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  • Amy Bartlett

On love and the law

As I have mentioned, the last time I was in school (over 15 years ago) I was finishing my Masters of Law (LL.M.) degree. So when I started taking a class this term on religion, society and the law, I thought it would be a nice bridge between what I used to study and what I am choosing to explore in this current academic adventure. It was a bridge between what was and what is, in some ways. But in other ways, the class blew the top off of my fragile little pandemic-addled brain.

In particular, I was enthralled to explore the role of love in law, in religion and in life—conceptually, narratively and in practice. Indigenous legal scholar John Borrows appeared a few years ago on a CBC podcast episode of Tapestry which we were assigned to listen to for class one week, and I was surprised at how deeply I was touched by the experience. It was originally a speech for the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, but it was so much more than what one would expect from a keynote speech: it was grand and inspirational and thematically consonant-- all things one would expect for such an address. But it was also personally and socially confrontational: challenging the foundations of how we understand laws and rights, how we understand the role of human beings as agents of change, and a call to action for something that we speak collectively so little about in a meaningful way: love.

I have long been passionate about incorporating love in public life. And I am so grateful for the trailblazing Indigenous religious leaders and legal scholars (check out the uVic Indigenous Law Research Unit also) who are creating spaces to incorporate love in law and culture. As Borrows talks about, there are risks to naming love within the law (as coercive, ambiguous, infantilizing or cheapening of the concept of love itself) but like Borrows, I trust that “the weight of our objections can stand while also acknowledging the value of love’s place in the public dimension.” The value of incorporating love into our experience of each other and the world around us is worth the vigilance and work we all must do to ensure it is a value that is wielded respectfully and equitably.

Psychedelic spirituality is very much a fuzzy notion at present—nascent in many ways, and by its very nature, often borrows from “what is” phenomenologically—however, so much of what is starting to coalesce around our understanding of what a “psychedelic spirituality” might look like is informed by concepts that can be found in some Indigenous approaches to spirituality: namely as an interconnected, earth-honoring, community-based and love-informed culture of the sacred. As we evolve as societies and continue to rewrite our personal and collective stories to create more a inclusive space for the multiplicity of human experience-- and as a psychedelic spirituality researcher and advocate-- I feel deeply indebted to the wisdom, patience, resilience, strength and stewardship of Indigenous religious leaders and communities who cultivate these loving narratives to allow for a more rich and diverse experience of human spirituality.

Love is. This is not a typo—it is a declaration. As Borrows says, we are swimming in love: in our laws and treaties, in our religions, in our political institutions, in our stories. Because we are the ones who built these institutions in the first place. We are agents of love, and we can keep evolving our laws and institutions as we grow our understanding of the world and ourselves. We each have a role to play. I am grateful for the capacity for love that each of us holds, and I trust that as we exercise our individual and collective capacity to love, the long arc of history will continue to bend towards justice.

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