"As we turn to the Christian tradition for help and guidance about love, we must begin with God's love for us. Unanimously (and there is not much about which there is unanimity) that tradition teaches that the love of God for us defines love and makes it possible. It is the source of all genuine loves and the standard against which all that calls itself love must be tested. Conversely, our love for God is the center and heart of Christian life, the first goodness from which all other real goods of character and conduct flow," writes Sondra Wheeler, the Marsha Ashby Carr Professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Seminary.

Many have written about this central value of Christian faith and yet there is always more to say about its depth and its riches in tradition and in our daily lives. Wheeler sees the steadfast mercy of God in Hebrew Scripture as a prelude to the love made flesh in the New Testament. As we move from divine to human love, the question always arises, Can we measure up? Wheeler looks at the writings of Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren on agape and eros and then moves on to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ideas about love and God.

As we struggle with our own limitations in intimate relationships, we come into the presence of many obstacles. Wheeler describes these and then reveals resources in the Christian tradition that can be helpful and healing:

• Worship limits control seeking.
• The Eucharist responds to jealousy.
• Prayer answers loneliness.
• Confession corrects self-deception.
• Consecration answers fear.

She concludes: "If human love sometimes seems like walking a tightrope, then the practices of faith remind us that there is a net. But just as love takes practice, so does faith." Wheeler discusses a variety of loves: affection, friendship, romantic love, and love of neighbor. She also considers self-love, caretaking, nature and grace, marriage and parenthood. The most impressive chapter is on "Love Without Boundaries: Strangers and Enemies" in which Wheeler assesses the hard practical work of compassion.