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Making the Choice to Love

Reverend Professor David Wilkinson

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (although as numerous comedians have commented it is much quicker to go through the fourth and fifth ribs). Yet on this Valentine’s Day, couples will be paying premium prices in packed restaurants for special meals which simply mean a red fondant heart added to the cheesecake.

But news from the world of fruit flies gives scientific evidence of the link between nutrition and romance. A paper in the journal Nature by scientists from the University of California San Diego have discovered that after a protein rich meal, a molecule is released within fruit flies which moves their focus from eating to mating. This molecule, diuretic hormone 31, seems to be a signal of change from the gut to the brain.

Now, human beings are a little more complicated than fruit flies, at least most of the time. Biological influences are embedded in psychological and sociological complex structures, where chemical reactions, genes, personal agency and communal interactions are all entangled in the rich experience of being human.

But the link between eating together and various kinds of love is central to human experience – from the romantic date, through the family celebration and then to many faith traditions which see eating together as a way to build community and to experience the love of God. Within my own Christian tradition, the taking of bread and wine during Holy Communion reflects in a profound way for me the self-giving love of God for all offered through the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the kind of love that God calls me to live in sharing hospitality, in acting for justice, and in showing compassion and forgiveness.

As a Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens the security and stability of Europe and catastrophe for the people who will be killed or displaced by military action, I remember a meal I shared a few years ago in Kiev with a group of university students. They were young Christians who pushed me on the questions of science and theology which I had just lectured on. But during the meal one young woman told me a little of her story, and the suffering, injustice and death which had been imposed on her family under the Soviet Union and then through the pro-Russian government of Ukraine. This was something I had never experienced, and so I asked her what I might pray for her for the future. To my surprise, she said: “God’s grace to forgive, as that will be the only way that we can be healed.”

In the choice to love, rather than hate, she was demonstrating to me what human beings can be.

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Article By Reverend Professor David Wilkinson

David is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University and has PhDs in astrophysics and systematic theology.

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