Perhaps, though, even more important than proximity itself is the habit of service. Contemporary culture often thinks of “love” as an inward, involuntary spark that eventually leads to outward actions. The apostle Paul, however, doesn’t start there at all. In Ephesians 5:28 and 29, he writes, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (ESV). For Paul, then, love begins not with an emotion but with acts of service. It’s essentially embodied and essentially active.
This applies directly to the essential conceit of Your Name. Though its outlook is equal parts Shintō and Buddhist, the film is unable to get away from the central Christian tenet that humans are essentially embodied creatures and that human bodies have inherent dignity. The characters learn to care for each other as they literally learn to care for each other in a real, physical sense. Their empathy for one another is cultivated through daily repeated behaviors—and eventually, that empathy blossoms into mutual affection, which in turn blossoms into love.
Those of us who prefer the more liturgical strains of Christianity often do so in part because we tend to think that thoughts and behaviors exist as a two-way street. Modern psychology seems to confirm this, as recent studies have implied that the human brain not only serves as an impetus for future actions, but is also continually reshaping itself to explain or justify past actions. Feelings may cause actions, but actions can be used to spark feelings as well. In other words, love can be cultivated. Medieval Christians understood this—that virtue is something primarily learned through repeated, daily action. (And, of course, Paul called love the greatest of the virtues.)
To those with idealized notions of “true love” and finding “the one,” this realization can potentially be frustrating or disappointing. In many ways, though, it’s actually quite freeing. Feelings of “butterflies in your stomach”–style romantic love have been shown to reliably fade away after a couple of years (else, how would you function in day-to-day life?), frequently leaving people feeling “stuck” together. If love is truly cultivable, though, then regardless of who you find yourself “stuck” with—or, for that matter, if you find yourself randomly switching bodies with a stranger—love for them can be kindled by daily habits of service.
In a 1941 letter to his son, Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien wrote:
Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the “real soul-mate” is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances).