne?” which sounds as if he was trying to address the women who had hurt him and who can no longer hold him back from his thirst for the spiritual form of love. (This is one of the reasons for ending the relationship with Marianne Ihlen, described in the song “So Long, Marianne”).[1] However, the song “Love Calls You by Your Name” suggests that the physical love prepares the singer for the attainment of the Divine love. The chorus then reveals that this attainment is temporary and that the whole experience will repeat and thus prove its cyclical nature: “Once again, once again, / Love calls you by your name.”

Throughout Cohen’s work, the word “name” signifies earthly human existence. (It is distinct, therefore, from “The Name,” which is a traditional Jewish term for G-d.) As in many Biblical stories, from Abram / Abraham and Sarai / Sarah onward, a change of name in Cohen’s work thus implies a change of self, a new existence, and perhaps therefore a new relationship to love, both human and divine. In the song “Lover, Lover, Lover,” for example, Cohen presents a dialogue between himself and the Father G-d in a variety of religious and [End Page 2] mystical idioms, in this case with both Biblical and Islamic (Sufi) references, and much of their conversation concerns the singer’s history and future as one who loves and is loved.

The first verses of the song go: “I asked my father, / I said, ‘Father change my name.’” As the subsequent lyrics reveal, in order to have his “name” changed, the singer has to overcome his bodily desires and the “filth and cowardice and shame” that they have brought him. This is corroborated by the Father G-d responding to the singer: “I locked you in this body, / I meant it as a kind of trial” (“Lover, Lover, Lover”). Understanding this, we see that Cohen’s plea for the new name is, in reality, a plea for letting his soul escape and return to the Father G-d. Sufi teaching refers to this version of repentance as tawba, which entails regretting of the past sins and the return to G-d and to that which is inherently good (cf. Khalil). As Sylvie Simmons attests, Cohen studied the Sufi poet Rūmī (303), and the use of “lover” in this song’s chorus to name both G-d and the human singer, each of whom sings “lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover come back to me” to the other, echoes Sufi thought. Although the Sufis in general distinguish between the lover and his Beloved―the lover is a human being, Beloved represents G-d— this dichotomy is to be overcome once the lover and the Beloved become one. The repetition of “lover” in this song invokes this overcoming of the dichotomy, and the rhythmic, incantatory quality of this refrain, when sung by Cohen, recalls the chanting of “La ilaha ilallah,”[2] one of the creeds of Islam, just as the ecstatic music of the song resembles the musical accompaniment for sama, the ritual ceremony during which the Sufis of the Mevlevi order perform their whirling dance. The dance results not only in the re-enactment the death of their ego and rebirth, but also in the attainment of Divine love and wisdom through the union with the Creator on the vertical axis spanning between the Earth and Heavens (cf. Friedlander). (On a more Judaic note, the seven-times repeated word “lover” may speak of the seven days in the creation of the world, with emphasis on love as a creative force characterising each day, and finally the seventh day celebrated as Sabbath.)

Such a union and the subsequent rebirth is also portrayed in another song, this time using Christian imagery: “Joan of Arc.” The song insinuates that the soul qualifies itself to accept divine love only after the trial period of unfulfilled longing and solitude. The soul is portrayed as a lonely “bride” represented by the character of Joan of Arc, while G-d is the bridegroom represented by the “flame” pursuing her.[3] In a poem from the collection The Energy of Slaves, Cohen acknowledges that he is “the ghost of Joan of Arc” (32), and hints at the possibility that the soul described is his own. In addition, on the back cover of his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, there is a picture of her engulfed in flames. Ira Nadel says that Cohen found this picture as a postcard in a Mexican magic store and felt that he was this woman looking for an escape from “the chains of materiality” (154-155). The Christian concept of anima sola, a soul burning in purgatory and waiting for salvation is quite apt for this description. Therefore, the song portrays a purifying annihilation in the arms of the Lord represented by the flame. [End Page 3]

Image of the head, arms, and shoulders of a naked woman with brown hair surrounded by red and orange flames. Her wrists have chains around them.

Anima Sola, Prayer Card. Public domain.

Joan of Arc, the soul, is tired of the war; in other words, she is tired of living a solitary life seen as a kind of warfare against love and her body because she is a virgin. Now she is longing for “a wedding dress or something white / to wear upon [her] swollen appetite.” Her solitude and pride are to be abandoned before she will be consumed by love and born once again.

However, Cohen does not rely only on Biblical and Islamic symbolism in order to portray the soul’s purification process. In the song “Ballad of the Absent Mare,” we may see how Jewish symbolism collides with Cohen’s Zen practice and other mythical motifs. As Ira Nadel points out, the journey which the cowboy undertakes to find his mare follows to some extent an old Chinese text, “Ten-Ox Herding Pictures” (225-226), which illustrates ten stages of Zen practice.[4] In this song, then, the soul is not a woman longing for purification nor a man longing to return to his Lover / Father G-d, but rather a mare pursued by a cowboy: a spiritual seeker looking for an elusive, redeeming Beloved who is ultimately an aspect of himself.

As in the traditional Ox-herding narrative, the seeker in Cohen’s poem is an Everyman trying to attain enlightenment—a completion of self that is also, paradoxically, a loss of self—through taming the animal. For us, the most important of the series is the eighth picture in which the tamer and the bull both disappear in their union. Yet Cohen changes the narrative, both in its imagery and in its plot. First, he turns the image of a masculine bull into a mare: a shift that does as much to Westernize the parable—the soul is represented as feminine in most Western traditions—as his displacement of the story to an idyllic American setting. Having made these shifts, Cohen can retell the “Ten-Ox” story as though it were a love story. Unlike the first picture in the “Ten-Ox” series, in which the bull is wandering the plains and cannot be tamed, Cohen signals that the cowboy once kept the mare close to him and is about to depart to find her again.

As the song begins, the cowboy is injured, and his loss makes him solitary and repenting: a motif familiar from the songs I have discussed so far. Then, suddenly, the mare grows tamer, standing “there where the light and the darkness divide” (“Ballad of the Absent Mare”). This liminal space recalls those listed in “Love Calls You by Your Name,” but with this difference: where Cohen once again speaks about the threshold between the life and death, [End Page 4] he does so here by invoking Biblical imagery, specifically from the creation story in Genesis, as though we had returned to a moment outside of space and time. This biblical echo is reinforced by Cohen’s having the cowboy quote from the Book of Ruth to declare his love for the mare. “He leans on her neck / And he whispers low, / ‘Whither thou goest / I will go’” (KJV, Ruth 1:16). Unlike Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law Naomi, however—and very much in keeping with Buddhist teaching―the singer indicates that this union will be impermanent, which is one of his most consistent statements:

Now the clasp of this union
who fastens it tight?
Who snaps it asunder
the very next night
Some say the rider
Some say the mare (“Ballad of the Absent Mare”)

We do not know whether the union will be broken by the cowboy or the mare, but we know that, as the Zen series portrays, the rupture begins a new circle in which the cowboy will once again be alone, and the initiatory experience of the annihilation / rebirth of the soul will repeat.

In another song that fuses Biblical and Zen imagery, “Love Itself,” Cohen explores in close detail the experience of solitude as a necessary means to attain Divine union. After his return from the Zen Monastery in 2001 he commented that this song portrays a “rare experience of dissolution of self”:

I was sitting in a sunny room, watching the motes of dust, and accepted their graceful invitation to join in their activity and forget who I was, or remember who I was. It’s that rare experience of dissolution of self, not the careful examination of self that I usually work with. I played it for a couple of brother monks and sister nuns and they said it was better than sesshin—a seven-day session of intense meditation (rpt. in Burger 484).

In the lyrics, an entity Cohen calls “Love Itself” comes unexpectedly and is compared to light. “Rays of love” enter the singer’s “little room,” which implies, with regard to Cohen’s output, one’s heart. The light coming into this room makes little particles of dust visible and, in a moment of enlightenment, the singer sees them dancing in the air. Out of this dust, he sings, “the Nameless makes / A Name for one like me,” which implies that love resurrects him from “the dust”—recreates him as in the biblical story of Adam’s creation (cf. Genesis 2:7)—and thus gives meaning to his existence. In a more peaceful version of the scenes described in “Love Calls You by Your Name,” the singer becomes realised in such a love, so that love may call him by his “real” name. As in the “Ballad of the Absent Mare,” this recreating of love is an initiatory experience which lasts for a while and then disappears. “I’ll try to say a little more,” the song concludes: “Love went on and on / Until it reached an open door – / Then Love Itself / Love Itself was gone.”[5]

The album on which “Love Itself” appears, Ten New Songs (2001), returns to this Zen experience and the momentary union described above, often giving them a more Cabbalistic touch. In the first verses of the song, “Boogie Street,” for example, Cohen sings: “O Crown of [End Page 5] Light, O Darkened One, / I never thought we’d meet. / You kiss my lips, / and then it’s done: I’m back on Boogie Street.” In his commentary on the song, Eliot Wolfson assumes that the singer depicts a state after being unexpectedly struck by “the primordial light so bright that it glistens in the radiance of its darkness” (135). This certainly carries connotations of the revelation of light in Kabbalah, which springs out from its hiding place and is only to be seen thanks to its “concealing and clothing itself” (Cordovero, qtd. in Matt 91), just as Cohen’s names for the divine here—“Crown of Light, O Darkened One”―call to mind the highest Sefirah in the Kabbalistic system: Keter or Crown, the infinite, boundless or Ein Sof. Each verse of the song offers an initiatory and ephemeral experience of love taking place outside the ordinary world, and each returns the speaker to that ordinary world of “Boogie Street.”

One final instance will show the complexity of Cohen’s use of Jewish, Sufi, and Christian symbolism all at once. In the song “The Window,” Cohen speaks of a spiritual journey of the soul in three stages: solitude, suffering, and the final union in which she is annihilated. “Why do you stand by the window,” the song begins:

Abandoned to beauty and pride
The thorn of the night in your bosom
The spear of the age in your side
Lost in the rages of fragrance
Lost in the rags of remorse (“The Window”).

The soul depicted is in the state between two worlds: the primordial darkness of creation and the secular world. The window symbolises the threshold between the two worlds. The fact that the soul is described as having a thorn in her bosom and “the spear of the age in [her] side” gives the song a Christian cast, as this may echo Jesus’ Crown of Thorns and the spear of the Roman soldier piercing the side of Christ. Yet the soul is further described as “lost in the rages of fragrance,” which calls to mind the Havdalah Ceremony performed in the end of the Sabbath, during which observant Jews smell fragrant spices in remembrance of the departing Sabbath Spirit. In this imagery the soul would seem to be suffering from the loss of the Sabbath’s peace and the extra Sabbath soul called Neshamah yeteirah—although this perhaps also recalls Christ’s sense of being abandoned by the Divine when dying on the Cross (cf. Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). In both cases, we can see the song as describing the return of the soul to the body as something painful and difficult.

The singer then pleads for Love the Saviour to come and gentle this suffering soul, but Love, too, is described in bewildering series of ways:

O chosen love, O frozen love
O tangle of matter and ghost.
O darling of angels, demons and saints
and the whole broken-hearted host—
Gentle this soul (“The Window”).

First, Love the Saviour is portrayed as “frozen love” which means that his love is constant and unchanging—but “frozen” also suggests something cold, or at least not yet flowing. He is also described as “a tangle of matter and ghost,” which could be transcribed as “a tangle of the flesh and soul,” which points to the fact that the singer is a human being harbouring [End Page 6] the Divine soul—but also suggests Christ (born of matter and the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost). “The whole-broken hearted host” likewise stands for the “host” in the Eucharist, Christ, but also all of those who suffer, since G-d is said to be close to those who have a broken heart (Psalm 34:18).

The following stanza (which includes some of Cohen’s alternate lines, discussed below) is an invocation for the soul’s ascent from the bodily confinement, which enables it a more advanced form of existence:

And come forth from the cloud of unknowing
and kiss the cheek of the moon;
the New Jerusalem glowing          [the code of solitude broken]
why tarry all night in the ruin?       [why tarry confused and alone?]
And leave no word of discomfort,
and leave no observer to mourn,
but climb on your tears and be silent
like a rose on its ladder of thorns (“The Window”).

The “cloud of unknowing” is a clear reference to a 14th century book of Christian mysticism called The Cloud of Unknowing. The book is, in reality, a manual for a young adept who embarks on a spiritual journey. Entering the cloud means to lose any notion of one’s self and sensory perceptions. Only in this state caused by deep meditation and prayer one may leave the notion of one’s self behind and allow the soul to depart from its body.

The phrase “kiss the cheek of the moon” seems to be referring to the ascent and union with the lunar / feminine power. Here, it is apt to mention the masculine and feminine qualities of the G-dhead. Jewish, Christian, and even Islamic mysticism in general speaks about the nature of G-d as both masculine and feminine.[6] Without going deeper into these issues, one may simply state that G-d is not dual but its nature is masculine and feminine at once, at least to the mystic poets.

“The New Jerusalem glowing” symbolises the union of the soul with the Lord and its complete annihilation and rebirth. The reference could also imply that this “New Jerusalem” is the fulfilment of the covenant that manifests itself in one’s heart. The “Book of Revelation” says: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from G-d out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (NLT 21:2). Therefore, this “Jerusalem” might stand for a purified soul that is to descend back to the Earth into the human body.

In a complementary verse appearing in Cohen’s Stranger Music collection, the “New Jerusalem” is exchanged for the word “solitude,” which means that the solitude such as that lived by “Joan of Arc” is to be abandoned in order that love may be attained (299).

The soul is urged to climb on its suffering like a rose which climbs on its thorns before it blooms.[7] The “thorn” in the poem epitomizes human experience which, actually paves the way for the higher ascent and the appearance of the bloom. The “rose” symbolism in Christianity represents the drops of Christ’s blood during his ascent to the cross. Its contemporary notion stands obviously for passion and the fire of love. However, most importantly, it stands for life and death as it implies annihilation in love and rebirth. The descent of the soul is described as its rebirth in the body: “the word being made into flesh.” [End Page 7]

Then lay your rose on the fire;
the fire give up to the sun;
the sun give over to splendour
in the arms of the High Holy One
For the holy one dreams of a letter,
dreams of a letter’s death—
oh bless the continuous stutter
of the word being made into flesh (“The Window”).

In order for the rose / soul to bloom, she must pass through the period of solitude and longing and give herself to the fire, as in the song “Joan of Arc.” Therefore, the whole song might be seen as the instruction to the soul not to linger in the worldly realm but to ascend into the arms of the High Holy One, which echoes Kabbalah. The rest of the stanza indicates that the purified soul will be returned back into the flesh. That is why “the continuous stutter” is mentioned. This process is never ending because love triggers continuous rebirth, even as each individual instance of rebirth (each syllable in the stutter) also ends at some point.

Rūmī, the medieval Sufi mystic whom Cohen studied (Simmons 303), comments on the continuous rebirth by saying:

In the slaughter house of love, they kill
only the best, none of the weak or deformed.
Don’t run away from this dying.
Whoever’s not killed for love is dead meat (trans. Barks 270).

In other words, love and the willingness to “die” in love is the prerogative of “the best,” the elect, not of “the weak or deformed.” The Sufis encourage us to be part of this elect: to die for love and thus strive to have our souls purified. Cohen’s songs show this aspiration put into action.

In the above analysis of a few songs lyrics we have seen how Cohen portrays the union with G-d through various religious systems and how he uses symbolism coming from these religions in order to describe this divine phenomenon, which is not normally to be expressed in words but revealed to the initiates in sacred rites. Such is the case with the attainment of the new name, which, every time after being bestowed, stands for a renewed life which is one step higher than the previous existence. The next part of the essay will focus closely on the soul, its bodily sojourn, and the metaphor of its ascent through the imagery coming from the Kabbalistic and Alchemical teachings.

Kabbalah and Alchemy

Leonard Cohen has dedicated a great deal of work to portraying a man whose self and soul are divided and tormented, struggling against one another. This theme appeared in full in the book of psalms called Book of Mercy. In psalm III, Cohen offers a parable in which his [End Page 8] soul is singing against him and the effort of the self to reach that singing soul is painful and in vain:

I heard my soul singing behind a leaf, plucked the leaf, but then I heard it singing behind a veil. I tore the veil, but then I heard it singing behind a wall. I broke the wall, and I heard my soul singing against me. I built up the wall, mended the curtain, but I could not put back the leaf. I held it in my hand and I heard my soul singing mightily against me.

Although this particular psalm does not specify the soul’s complaint against the self—“this is what it is like to study without a friend,” the piece concludes—the Book of Mercy repeatedly describes vain efforts to reach the soul by our own effort and volition, rather than through the sort of patience which would prove our worthiness to receive love. Comfort and reassurance comes in those few psalms that show Cohen on more amicable terms with his suffering, willing to accept the fact that the preparation of the soul entails an almost unbearable degree of solitude and seclusion. I think here of psalm XVII, in which he addresses G-d with these words: “How strangely you prepare his soul” (referring to the loneliness before any union could take place); later in the volume, in psalm XLI, G-d responds that He is already present in the heart of the singer. “Bind me to you, I fall away. Bind me, ease of my heart, bind me to your love. […] And you say, I am in this heart, I and my name are here.” In Cohen’s theology―a synthesis of all the religious schools that Cohen studied, and perhaps one that comes out of his own experience―we see that G-d is present in the heart of the believer and to reach Him involves both self-criticism for one’s failures (“Blessed are you who speaks to the unworthy,” psalm XLI concludes) and the aspiration to be purified, the ascent of the liberated soul.

In the Sefirotic Tree, liberation is the outcome of reaching Da’at, a point in which other Sefirot unite or merge. This level allows the human soul, still perceiving itself as a soul, to receive the Divine spark and leads it to the most profound state of existence. According to Gareth Knight,

Da’at is the highest point of awareness of the human soul regarded as a soul (or in other terminologies Higher Self, Evolutionary Self, etc.) for awareness of the supernal levels can only be possible to the Spirit or Divine Spark itself. It is the gateway to what is called Nirvana in the East, and thus represents the point where a soul has reached the full stature of its evolutionary development, has attained perfect free will and can make the choice between going on to further evolution in other spheres or remaining to assist in the planetary Hierarchy (102).

In “New Jerusalem Glowing,” Eliot R. Wolfson quotes from Robert Charles Zaehner, a British scholar of Eastern religions, who describes the path of the mystic and his soul in terms of a bride who is annihilated in love of her Lord. The soul in such a state of existence is, according to Zaehner, very much aware of its “feminine” nature:

Zaehner describes the soul of the mystic in relation to the divine as the bride who passively receives from the masculine potency of God. The soul [End Page 9] recognizes its ‘essential femininity’ in relation to God, for in her receptivity, she is annihilated, which serves [. . .] as a paradigm of the mystical union whereby the autonomy of self is negated in the absorption of the soul in the oneness of being. Zaehner remarks that in this state the soul of the mystic, limited in his remarks to the male, is comparable to a ‘virgin who falls violently in love and desires nothing so much as to be ‘ravished’, ‘annihilated’, and ‘assimilated’ into the beloved (Wolfson 132).

Both of the above quotations seem relevant to the work of Cohen, who in 1974 employed an engraving from an alchemical tract called Rosarium Philosophorum (published in Frankfurt in 1550) for the cover of his album New Skin for the Old Ceremony. The tract describes the alchemical process of transmutation of the human soul and the concrete picture depicts the union between the King and his Queen, or symbolically between the seeker and his purified soul.

Stylized illustration of a male figure embracing a female figure. Both figures are winged, naked, and wearing crowns. They are positioned horizontally against a blue background.

The front cover of Cohen’s album New Skin for the Old Ceremony (Columbia, 1974). The original engraving was adapted by Teresa Alfieri.

The whole tract contains 20 engravings and an accompanying text describing the process of spiritual transformation by the means of the physical union. Milan Nakonečný, a Czech [End Page 10] scholar, claims that the act depicted aims to portray the union of opposites (coniunctio oppositorum) on the physical and also spiritual planes (152), but I would argue that it can also be read as depicting the return of the purified soul into the body blessed by the Holy Spirit, as in the third picture of the series, whose text reads “Spiritus est qui unificat.”

Black and white line drawing of a naked male figure on the left standing on a stylized sun facing a naked female figure on the right standing on a stylized moon. There is a bird between them, and ribbons of text coming from the moths of all three.

(See Nakonečný 159). Reprinted by permission of Vodnář Publishing House, Prague.

Paul D. MacLean, who is quoted in Nakonečný’s book, sees Rosarium philosphorum as a process in which the soul leaves the body in order to be purified, causing the body to decay, but which ultimately leads the soul back to the body: a reunion which restores harmony between the masculine and feminine divisions of a being (Nakonečný 153), reminding us of “the New Jerusalem glowing” mentioned earlier. Nakonečný compares this process to the “death” of a grain out of which develops a new ear of wheat (164);[8] he sees it portrayed in picture no. 6 of the series, in which the soul is being prepared for the leaving from the body and its subsequent return.

A black and white line drawing of a naked figure that is half male and half female lying on a platform.

(See Nakonečný 164). Reprinted by permission of Vodnář Publishing House, Prague.

[End Page 11] The return of the purified soul into its body can also be seen in picture no. 10, described by Nakonečný as lapis philosophorum, which portrays a hermaphroditic being that has overcome its own death (as the dragon and serpent suggest) and represents the unity of the solar and lunar powers.

A black and white line drawing of a naked winged hermaphroditic figure standing on the moon, holding a serpent in one hand and a cup containing a dragon in the other.

(See Nakonečný 170). Reprinted by permission of Vodnář Publishing House, Prague.

Here, we may remember the notion of the invisible sephirah Da’at, which means that the soul at this stage has reached the limits of its evolutionary possibilities. However, Cohen, by using the eleventh picture of the series for his album cover, suggests that he wants to go further. According to Nakonečný, this continuation of the ascent of the soul symbolizes transpersonal love towards one’s family, nation, or G-d (172). Hand in hand with this, Cohen portrays two angelic figures which are not going to undertake physical coniunctio because the Queen does not allow the King to lie between her legs. Although naked and lying on the top of one another, no penetration seems implied; rather, they seem primarily a reflection of one another. Eros in the picture is transmuted into another form of love, characterised by quenching bodily desires and nourishing the spiritual ones. Both represent the harmonic relationship between the purified soul and its reborn body.

With all of this in mind, the title and cover image of New Skin for the Old Ceremony become available for a variety of complementary meanings. From the Jewish point of view, the “old ceremony” implied in the very title of the album might be circumcision, that physical sign of a bond between the (male) Jew and G-d. The presence of “new skin” for this ceremony presages a new pact: one based on the human experience with love, betrayal, and [End Page 12] surrendering to G-d’s power as detailed in the songs on the album, rather than on the Biblical covenant. The songs themselves—which include “Lover, Lover, Lover,” discussed above, along with the famous “Chelsea Hotel #2,” “Who By Fire,” and “Take This Longing,” among others―speak by turns about love between two partners, carnal love and a complete abandonment of one’s own self and willingness to serve to G-d, but all are framed by the single image of the album’s cover, which casts them as aspects of or stages in a single process that includes both the spiritual and the carnal. In the next section we will see how Cohen acknowledges his own desire for the female body and what happens to love when he succumbs to it.

 Human Love

Love portrayed by Cohen has for the ultimate goal to reach Divine union. However, he does not attain this union only through the spiritual exercise, but also through the sexual act. With regard to the union of opposites that we saw in Rosarium philosophorum and its physical description of spiritual processes, we may interpret sexual love and the subsequent “decay” of the body to be a precursor to the spiritual form of love and love for humanity which characterizes it. However, the work of the singer has not been consistent with this theme, as the spiritual exercise and sex interchange one another in a regular, cyclical way.

In the Key Arena in Seattle in 2012, Cohen, when introducing the song “Ain’t No Cure for Love,” acknowledged that sexual desire has been always winning him over:

I studied religious values. I actually bound myself to the mast of non-attachment, but the storms of desire snapped my bounds like a spoon through noodles (“Ain’t No Cure for Love”, live, YouTube).

“Ain’t No Cure for Love” is a song that was inspired by the spread of AIDS in 1980s. The story goes that Jenifer Warnes was walking with Cohen one day around his neighbourhood and they were discussing the fact that people would not stop making love with one another. Cohen ended the conversation by saying that “there ain’t no cure for love” meaning that there is no cure for people wanting to make love. Several weeks later he finished the lyrics and Warnes recorded the song for her album Famous Blue Raincoat in 1987 (Nadel 244). Cohen released his own recording of it on I’m Your Man the following year.

The fact that this song portrays longing for the woman, rather than for Divine love, is supported by the following verses: “I see you in the subway and I see you on the bus / I see you lying down with me, I see you waking up / I see your hand, I see your hair / Your bracelets and your brush / And I call to you, I call to you / But I don’t call soft enough.” The feminine character to whom he addresses these words is unresponsive. Then the singer wanders to an “empty church” and realises that his longing for the woman is of the same greatness as his longing for G-d (“Ain’t No Cure for Love”).

Cohen sings that he longs for nakedness, not only of the body but also of the soul: “I’d love to see you naked / In your body and your thought.” He refuses a brotherly form of attachment (philos): “I don’t want your brother love / I want that other love,” and repeats that he is not going to give up on his longing. However, in this song a longing for physical [End Page 13] union and the longing for union with G-d do not exclude each other and, if our supposition about the rebirth of the soul is right, we see a circle of constant purification and rebirth of which the sexual act might indeed be the first step. As discussed above, the sexual act ends the physical or interpersonal longing and commences the “decay” of the body in order that the soul could ascend and be purified. The end of the song contains the verse “And I even heard the angels declare it from above / There ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love,” thus ensuring us that the longing for the body of other person may be sanctified by G-d Himself (“Ain’t No Cure for Love”).

“Dance Me to the End of Love” can be read in the similar fashion since it describes not only the union of two lovers but also the ascent of the soul to G-d. The song is explained in this way through two accompanying videos. The first video, directed by Dominique Issermann in 1985, emphasizes the way that interhuman love works as a stage in the soul’s progress. It depicts, in a rather disconcerting manner, a woman who comes to the hospital to say the last goodbye to her male lover, played by Cohen himself. Only a moment later, Cohen’s ghost pursues the woman, both physically (by following after her through various wards in the hospital, and then, in a dream-like leap, watching her pose like a classical statue in a white shroud on a stage) and through his pleading voice. In the last part of the film, as Cohen sings, the woman disappears behind her shroud, as though breaking the bond of desire that held the singer to her, freeing him to move on to the next stage in his ascent. While this video emphasises love as a mystical union, the second piece―made in 1994 to promote the live album Leonard Cohen in Concert―is concerned with a sentimental depiction of romantic love between men and women. Featuring a multiracial set of couples at various ages—some older couples waltz in front of oversized portraits of themselves in their youth; one older woman waltzes alone in front of the picture of a man we assume is her lost lover, and other solitary figures gaze sadly at an empty chair—the video repeatedly cuts to a dapper, suited Cohen singing with his band and backup singers, a lady’s man and crooner rather than a spiritual seeker. Inviting these two contrasting visual interpretations, the song itself can be seen as portraying both divine and physical love, as though there were no necessary contradiction between them.

On the other hand, Cohen has criticised unrestrained human love that does not lead to the purification of the soul and which is characterised by inordinate lust and satisfaction of the basest instincts. He presented this criticism in the song “Closing Time,” which depicts a reverie in a country-like setting, with “Johnny Walker wisdom running high.” The feminine character of the song is described as the mistress who is “rubbing half the world against her thigh.” The whole binge is going to lead to its end sooner or later but before it happens, Cohen sings: “all the women tear their blouses off / and the men they dance on the polka dots / and it’s partner found and it’s partner lost / and it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops / it’s CLOSING TIME.” Each stanza ends with the symbolic “CLOSING TIME” warning that this reverie is going to end soon. We do not know what happens later, whether the end will be revelatory or whether it will be a fall to an even profounder mire of bodily desires. Cohen speaks about the liminality, the threshold that we mentioned before, on which the whole event takes place: “I just don’t care what happens next / looks like freedom but it feels like death / it’s something in between, I guess / it’s CLOSING TIME.” Taken alone, “Closing Time” seems a portrait of frustration, since the singer seems trapped in the moment when “the gates of love they budged an inch” but “[he] can’t say [that] much has happened since.” In the context of the full album on which it appears (The Future), however, the song reads [End Page 14] differently. The bleak present and future that the songs here sometimes describe, in which “the blizzard of the world / Has crossed the threshold / And it has overturned / The order of the soul,” is what affords us the opportunity for and the drive to seek redemption. As Cohen sings on the album’s central track “Anthem:” “Every heart, every heart / to love will come / but like a refugee.” Love (divine Love, in this case) will be always there waiting for us, but we turn to come to it when other bonds and connections, romantic or political, have failed: when, like refugees, we do not have any other option.

The celebration of the union between two human lovers is a distinctive feature of Cohen’s oeuvre. Among the canonical songs that we have quoted so far one merits a special attention: the song “Hallelujah,” which portrays secular love between two partners as holy. The song addresses a “you” inspired by the Biblical King David (with touches of Samson mixed in) who in his piety let himself to be conquered by desire for the female body. In the chorus, Cohen consoles us that “There’s a blaze of light / In every word / It doesn’t matter which you heard / The holy or the broken Hallelujah,” meaning that G-d may be reached through sacred meditation or through sex as both lead to the union with Him. In the last stanza, the singer confesses that when he could not “feel”—feel the divine love—he had to “touch” the female body: “I did my best, it wasn’t much / I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.” Even if he fails in his devotion to G-d and later to his female partner as he confesses, he will be summoned by the Lord: “and even though / It all went wrong / I’ll stand before the Lord of Song / With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” The song suggests that there is no difference between attaining Divine love through spiritual exercise or physical union. In one of the verses that Cohen occasionally sung live, he made this supposition quite clear: “remember when I moved in you / And the holy dove was moving too / And every breath we drew was hallelujah.”[9]

Order of the Unified Heart

Although he is better known as a songwriter, poet, and novelist, Cohen was also a visual artist. In order to promote the concept of a union between Divine and Human forms of love, Cohen created a symbol for his imagined “Order of the Unified Heart”: the Star of David made out of two intertwined hearts. These hearts stand as opposites to each other and are mutually dependent. One points to the Heavens while the other one points to the Earth. This motif first appeared on the cover of the collection of Psalms Book of Mercy. [End Page 15]

 

Dark blue book cover with the words "Leonard Cohen" at the top in red block lettering, a design of intertwined hearts in gold outlined in red in the middle, and the tile "Book of Mercy" in red block lettering at the bottom.

The front cover of the Book of Mercy (1984). Used by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited.

It is also mentioned in the song “Come Healing,” where Cohen sings: “The Heart beneath is teaching / To the broken Heart above.” The singer even made the two intertwined hearts the focus of the Priestly Blessing which the Jewish priests bestow upon the community and which he himself bestowed officially on September 24, 2009 at the Ramat Gan concert in Israel to an audience of around fifty thousand spectators.[10]

A circular logo on a white background. The circle is black with white text around the rim reading "Leonard Cohen Old Ideas world Tour 2012". The interior of the cirlce contains a white design of two interlocking hearts and two hands.

Merchandise accompanying Cohen’s world tour. Private collection.

[End Page 16] The above picture of Cohen’s latest seal contains moreover the word Shin, which represents another name for G-d, Shaddai. Shin is formed by the priest’s hands when giving the Blessing and stands in between the two hearts. Therefore, the whole image represents the profane and sacred form of love at once blessed by the priest and proving that Cohen saw their intersection as the place where the Divine is made manifest.

Conclusion

“I don’t know a thing about love,” Cohen said in the interview with Pat Habron in 1973 (rpt. in Burger 50). More than twenty years later in 1997, when being interviewed by Stina Lundberg Dabrowski, he commented on the full realisation of the human existence in love and the possibility that it reconciles the opposing forces of our selves and paves the way to the liberation of the soul:

SLD: What is love to you?

LC: Love is that activity that makes the power of man and woman [. . .] that incorporates it into your own heart, where you can embody man and woman, when you can embody hell and heaven, when you can reconcile and [. . .] when man and woman becomes your content and you become her content, that’s love. That as I understand is love—that’s the mechanics (rpt. in Burger 420).

We have seen that Leonard Cohen portrays receiving of divine love through solitude and meditation and sexual intercourse. Love thus attained has the power to purify the soul and reunite it with its body in a greater spiritual existence. With the help of religious and mystical motifs, Cohen attributes sacred qualities to the Divine as well as Human love and, finally, consecrates it in his seal.

Love portrayed in such a way has, of course, been the subject of many medieval mystical books and appeared even visually in alchemy. Cohen’s acquaintance with religious and philosophical thought across cultures and continents is unsurpassed among the singer-songwriters in the English-speaking world, and his lyrics and choice of visual art for covers and merchandise show that he is keen to bring these enduring traditions to the attention of his audience.

As I have argued at length elsewhere, Cohen’s work draws on and gives new life to motifs that appeared in medieval love poetry, making him in every sense a “modern troubadour.”[11] Like the medieval poets of Provença and Al-Ándalus, he blurs the division between the sacred and profane, between the Divine and Human, and between the high and low forms of art and situates his work in the popular culture.

May this essay contribute to his honour.


[1] “Well you know that I love to live with you, / but you make me forget so very much. / I forget to pray for the angels / and then the angels forget to pray for us” (“So Long, Marianne”).[End Page 17]

[2] The full Shahada (testimony) goes: “lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh muḥammadun rasūlu llāh.” (“There is no god except for Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of G-d”).

[3] A similar motif can be found in Christian mystical poetry. One may think only of San Juan de la Cruz (1542 – 1591) and his texts such as “Noche escura del alma,” “Cántico espiritual,” and “Llama de amor viva.”

[4] For an illustrative example, see, for instance, Ten Bulls, woodcuts by the Japanese artist Tokuriki Tomikichiro (1902 – 1999) in Shigematsu 6-23.

[5] I have written about love as a phenomenon initiating the singer into the sacred mysteries elsewhere (Měsíc, “The Song of Initiation”).

[6] This very ancient idea about non-duality of G-d may be found in the texts as old as Plato’s Symposium, for instance, from which many mystical schools drew. Important for the Jewish mystics is the verse from Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, / in the image of God he created him; / male and female he created them.” (ESV). Therefore, the male and female beings are the image of G-d because He is male and female at once. The Christian mystics refer to the same verse and some of them even go so far as to give preferences to the feminine atributes of G-d, such as Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) in her book Revelations. Muslims do not assign a gender to Allah. We should keep in mind that although the religious texts often address G-d with the use of masculine pronouns, verbs and nouns, G-d is regarded as gender and sexless. In Sufism they avoid using the grammatical gender by using the words Hu or Huwa to speak about the One.

[7] The rose is a very common symbol in Persian poetry, standing for Paradise and love (Baldock 142).

[8] This supposition, which appears in Alchemy, seems to be taken from the New Testament, and is seen in verses of John 12:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (ESV). The death of Jesus brings fruit in the form of a new life multiplied by the number of grain on the ear: a metaphor for his followers.

[9] It can be heard, for instance, on the 2009 Live in London recording.

[10] For the full report, see Jeffay. The video of the blessing may be seen on YouTube: cf: “Leonard Cohen Finale in Israel – Priestly Blessing.”

[11] This theory was developed in my PhD thesis (Měsíc, “Leonard Cohen: The Modern Troubadour”). [End Page 18]

Bibliography

“Ain’t No Cure for Love.” Perf. Leonard Cohen, 2012. YouTube, uploaded by Arlene Dick, 10 November 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4R2-GlBd-c. Accessed 14 May 2015.

Baldock, John. The Essence of Rūmī. Chartwell, 2005.

Barks, Coleman, and Jalāl Ad-Dīn Rūmī. The Essential Rūmī: New Expanded Edition. HarperCollins, 2004.

Burger, Jeff. Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters. Chicago Review Press, 2014.

Cohen, Leonard. Beautiful Losers. 1966. New ed. Blue Door, 2009.

—. Book of Mercy. McClelland and Stewart, 1984.

—. Death of a Lady’s Man. 1978. New ed. Andre Deutsch, 2010.

—. Selected Poems: 1956-1968. Viking, 1968.

—. Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs. Vintage, 1994.

—. The Energy of Slaves. Cape, 1972.

Friedlander, Shems. The Whirling Dervishes. State University of New York Press, 1992.

Holt, Jason, editor. Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions. Open Court, 2014.

Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Tyndale House, 2004.

Jeffay, Nathan. “‘Hallelujah’ in Tel Aviv: Leonard Cohen Energizes Diverse Crowd.” Jewish Daily Forward, Sept 25, 2009, http://forward.com/articles/115181/hallelujah-in-tel-aviv-leonard-cohen-energizes-di. Accessed 14 May 2015.

Julian. Julian of Norwich: Revelations, Motherhood of God. Edited by Frances Beer, D.S. Brewer, 1998.

Jung, C. G. Osobnost a přenos. Tomáš Janeček, 1998.

Khalil, Atif. “Ibn Al-‘Arabi on the Three Conditions of Tawba.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 17, no. 4, 2006, pp. 403-16.

Knight, Gareth. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. S. Weiser, 1978.

“Leonard Cohen Finale in Israel – Priestly Blessing.” Perf. Leonard Cohen. YouTube, uploaded by Amit Slonim, Sept 29, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4imJ7wWB9FU. Accessed 14 May 2015.

Lumsden, Suzanne. “Leonard Cohen Wants the Unconditional Leadership in the World.” Winnipeg Free Press [Winnipeg], 12 Sept. 1970, p. 25. Newspaper Archive, http://newspaperarchive.com/ca/manitoba/winnipeg/winnipeg-free-press/1970/09-12/page-93>. Accessed 1 July 2014.

Matt, Daniel Chanan. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. Harper San Francisco, 1995.

Meier, Allison. “Drawings by a Ladies’ Man: Impressions of Leonard Cohen.” HYPERALLERGIC: Sensitive to Art and Its Discontents, 7 April 2015, https://hyperallergic.com/197029/drawings-of-a-ladies-man-impressions-of-leonard-cohen/. Accessed 19 April 2015.

Měsíc, Jiří. “The Song of Initiation by Leonard Cohen.” Ostrava Journal of English Philology, vol. 5, no. 1, 2013, pp. 69-93.

[End Page 19]

Měsíc, Jiří. “Leonard Cohen: The Modern Troubadour.” Dissertation, Palacký University, 2016. https://theses.cz/id/ksff70/Leonard_Cohen_The_Modern_Troubadour.pdf

Nadel, Ira Bruce. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen. University of Texas, 2007.

Nakonečný, Milan. Smaragdová deska Herma Trismegista. 2nd ed., Vodnář, 2009.

Robertson, Jenny. Praying with the English Mystics. Triangle/SPCK, 1990.

San Juan. San Juan de la Cruz: Poesía. Edited by Domingo Ynduráin. Cátedra, 2002.

Shigematsu, Sōiku. A Zen Forest: Sayings of the Masters. Weatherhill, 1981.

Simmons, Sylvie. I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. Jonathan Cape, 2012.

Spearing, A. C., trans. The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Penguin, 2001.

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments Authorized King James Version. Thomas Nelson, 2011.

“The Window” Perf. Leonard Cohen. 1979. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejzXh0DDe0w. Accessed 12 April 2015.

Wolfson, Eliot R. “New Jerusalem Glowing: Songs and Poems of Leonard Cohen in a Kabbalistic Key.” Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts, vol. 15, 2006, pp. 103-53.

Discography

Cohen, Leonard. Songs of Leonard Cohen. Rec. Aug. 1967. John Simon, 1967. CD.

—. “So Long, Marianne.” Songs of Leonard Cohen. Columbia, 1967. CD.

—. Songs from a Room. Rec. Oct. 1968. Bob Johnston, 1969. CD

—. Songs of Love and Hate. Rec. Sept. 1970. Bob Johnston, 1971. CD.

—. Live Songs. Rec. 1970, 1972. Bob Johnston, 1973. CD.

—. “Love Calls You by Your Name.” Songs of Love and Hate. Columbia, 1971. CD.

—. “Joan of Arc.” Songs of Love and Hate. Columbia, 1971. CD.

—. New Skin for the Old Ceremony. Rec. Feb. 1974. Leonard Cohen, John Lissauer, 1974. CD.

—. Death of a Ladies’ Man. Rec. June 1977. Phil Spector, 1977. CD.

—. Recent Songs. Rec. Apr. 1979. Leonard Cohen, Henry Lewy, 1979. CD.

—. “The Ballad of the Absent Mare.” Recent Songs. Columbia, 1979. CD.

—. “The Window. Recent Songs. Columbia, 1979. CD.

—. Various Positions. Rec. June 1984. John Lissauer, 1984. CD.

—. “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Various Positions. Columbia, 1984. CD.

—. “Hallelujah.” Various Positions. Columbia, 1984. CD.

—. Dear Heather. Rec. 1985, 2002 – 2004. Leanne Ungar, Sharon Robinson, Anjani Thomas, Henry Lewy, Leonard Cohen, 2004. CD.

—. I’m Your Man. Rec. Aug. 1987. Leonard Cohen, Roscoe Beck, Jean-Michel Reusser, Michel Robidoux, 1988. Vinyl recording.

—. “There Ain’t No Cure for Love.” I’m Your Man. Columbia, 1988. CD.

—. The Future. Rec. Jan. 1992. Leonard Cohen, Steve Lindsey, Bill Ginn, Leanne Ungar, Rebecca de Mornay, Yoav Goren, 1992. CD.

—. “Anthem.” The Future. Columbia, 1992. CD.

—. “Be for Real.” The Future. Columbia, 1992. CD.

—. “Closing Time.” The Future. Columbia, 1992. CD.

—. Ten New Songs. Sharon Robinson, 2001. CD.

[End Page 20]

—. “Boogie Street.” Ten New Songs. Columbia, 2001. CD.

—. “Light as the Breeze.” Ten New Songs. Columbia, 2001. CD.

—. “Love Itself.” Ten New Songs. Columbia, 2001. CD.

—. Old Ideas. Rec. 2007 – 2011. Patrick Leonard, 2012. CD.

—. “Hallelujah.” Live in London. Columbia, 2009. CD.

—. “Come Healing.” Old Ideas. Columbia, 2012. CD.

—. Can’t Forget. Rec. 2012-2013. Mark Vreeken and Ed Sanders, 2015. CD.

—. Popular Problems. Rec. 2014. Patrick Leonard, 2014. CD.

—. You Want It Darker. Rec. 2015-2016. Adam Cohen and Patrick Leonard, 2016. CD.

[End Page 21]

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True Love’s Kiss and Happily Ever After: the religion of love in American film
by Jyoti Raghu

[End Page 1]

Introduction

In this article, I investigate romantic love in American film as a site for experiencing a divine presence in the immanent everyday experiences of love, marriage and family (Williams, Dante 6, 8, 40; Williams, Outlines 7, 9, 14, 17, 29).[1] To explore this theme I focus on the “kiss” in romantic love scenes in American films. To me the kiss in film is symbolic of a potential theological event where divine grace may infuse itself on the lovers, making their lives sacramental. I explore how the kiss can offer theological insight into how romantic love transforms into a window of grace, beauty and glory through which a divine light shines through the sacrament of love (Williams, Outlines 17, 29).

I shall draw theoretically upon several intellectual threads, including courtly love and romantic literature, Christian theology and theological aesthetics, and postmodern theory. Then, rather than look at romantic comedy per se, I shall focus on two different genres and film series, the action-adventure Matrix trilogy, and the Shrek quadrilogy of animated fairy-tales. I look at these films because I am interested in popular films of different genres where romantic love plays a substantial part. Furthermore, the kiss is central to the love plot in both film series and thus they offer good examples of how the kiss functions romantically and theologically. I shall finally briefly visit two romantic comedy films, The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Something’s Gotta Give, to see how religious discourse plays out in romantic films.

Before I begin, I note two qualifications. First, this article presupposes and is written within a Christian theological and religious framework, though not adopting or espousing a Christian worldview. I do argue, though, that this Christian framework has left its legacy on modern and postmodern Western culture, including on romantic love and film. Second, while also treating other religious traditions and other international film cultures would enhance this investigation, unfortunately my own lack of expertise in either field limits me to a discussion of Christianity, postmodernity, and romantic love in American film. I hope, however, that this article may spur those with expertise in other traditions and cultures to take on similar investigations.

Courtly Love, Christian mysticism, and romantic theology

In his now dated work The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis writes of a “religion of love” as one aspect present in the European medieval genre then called courtly love literature, which, according to Lewis, is the precursor of romantic love literature (18).[2] He notes that this religion of love, as well as other aspects of the courtly love tradition, have informed and still inform our conceptions of love and romance, particularly in art and literature (Lewis 1-3). A glance at American film, past and present, would seem to validate Lewis’ idea. Not only is romantic comedy an ever-popular film genre, but romance seems to play its part in many American films. The search for true love, a soul-mate and a happily ever after, sometimes as the telos and summum bonum of life, seems to be an idea which dominates popular culture and which plays itself out as the preoccupation of many films. Moreover, this experience of love, in popular culture and in film, bears almost a sacred, salvific quality. [End Page 2]

According to Lewis and other noted scholars, courtly love literature, and the religion of love within it, has not been derived from the Western Christian tradition nor the mystical tradition, where mystics use erotic language and the sentiments and experiences of human, romantic love to describe divine encounters and the soul’s relationship with God (Boase 35, 85, 109; Lewis 18, 40). Courtly love and romantic literature from the medieval and early modern period only borrow the language and sentiments of Christian discourse for use in a completely different and profane direction (Boase 109-11; Perella 89-90). The two literatures are not analogous, partly because they differ in the object of love, one of which is human, and finite, the other which is divine, and infinite (Boase 83-85, 109-11). Moreover, the medieval Christian Church had no interest in promoting passion or romance within or outside marriage, while a staple of courtly love literature is passionate expression and desire (Lewis 13-17). Indeed, sometimes courtly love literature could be sacrilegious, extolling the virtues of secular love and erotic or sexual delight while mocking religious chastity and ascetic devotion (Lewis 18). According to this theory, courtly love or the religion of love and the Christian religion run counter to each other.

No doubt there is truth to this thesis. We need only to glance at the plethora of romantic comedy films to recognize this. A good majority of them do seem to worship and venerate this ideal of romantic love, particularly as the acme of human experience and fulfillment. Nevertheless, it would also do us good to question if that is all there is to it, or if there is some connection and relevance to experiences and discourses that have taken place within the Christian tradition, and even more so, if they might not bear some theological meaning and value.

For example, there are striking similarities between courtly love and early modern love poetry and Christian mystical discourse (Perella 85, 268-69). In Christian mystical discourse, as stated above, mystics often not only use erotic language and imagery, but also the sentiments and experience of human, sensual love to describe their experiences of God, from the biblical Song of Songs to the ecstasies of Saint Theresa (Perella 38-40). There is talk of love, sensual delight, passion, and ecstatic union with the beloved, which is here God or Christ (Perella 34-36). Moreover, in figurative art there is the same ambiguity, where representations of divine love or the soul’s relation to God are depicted in human amatory fashion (Perella 33). Since the two discourses existed side-by-side, and scholars acknowledge that the courtly love tradition may have borrowed language and sentiments from Christian discourse, is it not possible that when these sentiments are “secularized” within a human, romantic framework, that they might not bear a remnant or a surplus of meaning of the tradition from which they have borrowed? Likewise, could Christian mystical discourse not also bear a remnant of human erotic experience as well, insomuch as the two might appear more similar than believed in both cases? Why could the influence not flow in both directions? Why could courtly and romantic love literature not have influenced religious thinking, and why could it not become a bearer of actual religious meaning and experience?

Within the romantic love tradition itself some Christian writers do correlate human and divine experiences of love. One may help to lead to or understand the other, and they are inseparable in meaning under a Christian conception of love (Lewis 35, 41; Perella 86-90, 261). In the works of medieval authors such as Andreas Capellanus, for example, courtly love was a chaste and ennobling discipline, whose end was grace bestowed by the lady, grace that elevated the knight to blessedness (Lewis 33; Perella 100). But this [End Page 3] blessedness was not just in a secular sphere, or for secular delights or ends, but was a complement to Christianity: without Christian virtue and practice one could not attain the lady’s benediction. Service to the lady was also thought to develop Christian virtues, such as humility, faith, and devotion (Perella 116-20).

The exemplum of the fusion of human romantic and divine love, however, would be Dante. According to twentieth century English (Christian) writer and poet Charles Williams, there is a theological tradition of romantic love, or a romantic theology, present in poets and artists, of which Dante is the greatest figure (Williams, Dante 91-93; Williams Outlines 7). For Williams, due to the Incarnation of Christ in the world and in the flesh, all human experiences bear a spiritual significance; through Christ’s presence, they become possibilities of divine manifestation and an infusion of grace (Williams, Outlines 9, 15). For Williams this is particularly acute in romantic experience, including sexual love, particularly in marriage (Williams, Outlines 7-9). The experience of this love-feeling has a sacred aura to it that leads to God. There is something about the encounter with the human beloved that facilitates not only divine encounter, transcendence and grace, but also spiritual growth, devotion, and holiness. Williams writes:

The heart is often so shaken by the mere contemplation of the beloved that it is not conscious of anything beyond its own delight. The whole person of the lover is possessed by a new state of consciousness; love is born in him….But in this state of love he sees and contemplates the beloved as the perfection of living things: love is bestowed by her smile; she is its source and its mother. She appears to him, as it were, archetypal, the alpha and omega of creation…the first-created of God. (Williams, Outlines 16)

Moving from Dante’s experience of Beatrice and the medieval experience of romantic love where passion, even sexual feeling, can be ennobled to a spiritual vision of beauty, the profane here is rendered into a beatific vision, where the two loves meld and mix into one.

Moreover, this vision has the capacity to see the human transformed to the divine, while remaining as it is. Williams continues:

Not certainly of herself is she anything but as being glorious in the delight taken in her by the Divine Presence that accompanies her, and yet is born of her; which created her and is helpless as a child in her power. However in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of the lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory, which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was. (Williams, Outlines 16-17)

Just as in the Eucharist the material bread and wine come to bear the flesh and blood of Christ, so the beloved through love becomes a theophany or window to the divine, remaining what she is yet also being more than this. She becomes sanctified and becomes the locus of sanctification through an experience of divine beauty. He finally explains this romantic theology:

This experience does at once, as it were, establish itself as the centre of life. Other activities are judged and ordered in relation to it; they take on a dignity [End Page 4] and seem to be worthwhile because of some dignity and worth which appears to be inherent in life itself—life being the medium by which love is manifested. A lover will regard his own body and its functions as beautiful and hallowed by contact with hers….His intellectual powers will be renewed and quickened in the same way. And—if Romantic Theology is correct—his soul itself will enter upon a new state, becoming conscious of that grace of God which is otherwise, for so many, difficult to appreciate. (Williams, Outlines 17)

As in the Incarnation or God coming to the world and flesh through Christ, so these everyday experiences of love and marriage are the very site through which life can be experienced as having a deeper divine reality; indeed, without the Incarnation or these divine hierophanies in the everyday, we would not really understand the divine at all. There is a religious spirit in love, to which poets, especially Dante, have born witness (Williams, Outlines 56). Interpreting Dante’s writings, particularly The New Life and The Comedy, through the lens of romantic theology, Williams again asserts the possibility of romantic love experience as a means of Christian grace. He notes that Dante’s first visions of Beatrice awaken a caritas and agape or Christian charity and love in him, and inspire a beatitude (Williams, Dante 94-97, 108). In The Comedy, she leads him not only to divine contemplation, but also to redemption and salvation because she inspires holiness and virtue within him, an in-Godding or taking of the self into God (Williams, Dante 107-08).

The important things to note about Williams’ romantic theology is that he finds the sacred in a common everyday experience, here of romantic love, and finds this also to be a means of sanctity and redemption (Williams, Dante 111). He writes that “holiness may be reached by the obvious ways as well as by the more secret.” (Williams, Outlines 46). If we neglect the spiritual meaning of these experiences, then according to him, we neglect a way of sanctity (Williams, Dante 111). Furthermore, since according to Christian tradition marriage is a sacrament of the church, it bears the possibility of bestowing grace, and of experiencing other sacraments, including the Eucharist (Williams, Outlines 36-37). Through married life, a couple may experience not only Christ’s manifestation and grace, but may relive the sacred experiences of Christ’s life through their marriage (Williams, Outlines 14). However, while they experience this transcendence and grace, the experience also remains human and immanent. It is not an allegory, or merely symbolic; as Beatrice, it remains what it is, two human beings living together, as well as something more (Williams, Dante 109).

This theme of romantic love and the intertwining of sacred and profane can also be found in Robert Polhemus’ treatment of 19th and early 20th century British literature in his work Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D.H Lawrence. Though I would disagree with Polhemus’ thesis that erotic faith in the British novels of this period is primarily a “religion of love” at odds with and supplanting traditional Christian faith, Polhemus’ work highlights the continuance of the courtly and romantic love strain in literature, and also the inextricable links in this literature between eros or erotic faith and religion, religious experience, and religious language (1-6, 22-24). For Polhemus the novel itself is a trajectory of the erotic and erotic faith (3). Though Polhemus characterizes this erotic faith in love as tenser, more complex, more uncertain, and less positive than the “happily ever after” trajectory of romantic love in American films which links them to themes of grace and redemption, nevertheless Polhemus’ work also attests to the power of [End Page 5] this erotic faith and belief and desire in the power of love, particularly to redeem and save (or damn in its absence), and its inextricability with traditional Christian theological ideals such as salvation and martyrdom (1-6, 47, 169). Whether it be the chastening and spiritualization of the erotic in Jane Austen (ch.2), the romantic passionate desire for ecstasy and union in Emily Brontë (ch.4), the attempted melding of the romantic, erotic and Christian in Charlotte Brontë (ch.5), the cult of domesticity and family in Victorian novelists such as Dickens (ch.6), the intertwining of the erotic with Christian themes of sacrifice in George Eliot (ch.7), the interconnection of the vulgar and holy in Joyce (ch.10), or the proclamation of the holy in the erotic and sexual in D.H Lawrence (ch.11), Polhemus underlines the importance of erotic love and desire in the lives of the characters, its ennobling and salvific (and sometimes dangerous) potential, particularly for the male, and its tensions with traditional Christianity (1-6, 10-12, 15, 47, 128, 249). Thus Polhemus’ work further supports and attests to this legacy of the intertwining of theological and erotic discourse, which carries over into romance in film.

We may ask at this point what all this has to do with romantic film. I draw upon these authors and traditions simply to assert that there also has existed a Christian tradition from Dante onwards that did not see human romantic love and divine love as contradictory, but as part of the same continuum, or that may have fused the two experiences. It not only used erotic imagery and love sentiments to describe divine encounters, but saw in the human experience of romantic love a shadow of the divine and a means of grace. This tradition, instead of disavowing passion, eroticism, and devotion or sublimating it to divine being, exalts this passion and eroticism within human relationships as a means to the divine; in other words, eros is also a part of the Christian way to salvation (Williams, Dante 111). Indeed, as theologian Richard Niebuhr has explained in his work Christ and Culture, within Christian history and tradition, there have been positive understandings of the relationship between Christ and human culture and society. In these views, human culture has its positive value, worth and goodness, where one sees within the human something of the divine, and where the human can become a bearer of divine meaning and significance.

This deeper meaning to romantic love still exists as a remnant and possibility in modern representations, including in romantic film. Though we exist in a secular or post-secular era, Christianity has left its legacy on culture and in art and literature. This deeper religious meaning in romantic literature is one legacy that can be observed in romantic film as well. Moreover, I think this becomes even more relevant in our (Western) postmodern era, where a focus on and an exaltation of everyday life and experience, sometimes to a sacred level, becomes possible. After the “death of God” (particularly a Christian, transcendent God), Western religious discourse has to be displaced to a human, immanent, secular level. Because of this courtly love tradition and its connection with Christian discourse, and this theology of romantic love that also runs through it, romantic love in our postmodern era, particularly in film, has become a bearer onto which religious discourse has been displaced. In reverse of the original situation, human, secular language and sentiment now may be used to describe religious experience and to engage in religious discourse. [End Page 6]

 A Theological Aesthetics of Popular Culture and Romantic Love

Theological explorations of religion and film often treat issues such as theodicy, suffering, sin, evil, the demonic, or alienation; or they often explore themes of larger relevance such as oppression, injustice, war, violence, and gender.[3] Treatments often deal with alienation and religious or spiritual experience as occluded, particularly in postmodernity (Coates 17-18). Often scholars hold the view that theologically relevant films must be those that unsettle us from complacency and force us to confront the complexities, i.e. evils, in human existence (Jasper 242-44; Deacy, Faith 23-24, 26). Films that provide entertainment and pleasure, or make us happy, are sometimes judged as mere “wish-fulfillment” fantasies, considered too “trivial,” escapist and illusory to warrant theological and academic inquiry (Deacy, Faith 25-26, 30-31).

Yet, as is the case with the courtly love tradition, Christian mystical discourse, and romantic theology, there is also another side to Christian theology, one that explores goodness and beauty, and sees in the humanly good and beautiful an expression of the divine in the human. According to this theology, to dismiss the beautiful, or here joyous, as something unimportant is to make life miserable, mean, and barren (Häring 338). This view contrariwise explores God’s goodness and love in His relation to human beings and the universe.

Christian theological aesthetics delves more into this theme. It concerns itself with the relationship of God with art and beauty, and with God as perceived and experienced through beauty and art. It often speaks of God’s glory, which includes and is inseparable from God’s beauty, and joy; glory is beautiful, the beautiful is full of joy, and a theology without joy is impossible (Barth 316-19). Beauty points to fact that being is in essence joyous (Viladesau 363). Pleasure and enjoyment are also experienced with God’s beauty (Moltmann 334). To believe in any finite beauty is to believe in the reality of the Absolute, or God; otherwise, joy becomes groundless and illusory (Viladesau 363). Without beauty, we lose our way to God, which makes us miss God’s glory here and now (Chittister 366). Indeed we must surround ourselves with beauty because beauty brings out that the best in life really possible (Chittister 367). Likewise, this beauty is more than just pleasant. Theologically speaking, divine beauty is often linked with truth and goodness (Häring 338-339). What is beautiful is also true, is also good.

Gratitude is likewise integral to the enjoyment of this presence of beauty, which manifests God’s glory (Moltmann 334). Gratitude for beauty and openness to its message are of utmost importance in the sacramental (Christian) life (Häring 341). Anyone who allows the beautiful in knows that life is a meaningful, wonderful gift, a gift of divine grace (Häring 342). God’s gifts of grace transform and enable us to see all things in light of beauty (Navone 358). Furthermore, since nothing exists that we have not been freely and lovingly given, in all creation is a motive for gratitude (Navone 356). God’s gifts manifest God’s will which is God’s love (Navone 357). Eros, a more intimate passionate love and desire than agape, is integral to our worship of God, religious life, and religious commitment, and also integral to God’s love for us (McFague 346-47; Balthasar 322). Without this passion and intimacy, love, human and divine, becomes cold and sterile (McFague 347).

Christian theological aesthetics often link art as the locus for experiencing this divine glory and beauty, and also link (human) beauty and pleasure (in the work of art) [End Page 7] with the divine. Works of art becomes sites for theophanies, where the divine manifests itself; the art form thus remains itself yet becomes more than itself (Bird 3).[4] This often manifests as an event, an encounter in which the divine presence reveals itself to us through itself.[5] The human representation in its finitude thus becomes a sign and symbol of something more beautiful and divine, expressed humanly through art (Balthasar 320). The real and original experience of beauty and joy in the work of art becomes analogous to a higher and more comprehensive experience of divine beauty and joy (Rahner 220-21).

Film can also be a very good medium for manifesting the divine. Experiencing pleasure in film images can open the viewer up to experiences of the beautiful, which lead to experiences of the good and true (Verbeek 172-177). Moreover, film is a total experience, operating on multiple levels. It works on us on a semi-conscious level that viscerally affects us as an embodied experience (Plate 59-60; Marsh 95-101). Emotion, sentiment and mood color our experience of film (Tan and Frijda, 51-55; Marsh 87-95; G. Smith 111-117). It affects us through images which cause emotional reflection (T. Martin 120). This emotional, immediate experience links it with all art in making it amenable to divine encounter (O’Meara, 213). It is a more totalizing experience than other forms of art (T. Martin 46), which may make it easier to experience the beautiful, which we are to experience in the totality of our being (Häring 338). Films also make us see in new ways through the more careful lens of the film experience (T. Martin 139; Plate 57), which may allow us to see the holy, or divine goodness present within them (Johnston, Reel n. pag.).[6]

When film becomes a site for divine manifestation, it shows us the divine possibilities for God’s manifestation anywhere and everywhere in a world-affirming way, including in everyday life (Greeley 92, 93, 95). Popular culture can be important theologically because it shows us how people may be experiencing the holy in everyday life. In an era of postmodernity (or post-post), popular culture in embodied life is the medium with which most people relate, and the site in which groups such as Generation X are having religious experiences (Lynch, After 96-102, 112-121). It can allow the divine presence through images which a postmodern audience may perceive and understand as potentially sacred.[7] What is necessary is a theological aesthetics of popular culture that relates it to everyday life in order to explore how popular cultural forms may enable transcendent experiences of encounter and also beauty, pleasure, and joy (Lynch, Understanding 189-194).

Furthermore, in the postmodern era, the divine encounter may be displaced, represented and manifested differently through popular culture, in secular or human forms that bespeak the same reality and experience in a form more comprehensible and authentic to a postmodern, secular audience (Eliade, “Artist” 179-80; Deacy n. pag).[8] With the focus on personal experience of the self and the aesthetic inner life in postmodernity, theophanies that flow through human forms and narratives in film may be more effective art forms (Lynch, “Sociology” n. pag.). [9] Pop or rock music may work better than classical, and embodied narrative styles than the abstract.[10] Most importantly, exploring divine manifestation through forms of everyday life allows us to view this life sacramentally, to see it possibly in a higher light as a manifestation of God’s beauty, joy, love, and glory infused with grace (Greeley 17, 92, 93, 95).

Popular films are an extension of the theological value of popular culture. In postmodernity, Hollywood and popular film also can provoke religious experience of the sacred (Graham, “Theology” 36, 41; Johnston, “Theological” n. pag.).[11] Romantic love, [End Page 8] because of its history with the courtly love tradition, Christian mystical discourse, and romantic theology, seems to be one bearer of this remnant of Christian theological aesthetics, where a divine beauty may be perceived to manifest itself in the forms of everyday life in film. The love of a divine Other may be held to manifest and represent itself through love of a human other. Indeed, as in romantic theology, in an era where Jesus struggles with temptations of marriage and family in The Last Temptation of Christ and where he is married in The Da Vinci Code,[12] romantic love, marriage, family, even sex, are not perceived as antithetical to or precluding manifestations of God’s presence in film. Moreover, discourse on love in film sometimes may stand in for discourse on religion. This shows us that the love story in postmodernity can sometimes bear the remnants of the former Christian story about grace and redemption.

The Sacramental Kiss in Romantic Films: The Matrix and Shrek

According to early Christian scholars, the kiss did hold meaning in Greco-Roman society. Often erotic and shared privately within the family, public kissing for reasons of friendship and reconciliation was also practiced (Klassen 126-27; Penn 6, 10; Phillips 5-6). But with early Christianity the kiss took on new meaning and importance, being not only practiced but discussed in the writings of Church Fathers such as Tertullian, Clement, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine (Penn, passim). From New Testament origins in St. Paul’s writings, the kiss finds itself in the Christian liturgy or worship service by the second century. Begun as a greeting among Christian brethren at church, by the fourth century it also found its way into the Eucharist and into Christian baptism (Perella 17-18; Phillips 7, 16-17, 27). It could thus be viewed as a means of the infusion of grace (Perella 43; Phillips 30). The kiss was also known as the kiss of peace, or pax, and thus was viewed as a form of communion, reconciliation, and forgiveness; the kiss of peace established concord and unity (Klassen 135; Penn 43-47). Moreover, from Greco-Roman times the kiss was thought to contain a magical-mystical meaning, thought of as a means of spiritual exchange; in Christianity it signified an exchange of souls (Penn 20, 37, 40-41; Perella 5, 26-28; Phillips 5). In Christianity the kiss thus also obtains a pneumatological significance; a kiss was a way of exchanging Christ’s spirit, and also of sharing the Holy Spirit (Perella 15-19; Phillips 8-11). The kiss must also arise from the heart in true affection; if it did not, then it could become the Judas kiss of betrayal, instead of the kiss of peace (Penn 65, 112-18; Perella 28). Though Christian authorities attempted to regulate the kiss’s erotic possibilities, at one time banning the kiss between members of the opposite sex (Penn 13, 80, 110-12; Phillips 24), a certain eroticism may have still remained, particularly evidenced through the use of the dove as the symbol of the kiss of peace and the Holy Spirit transferred thereby, since the dove also held erotic connotations in Greco-Roman culture (Penn 48-49; Perella 253-57).

In the Christian mystical tradition and in courtly love and romantic literature, the kiss conceit also continues. The erotic kiss could symbolize the kiss of God to the human, or the embrace of the soul with God (Perella 31-38). The kiss could also represent the completion of mystical experience, or illumination and an infusion of grace (Perella 43-45, 52-58). In medieval courtly love literature, while the kiss becomes profane, and perhaps [End Page 9] more erotic, it still appears, partially in the idea of a union of hearts or souls, and exchange of spirits (Perella, 90-91, 95-96). The kiss could also exemplify the telos of the devotion, and could signify a bestowal of grace or benediction, this time by the lady (Perella 101, 116). This idea of an exchange of hearts or souls in the kiss, and the kiss as an ecstatic moment, continues into love poetry during the Renaissance and Baroque periods (Perella 181, 184, 189).

 The Matrix trilogy

The kiss is central to the Matrix films. This kiss theme is more than just romantic; it is salvific, having a resurrecting power. In the first movie of the trilogy, when it appears as if agent Smith has killed Neo, Trinity tells Neo:

I’m not afraid anymore. The oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man, the man that I loved, would be the one. So you see, you can’t be dead, you can’t be, because I love you.

Then Trinity gives him a kiss, and his heart revives. Getting up again, Neo suddenly is able to fight the agents without effort. He can stop bullets; as Morpheus says, “He’s beginning to believe” that he is the One, and acts accordingly. He is able to defeat the agent by going into his body and causing the agent to implode.

It is love that gives Neo the power to be the One, love as expressed through the kiss. This kiss thus is more than just a kiss; it confers a supernatural power. Moreover, Trinity’s name, as a representation of the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, must be significant here, as it is Trinity’s love that repeatedly saves Neo. But the kiss is pivotal as the symbol through which this resurrecting power of love occurs. The kiss is thus salvific, and transforms Neo into the One.

This romantic love through the kiss develops further in the next film, The Matrix Reloaded. First, since Trinity and Neo’s love has already proven salvific, the erotic love scene between them shows us the importance of eros, intimate passion and desire, in romantic love, but also perhaps in something deeper, in our religious devotion and experience. It shows eros as a necessary aspect of human and divine love (McFague 346, 347; Greeley 165). This passion, since it is expressed by Neo the Savior, is not just a human passion but perhaps also a divine one (Balthasar 323).

In The Matrix Reloaded, the Merovingian, the dastardly Frenchmen, also acts as one foil to Neo. He explains his philosophy of life thus:

Causality—there is no escape from it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why… why is the only real source of power. Without it you are powerless and this is how you come to me…another link in the chain.

What the Merovingian represents is a mechanistic universe of necessity, of rational and logical calculation, control, and manipulation. It is not only without eros, but without joy, [End Page 10] beauty, or love, and thus without goodness or truth. Neo, contrariwise, acts out of love and passion, here exemplified by his love for Trinity, which is what makes him a savior. Persephone, the Merovingian’s wife, and symbolic in her namesake, the Greek goddess who inhabits the underworld, is willing to help Neo if he gives her a kiss, that is, if he brings that passion, love and beauty back into her life and resurrects her. She explains:

You love her [Trinity]; she loves you. It’s all over you both. A long time ago I knew what that felt like. I want to remember it, I want to sample it. That’s all.

She also tells Neo that he has “to make me believe I am her.” The first kiss is terrible, but then Neo gives Persephone a long kiss as if she were Trinity, and she agrees to help them.

Neo then enters the Matrix and meets the architect. The architect also tells Neo that all the previous five anomalies were created to be attached to humanity, but declares that “while the others experienced this in a very general way, your experience is far more specific vis-à-vis love.” The architect refers to love as

an emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic and reason, an emotion that is already blinding you from the simple and obvious truth—she is going to die and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

He also calls hope “the quintessential human delusion.” Yet Neo chooses the door back to the Matrix, rushes to Trinity, and catches her just in time. Though she appears to die, Neo says, “I’m not letting go. I can’t. I love you too damn much.” This time, he resurrects her. She says, “I guess this makes us even,” and they kiss.

The architect, similar to the Merovingian, is interested in logic and reason, control and balance, not in love, joy or desire. What is missing in this technological means-end world is beauty and joy; here we value efficiency instead (Chittister 366). But Neo, as the sixth anomaly, is different, because he does love, and in a passionate, intimate way, exemplifying this love and passion in a way that shows how grace and love transcend this world of efficiency and utility, filling it with delight and lifting spirits (Häring 338, 341). Moreover, this love is once again salvific: contrary to the architect’s predictions, Neo is able to resurrect Trinity from death through the power of love, this time again consummated and exemplified in the kiss.

In the last film of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions, the kiss does not play as central a role, but we do find a religious discourse taking place in the name of romantic love, where this love bestows a semi-sacredness to everyday life and the human sphere, bestowing (Christian) religious virtues. Rama-Kandra, whom Neo meets in the nether-subway world at the beginning of the film, explains why he is trying to save his daughter Sati:

I love my daughter very much. I find her to be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. But where we are from that is not enough. Every program that is created must have a purpose. If it does not, it is deleted.

Neo remarks that he has never heard a program speak of love, and thinks of it as a human emotion. Sati’s father answers: [End Page 11]

It is a word. What matters is the connection the word implies. I see that you are in love. Can you tell me what you would give to hold on to that connection?

Neo replies: “Anything.” Sati’s father also remarks that he is grateful for his wife and daughter, and that they are gifts. What is interesting here is the ability to appreciate everyday life and its beauty and goodness, here the beauty of a child and family, in an almost sacrosanct way which almost seems to appreciate them as gifts of grace. This also runs very counter to the technological, mechanical world of the Matrix.

Likewise, when Trinity is dying, she is grateful for the love Neo and she shared, without regret and fear. As she is dying, Trinity explains how much she loved him, and says:

How grateful I was for every moment I was with you, but by the time I knew how to say what I wanted to it was too late, but you brought me back, you gave me my wish, one more chance to say what I really wanted to say.

She asks Neo to kiss her one last time, and dies. Gratitude, often an integral part of divine grace, helps Trinity see the nature of life in an almost sacramental way, infused with (divine) goodness.     Thus, in the Matrix trilogy we can see a romantic love discourse that bears the remnants of a religious discourse, of salvation, of grace, of beauty, goodness, and of gratitude. Moreover, this discourse becomes heightened in postmodernity. There are certainly religious themes present in the Matrix, including Christian ideas, concepts, and symbols, and these link together with the love story in a meaningful way. We see this most clearly through the motif of the kiss.

 The Shrek Quadrilogy

At first glance, the Shrek quadrilogy does not seem to merit theological relevance. Yet these animated tales do play with love, romance and the kiss in such a way that also evidences remnants of religious discourse and experience within the romantic love story. In the first movie, Shrek, princess Fiona is waiting for “true love’s first kiss” which will release her from a spell that turns her into an ogre at night, and then she will take true love’s form. After she meets her true love, Shrek the ogre, they embrace and then comes their true love’s first kiss. Fiona is lifted up into the air amid light and sparks and comes down again in ogre form. She does not understand why she is not in love’s true form and says: “I don’t understand. I’m supposed to be beautiful,” but Shrek tells her: “But you are beautiful.” Then it is happily ever after.

Of course, this tale cleverly plays upon the fairy-tale ideal of romantic love. Yet, at the same time, “true love’s kiss” not only shows the influence of the romantic love ideal and literature derived from the courtly love tradition, but also evidences the importance of the kiss. The kiss is not only the completion and attainment of “true love,” but also bestows a grace, and inspiration, and gives a sanctity and blessedness to Shrek and Fiona’s love. The kiss takes place in a church, in front of a clergymen, and the sparks and lifting in the air show that there is something magical, supernatural to it. Being in a church, the kiss takes [End Page 12] place as the consummation of the marriage ceremony, which can be taken as sacramental. Yet, Fiona and Shrek remain the same; what this signifies is that the grace and blessedness bestowed on them, while transfigurative, is also something that can be found within their human lives and human experience of marriage.

In Shrek the music often helps to convey the mood and experience of falling in love.[13] The theme song for the movie is “I’m a Believer,” which starts with:

I thought love was
Only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else
But not for me
Love was out to get me
That’s the way it seems
Disappointment haunted
All my dreams

And then I saw her face
Now I’m a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I’m in love
I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her
If I tried.

We need only to think of Williams and Dante and their romantic theology to see how a vision of the beloved transforms experience and makes ready an acceptation of the good. The language also recalls religious discourse; the man becomes “a believer” or begins to have faith after this vision.

These themes, and the kiss motif, continue through the next three Shrek films. In Shrek 2, we have the evil Prince Charming trying to replace Shrek as Fiona’s rightful husband. In order to compete with him Shrek steals and drinks the potion called “Happily Ever After” which promises “beauty divine” to whoever drinks it, and becomes a hunk. Yet though Fiona has changed back into human form and Prince Charming pretends he is Shrek, a love potion does not work on Fiona, and Charming’s kiss to wed himself to Fiona is not effective. When Shrek finds Fiona and offers her his new and improved human form if they kiss before midnight, Fiona prefers the old Shrek. After midnight is their true love’s kiss as ogres with light, magic, and sparks. Fiona’s parents also accept Shrek now and again we end in a happily ever after.

Going back to the Christian theology of the kiss, we should remember that a kiss not from the heart, not with true affection, and not full of faith cannot have effect, cannot bestow the holy spirit or confer unity and peace, cannot knit the souls of the kissers; it becomes a Judas kiss instead. That is why Charming’s kiss cannot work. But since Shrek and Fiona are “soul-mates,” that kiss will always be effective in bestowing love and grace, and in transforming the lovers. [End Page 13]

Shrek 2 continues a postmodern religious discourse through this legacy of a Christian theological remnant and hyper-meaning within this romantic love tradition. For example, Shrek’s potion “happily ever after” promises him “beauty divine.” But in the end it does not really work. The theological significance that this could bear is akin to grace and mystical discourse. Mystics cannot make a divine encounter happen, cannot transform themselves into divine beings or experience divine union. God must “kiss” them, must do the initiating. The same holds true with grace; its infusion is something God bestows, not something we can attain by our effort. Romantic love often works in the same way in film; it is something that happens and that we cannot control, and which transforms us unexpectedly. Here, this theme is present not only with Shrek’s potion, but in the story of Prince Charming. He cannot make Fiona love him or manipulate the circumstances of love and happiness through his own efforts. Here one cannot make love happen, just as one cannot make beauty, goodness, or truth happen. The theme song of Shrek 2 is the Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love.” Some of the lyrics read: “Well I didn’t mean to do it; but there’s no escaping your love.” It is thus not for humans to control or decide but something that happens to one as a gift of grace.

The religious discourse through the romantic love story also continues in the third film, Shrek the Third. A disgruntled Prince Charming gathers an army of disgruntled fairy-tale villains who desire their own happily-ever-afters, and again unsuccessfully try to make them happen. Yet here a young King Arthur convinces these fairy-tale villains to repent and reform, while Shrek tells Charming to seek his own happily ever after, after which Charming is killed by a tower prop. Arthur tells them:

A:        You’re telling me you just want to be villains your whole lives?

V:        But we are villains; it’s the only thing we know

A:        Didn’t you ever wish you could be something else?

When they reply discouragingly, Arthur quotes Shrek’s speech to him:

Just because people treat you like a villain, or an ogre, or just some loser it doesn’t mean you are one. The thing that matters most is what you think of yourself. If there’s something you really want, or someone you really want to be, then the only person standing in your way is you.

The villains lay down their weapons and ponder other professions, such as growing daisies or opening spas. In other words, they have seen the error of their ways, have repented, and are redeemed and reformed of their wickedness.

We also see in Shrek the Third the repeated theme of “happily ever after,” not only in the plot ending, but throughout the film as a motif and desire. The “happily ever after” scenario in romantic comedy can be a romantic ideal, but understood theologically, it could signify (Christian) hope in life and in divine redemption and salvation (Greeley 108, 112; Brown 219) to be experienced on a human as well as divine level. Bringing back Williams and his romantic theology again, it helps us link the good, or even wondrous, in human experience with a divine goodness. Moreover, in these films, happiness is something that is constantly lost and must constantly be regained; read theologically, this could also symbolize the sacrament of marriage, which constantly bestows a grace that renews the [End Page 14] difficult or dull moments by bringing that grace or experience of love (Williams, Outlines 53). It is likewise salvific or redemptive; it constantly rescues Fiona and Shrek from evils and tribulations, and is sealed by the kiss (Williams, Outlines 47).

The last film, Shrek Forever After, ties everything together. Though Shrek is happily married with ogre triplets, he finds this life dull and monotonous. Because he cannot be grateful for his life, he nearly loses everything. Without his love story with Fiona, he ends up in a dystopia. Yet again the answer is “true love’s kiss,” which Shrek must receive by midnight. Though in this dystopia Fiona has no interest in love and dislikes Shrek, Shrek slowly restores her faith and makes her fall in love with him again. Though true love’s kiss does not work the first time, it works in the end, just in time, and reality is restored to normal. Shrek goes back to his children’s birthday celebration, grateful for all that he has, and we have the final happily ever after.

What stands out to me in this last movie as regards romantic discourse as a bearer of theological meaning and religious experience is the romantic theology of love, marriage and family as sacramental, holy experiences that can lead to redemption. Shrek lives in a state of ingratitude at the beginning of the film. He has forgotten to see his life as a gift of grace. After he has lost it all, Shrek realizes this. He states that “my life was perfect and there’s no way to get it back. I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.” He now sees all the good to be had in his everyday life, and is grateful for it. He tells Fiona: “You’ve already done everything for me Fiona. You gave me a home and a family.” Upon their true love’s kiss, Shrek tells Fiona: “You know what the best part of today was? I got the chance to fall in love with you all over again.” At the end of the story, he likewise remarks to Fiona: “I always thought that I rescued you from the dragon’s keep.” Fiona replies: “You did.” Shrek then answers: “No, it was you that rescued me.” He thus has seen his life in a new sacramental way, which has bestowed beauty and light upon it and has redeemed it and redeemed himself.

In this dystopia, we also see Fiona’s redemption from skepticism, and restoration of her faith. Fiona is cynical, faithless, and loveless. After Shrek kisses her and nothing happens, Shrek remarks:

S:         I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any sense. True love’s kiss was supposed to fix everything.

F:         Yeah, you know that’s what they told me too. True love didn’t get me out of that tower. I did. I saved myself. Don’t you get it? It’s all just a big fairy tale.

S:         Fiona don’t say that. It does exist.

F:         And how would you know? Did you grow up locked away in a dragon’s keep? Did you live all alone in a miserable tower? Did you cry yourself to sleep every night waiting for a true love that never came?

S:         But, but I’m your true love.

F:         Then where were you when I needed you?

She has lost faith not just in love, but in the good and beautiful in life, especially as freely given gifts. Everything now depends on her own human effort and will against a cruel world. That is why the kiss did not work; she no longer believes, or loves. [End Page 15]

Yet even here, there is still a ray of hope. After one of Shrek’s failed attempts to connect with Fiona, Puss remarks:

I am not believing what I have just witnessed. Back there—you and Fiona, there was a spark. A spark inside her heart I thought was long extinguished. It was as if for one moment Fiona had actually found her true love.

It is thus up to Shrek to restore her belief and faith in love through love. Through the sacrifices Shrek makes to save Fiona, Fiona comes to believe in Shrek and the power of love again: in the power of goodness, and in beauty and happiness. When Shrek apologizes for not having been there for her, Fiona says that it does not matter, that he is here now. Her life and her past are beginning to be redeemed through this experience of love, and her faith and hope are renewed. Then comes true love’s kiss, in which both Shrek and Fiona find redemption, and a renewal of the sacramental grace bestowed upon their love. Moreover, here true love’s kiss transforms the world and restores it to its rightful order as well, showing the power of love to renew the phenomenal world, exemplified in the married couple (Williams, Outlines 32). Without that love, in a world of cynicism, faithlessness, and disbelief, everything is a dystopia. With the grace and beauty of love, it is beautiful and joyous again, showing how love repeatedly renews the world (Williams, Outlines 32).

In the last movie, we see clearly the analogous relation of romantic love and religious faith, and how this romantic love narrative and discourse could stand in for that of religious faith, showing once again the transposition of Christian theological themes into romantic discourse. We can read the love story again as more than just a romantic love story, as that through which in postmodernity, due to the historical relation of romantic and Christian discourse, discourse on religion, God, and faith take place, albeit in a secularized, human form.

 Love as Religious Discourse in Romantic Comedy

In postmodernity the genre of romantic comedy also becomes a site in which religious discourse takes place, where discourse about love can be read as discourse about religion. What these romantic comedies show even more clearly than the above films is how the love story in film acts as a foil to the modern secular story of hedonism, value-neutrality, scientific rationality, skepticism, cynicism, and disbelief. Romantic love acts as a site which challenges this secular viewpoint by allowing for an experience of love which contains the possibility of a deeper significance as a divine, religious experience.

For example, in the 2009 comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Connor Mead is a New York City playboy, cynical about love and marriage. When refusing to give the toast at his brother’s wedding, he states that:

To me marriage is an archaic and oppressive institution that should have been abolished years ago. [End Page 16]

He goes on to say about love:

Love, it’s magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated. Yeah, it makes you feel all warm and relevant but in the end love leaves you weak, dependent, and fat.

Continuing on a little later, he says:

I wish I could believe in all this crap. I do. I also wish I could believe in the Easter Bunny….I am condemned to see the world as it really is, and love, love is a myth.

We could substitute religion, faith, or God very easily here for the word love, and probably marriage, and we would probably recognize this speech as the modern, secular, skeptical view of religion.[14] In the film, Connor seems jaded, cynical, and shallow, enjoying the swinging bachelor’s life. His moral reformation begins when his deceased lecherous uncle Wayne visits him, warning him to repent of his ways. This movie is playing upon Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge is warned to repent of his life and ways. The connection signifies religious and moral meaning, requiring the repentance and reformation of Connor. Connor does see the error of his ways, and begins a new life, a life of committed love.

Likewise, in the 2003 movie Something’s Gotta Give, Harry Sanborn is a sixty-three year old New York City bachelor also enjoying the hedonistic single life. He meets Erica Barry, the divorced mother of his girlfriend, and while he is convalescing in her home from a heart attack, they develop a special romantic relationship which turns into love. When they first make love, it is as if they have both experienced something new and wondrous in their lives, an openness and vulnerability but also passion and elation. That was the first night either of them had ever slept eight hours. We can chalk it up to just sexual desire, but something happens that also transforms their lives. Erica, repressed, uptight, and unemotional, can then not stop weeping, which finally helps her overcome her writer’s block and enables her to write her next play, and which opens her up to a relationship with another younger man. She appears happier than ever, and explains to her daughter it was because she let love in, even if it did not work out. Meanwhile Harry attempts to go back to his former playboy life, but to no avail. He is unhappy, and every time he sees Erica he has an anxiety attack which he fears is another heart attack. Realizing he needs to change, he goes back, tries to find every woman he has ever wronged, and makes amends. He looks for Erica in Paris, but finds her with another man. Yet she returns to him. When Erica tells him she’s still in love with him, Harry says: “If it’s true, my life just got made.” Harry then remarks: “I finally get what it’s all about. I’m 63 years old, and I’m in love, for the first time in my life.” And we have a happily ever after.

Erica and Harry’s first night together was a transformative experience, akin to a moment of grace. Whether realized before or not, it brought something missing from their lives into it, love, passion, or wonder, that changed and transformed them. They had to change their lives for the better: in Erica’s case learning to let go of control, open up and let love in; in Harry’s moral reformation and responsibility. Harry’s comment that he is in love [End Page 17] for the first time at 63 can be read as the possibility of redemption at any age and stage, which has been a part of the Christian message as well.

 Conclusion

The kiss and romantic love in film can operate religiously and theologically. They have the capacity not only to bear a theological significance, but to offer an opportunity for divine encounter and transformation, as well as containing the possibility of a religious discourse. This is due to the origins of medieval courtly love and its relationship with Christian theological discourse, where medieval courtly love borrowed the sentiments and language of Christian discourse, particularly mystical discourse. Moreover, something of the humanly erotic also remained within sublimated mystical discourse, fusing the two experiences and making it more difficult to distinguish one from the other. This paved the way for romantic love, the descendent of courtly love, to contain the possibility of this deeper theological meaning and religious experience within it. In postmodernity, where God is dead, and where transcendence has been displaced onto immanence and the divine onto the human, this dormant religious and theological possibility of romantic love in culture and art can sometimes be activated, and can become pregnant with meaning. This holds particularly true in film. Moreover, in postmodernity romantic love in films can sometimes stand in for and represent religious experiences of God or for religious discourse. Therefore, I contend that romantic love in film can be one style, form and representation through which religious experience and reflection are taking place in postmodernity. It thus shows the religious and theological possibilities of popular culture and popular cultural manifestations.

Finally, I hope looking at romantic love in film in this light, in relation to theological aesthetics, contributes to opening up and freeing theology and film studies, which seldom treats the theme of romantic love as theologically or religiously pertinent. Theology and film studies should welcome more often these positive engagements with film and religious studies and popular culture. To quote the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf:

I see happiness as a right. I think that it is a human right to be joyful. The person who makes a dark, realistic film in India is wasting his time….Many things must yet change in India before the people’s lives become better…So why should the people be depressed by movies like that? They must be allowed to have some pleasure in life. The person who has had to sell his body for a morsel of food – you want to make a film for him about social justice? What is he supposed to do after seeing that film? (92)

Going on to speak about his profession, he says that “we filmmakers are here only to illuminate, to bring joy to life. All I seek is that, after seeing a film of mine, a person feels a little happier, and acts with a little kindness towards the world” (93). Like Makhbalhaf, we can aim to take seriously those filmmakers who by treating romantic love desire to bring a little more happiness and joy to life and to the world, and consider such a goal a legitimate [End Page 18] enterprise. We can also appreciate films (and scholarly work) that reveal and point us toward this joyous side to life, and realize their value.

I close with a discussion of the ending of Cinema Paradiso. At the end of the story Salvatore/Toto, who is now a famous filmmaker in Rome, watches the film his old friend and father-figure Alfredo left for him upon Alfredo’s recent death. The film is a composite of all the love and kissing scenes that Toto’s hometown’s Catholic priest had censored out of the movies. The film brings tears to Toto’s eyes, perhaps for the memories of his youth and the love for film that has made him rich and famous, perhaps for memories of Alfredo and how he changed his life, perhaps for remembering the past that he left behind. But it signifies something else as well: the kisses signal passion, wonder, beauty, ecstasy and joy, treated in courtly love and romantic literature, but also having origins in Christian mystical discourse and the Christian sacrament of the kiss. I hope this kiss can begin to be understood as that which sometimes graces life, not just in romantic love, but in all our everyday moments, and which may be read and understood as a symbol of human or divine goodness, not to mention the hope, faith and belief in the good, the beautiful and the true, and perhaps the happily ever after of romantic love or Christian redemption. Let us hope that we, unlike the priest, do not censor this out of film or religion, its study, and certainly not out of life.


[1] Though Willliams, as an Anglican, more clearly identifies the romantic love in the sacrament of marriage with the Incarnation and the life of Christ, I translate that here also to mean a divine, sacramental presence in romantic love and marriage.

[2] For readers not familiar with it, the courtly love literature and tradition is thought to have arisen in the 12th century in the Provence region of France, and was popular during the high Middle Ages. It concerned a knight’s love for and devotion to a lady of superior social standing, usually married, and consisted not only of a description of the knight’s passionate devotion, but also his service and humiliation to the lady. There existed also a system of rules and observances which must govern this service.

[3] See for example Zwick, Graham, May, Deacy Faith, and Deacy and Ortiz.

[4] The idea of a hierophany stems from religion scholar Mircea Eliade; a hierophany is an eruption of the sacred into the mundane or profane realm, where the sacred manifests itself into something profane, making that something both what it is and something more. A theophany is the same idea only with the eruption of God or the divine into the mundane. For more information see Eliade, Sacred.

[5] French philosopher of religion Jean-Luc Marion has written extensively about the event of God’s manifestation, sometimes called the saturated phenomenon, a revelation that gives itself from itself to a human subjectivity, and that human beings cannot control but are controlled by. The revelation can also often manifest itself through a work of art, as an encounter; it entails the revelation through the work of art to a passive subjectivity. Most of the writings of Marion are a propos to this phenomenon, but in particular Being Given may be of use in explaining this idea.

[6] This is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the citation can be found in paragraphs 2 and 3 of section 2, entitled “Seeing life.”

[7] For a discussion of the use of postmodern styles in relation to theology, see Detweiler, and Detweiler and Taylor. [End Page 19]

[8] This is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the citation can be found in paragraphs 5, 8, 12 and 14 of section 3, entitled “Cupitt and Bonhoeffer meet the Kranks.”

[9] Again this is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the relevant passages can be found in paragraphs 7-14 of section 2, entitled “The Subjective Turn in Modern Spirituality,” and in paragraphs 2-3 of section 3, entitled “Reading Film in the Context of the Subjective Turn.”

[10] See Detweiler and Taylor.

[11] This is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the citation can be found in paragraphs 1 and 2 in section 5, entitled “Finding God in the movies.”

[12] Though I reference the film, I actually have not seen The Last Temptation of Christ, but am just depending on what I have heard about the film.

[13] See J. Smith and Taylor.

[14] Ben-Ze’ev and Goussinsky consider the “ideology of romantic love” as an unattainable, unrealistic transcendental ideal that under certain circumstances can lead to fanaticism and violence, much in the way many modern intellectuals view religion, particularly fundamentalism (xii-xiv). [End Page 20]

 Movies Cited

Cinema Paradiso. Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore. Perf. Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin. Miramax (US), 1988. Online download.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Dir. Mark Waters. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas. New Line, 2009. Online Download.

Shrek. Dir. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy. Dreamworks/Universal, 2001. Online download.

Shrek 2. Dir. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas. Dreamworks/Universal, 2004. Online download.

Shrek Forever After. Dir. Mike Mitchell. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas. Paramount 2010. Online download.

Shrek the Third. Dir. Chris Miller and Raman Hui. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas. Paramount, 2007. Online download.

Something’s Gotta Give. Dir. Nancy Meyers. Perf Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves. Warner Brothers, 2003. Online download.

The Da Vinci Code. Dir. Ron Howard. Perf. Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan. Columbia, 2006. Online download.

The Last Temptation of Christ. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey. Universal, 1988. Online download.

The Matrix. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers, 1999. Online download.

The Matrix Reloaded. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers, 2003. Online download.

The Matrix Revolutions. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers, 2003. Online download.

Music Cited

Counting Crows. “Accidentally in Love.” Shrek 2: Motion Picture Soundtrack. Dreamworks/Geffen, 2004. CD.

Diamond, Neil. “I’m a Believer” lyrics. STLyrics. n.d. Web. 8 May 2012.

Duritz, Adam, Dan Vickrey, David Bryson, Matt Malley, David Immergluck. “Accidentally in Love” lyrics. Elyrics. n.d. Web. 8 May 2012.

Smash Mouth. “I’m a Believer.” Shrek: Music From the Original Motion Picture. Dreamworks, 2001. CD.

Works Cited

Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane, ed. Art, Creativity, and the Sacred. New York: Cross Road, 1995. Print.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics. Vol. 1 Seeing The Form. Trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. Ed. Joseph Fessio and John Riches. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1982. 117-127. Excerpt in Thiessen 320-325.

[End Page 21]

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Vol. 2 The Doctrine of God. Eds. G. W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957. 650-659. Excerpt in Thiessen 315-319.

Ben-Ze’ev, Aharon and Ruhama Goussinsky. In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Bird, Michael. “Film as Hierophany.” Religion in Film. Eds. John R. May and Michael Bird. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1982. 3-22. Print.

Boase, Roger. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977. Print.

Brown, Stephen. “Optimism, Hope, and Feelgood Movies: The Capra Connection.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 219-232. Print.

Chittister, Joan. “Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light.” Religious Life Review 40 (2001): 178-180. Excerpt in Thiessen 366-367.

Coates, Paul. Cinema, Religion, and the Romantic Legacy. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003. Print.

Deacy, Christopher. Faith in Film: Religious Themes in Contemporary Cinema. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

— — —. “From Bultmann to Burton, Demythologizing the Big Fish: The Contribution of Modern Christian Theologians to the Theology-Film Conversation.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 12. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

— — —, and Gaye Ortiz, eds. Theology and Film: Challenging the Sacred/Secular Divide. London: Blackwell, 2008. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 1 March 2012.

Detweiler, Craig. “Seeing and Believing: Film Theory as a Window into a Visual Faith.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 1. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

Detweiler, Craig, and Barry Taylor. A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Popular Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 30 March 2012.

Eliade, Mircea. “The Sacred and the Modern Artist.” Criterion 1964 (Spring): 22-24. Excerpt in Apostolos-Capadona 179-183.

— — —. Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Trans. Willard R. Trask. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987. Print.

Gilkey, Langdon. “Can Art Fill the Vacuum?” School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, IL. 17 May 1981. Keynote Address. Excerpt in Apostolos-Cappadona 187-192.

Graham, David John. “Redeeming Violence in the Films of Martin Scorsese.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 87-95. Print.

— — —. “The Uses of Film in Theology.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 35-43. Print.

Greeley, Andrew. God in Popular Culture. Chicago: Thomas More Press, 1988. Print.

Häring, Bernard. Free and Faithful in Christ. Vol. 2 The Truth Will Set You Free. Slough: St. Paul Publications, 1979. 102-109. Excerpt in Thiessen 338-343.

[End Page 22]

Jasper, David. “On Systematizing the Unsystematic: A Response.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 235-244. Print.

Johnston, Robert K. Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 4 March 2012.

— — —. “Theological Approaches.” Routledge Companion to Religion and Film. Ed. John Lyden. London: Routledge, 2009. Chapter 17. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 15 March 2012.

Klassen, William. “The Sacred Kiss in the New Testament: An Example of Social Boundary Lines.” New Testament Studies 39.1 (1993): 122-135. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Allegory of Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936. Print.

Lyden, John. Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals. New York: New York University Press, 2003. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 2 February 2012.

Lynch, Gordon. After Religion: ‘Generation X’ and the Search for Meaning. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2002. Print.

— — —. “Film and the Subjective Turn: How the Sociology of Religion Can Contribute to Theological Readings of Film.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 5. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

— — —. Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. London: Blackwell, 2005. Print.

Makhmalbaf, Mohsen. “Once Upon a Filmmaker: Conversation with Mohsen Malkhmalbaf.” Interview by Hamid Dabashi. Close Up: Iranian Cinema Past, Present, and Future. London: Verso, 2001. Excerpt in The Religion and Film Reader. Eds. Jolyon Mitchell and S. Brent Plate. London: Routledge, 2007. 92-94. Print.

Marion, Jean-Luc. Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness. Trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. Print.

Marsh, Clive. Cinema and Sentiment: Film’s Challenge to Theology. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2004. Print.

Martin, Joel W, and Conrad E Ostwalt Jr. Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth, and Ideology in Popular American Film. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995. Print.

Martin, Thomas M. Images and the Imageless: A Study in Religious Consciousness and Film. London: Associated University Presses, 1981. Print.

McFague, Sallie. Models of God, Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. 133-135. Excerpt in Thiessen 346-348.

Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology and Joy. London: SCM Press, 1973. 58-64. Excerpt in Thiessen 334-338.

Navone, John. Toward a Theology of Beauty. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996. 77-82. Excerpt in Thiessen 355-358.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1951. Print.

O’Meara, Thomas Franklin. “The Aesthetic Dimension in Theology.” Art, Creativity, and the Sacred. Ed. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. New York: Cross Road, 1995. 205-18. Print.

Penn, Michael Philip. Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Print.

Perella, Nicolas James. The Kiss Sacred and Profane: An Interpretive History of Kiss Symbolism and Related Religio-Erotic Themes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Print.

[End Page 23]

Phillips, L. Edward. The Ritual Kiss in Early Christian Worship. Cambridge, UK: Grove Books, 1996. Print.

Plate, S Brent. Religion and Film: Cinema and the Recreation of the World. London: Wallflower, 2008. Print.

Polhemus, Robert M. Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D.H. Lawrence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Print.

Rahner, Karl. “Theology and the Arts.” Thought 57 (1982): 24-29. Excerpt in Thiessen 218-22.

Smith, Greg M. “Local Emotions, Global Moods, and Film Structure.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 103-126. Print.

Smith, Jeff. “Movie Music as Moving Music: Emotion, Cognition, and the Film Score.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 146-167. Print.

Tan, Ed S., and Nico H. Frijda. “Sentiment in Film Viewing.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 48-64. Print.

Taylor, Barry. “The Colors of Sound: Music and Meaning Making in Film.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 2. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

Thiessen, Gesa Elsbeth, ed. Theological Aesthetics: A Reader. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005. Print.

Verbeek, Marjeet. “Too Beautiful to Be Untrue: Toward a Theology of Film Aesthetics.” New Image of Religious Film. Ed. John R. May. Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward, 1997. 161-177. Print.

Viladesau, Richard. Theological Aesthetics, God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 210-213. Excerpt in Thiessen 361-366.

Williams, Charles. Outlines of Romantic Theology. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2005. Print.

— — —. Religion and Love in Dante. Westminster: Dacre Press, 1970. Print.

Wright, Melanie. Religion and Film: An Introduction. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007. Print.

Zwick, Reinhold. “The Problem of Evil in Contemporary Film.” New Image of Religious Film. Ed. John R. May. Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward, 1997. 72-91. Print.

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