Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

February 13, 2011: “We Are the Question; Love Is the Answer”

We are the question, love is the answer. I think it actually comes down to this- love is the meaning of life. Psychologist Erich Fromm, famous for his book back in the 1960s, The Art of Loving, says, ‘Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence… It is not a resting place but a moving, growing, working together….Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this ‘central experience’ is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love experienced thus is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love; the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.’

        That said, of course, we have to figure out what this 4 letter word really means even though we all THINK we know what it means! We know love primarily in relationships    from romantic to family to friends, 

to our animal companions, to God or religion. I think of this story about friendship- One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons showed Peppermint Patty talking to Charlie Brown. She said, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.” He said, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?” She said, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”

        But we also talk about LOVING chocolate, video games, athletic teams, sports or certain hobbies. That's because in English, there's only one word for a variety of kinds of love, so we need adjectives like romantic, platonic, brotherly, familial, etc.

         Diane Ackerman, in her book, History of Love, writes: 'Love. What a small word we use for an idea so immense and powerful it has altered the flow of history, calmed monsters, kindled works of art, cherished the forlorn, turned tough guys to mush, consoled the enslaved, driven strong women mad, glorified the humble, fueled national scandals, bankrupted robber barons, and made mincemeat of Kings. How can love's spaciousness be conveyed in the narrow confines of one syllable?'

        In Greek there are 4 different words that are used in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, since Greek was the primary language that scholars use in translating it from the original. Even the Hebrew Bible, though obviously original in Hebrew was translated into Greek since that was a more universal language back in ancient times. The four Greek words are agape, eros, phillia, storge. Agape is usually defined as religious love, especially to and from God. It is the word used in what is often called the apostle Paul's love chapter, read at so many weddings in the 13th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians. Part of it reads, 13:1-8, 13: "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing....'  Then I've made a list of what I call the 10 Commandments of Love from the rest of his words:

Love is patient

love is kind

love is not envious or boastful

love is not arrogant

love is not rude.

It does not insist on its own way;

It is not irritable

Love is not resentful;

Love rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Then it ends with this passage: ‘But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; and as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.’

        The word, eros, from where we get the word erotic, is romantic, especially sexual love, and is the only one of the four which interestingly doesn't appear in the Christian New Testament. It is used in the Old Testament. Then there's filia, from where the word, filial, comes from, usually translated as 'brotherly' or sisterly - in other words, family love. And lastly, storge, or 'natural affection' sometimes used in the negative,  'astorgos', (lacking natural affection). In other words perhaps an instinctual or inherent love that we all should have.

        My colleague, Meg Riley, Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online church for UUs without a church nearby, writes about a 5th kind which I had never heard of, but found interesting. In doing her research on the four Greek words, she asked a friend who was actually Greek and found there was a 5th term which is more current Greek, 'auto-ektimis,' which means self love, not selfishness, but more like self-esteem. But we often confuse self love with selfishness, when we all know that we have true needs of the self, and that if we don't learn to love ourselves, we might not be able to love others. Maybe that's part of Jesus saying that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves as being one of the important commandments.  There's two kinds of love there- loving our neighbors, or in other words, the world, and loving ourselves.

        All of those loves are important to a well balanced life. I say in my wedding homily: 'All religion, as well as life, depends on our understanding of love, of our commitment to the Spirit of Life. Some call that love God, some call it by other names.  I believe in the transforming and uniting power of love to move mountains, to bring  joy in our lives, to strengthen us through sorrows, and to give meaning to our uncertainties. Marriage is religion itself on a smaller scale; without love and faith and its corresponding behavior, we are all atheists who believe in nothing at all, no matter what our words or church membership says. If we are committed with all our heart, soul, and mind, to love and to our loved ones, and to the Spirit of Life, we will be living religion.'

        Carter Heyward, known as a radical, lesbian, feminist Episcopal theologian who has written 11 books, says: 'We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We are not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called 'Love.' Love is a choice- not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity-  a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.'

        Her theology has been described in a way that sounds UU to me: 'Carter Heyward's most distinctive theological idea is that it is open to each of us to incarnate God (that is, to embody God's power), and that we do so most fully when we seek to relate genuinely to others in what she calls relationality. When we do this, we are said to be 'godding', a verb Heyward herself coined.[4] God is defined in her work as 'our power in mutual relation'.[5] Alluding to mainstream Christian views of God, Heyward has stated 'I am not much of a theist'.[6] For her, 'the shape of God is justice',[7] so human activity can, as theologian Lucy Tatman has observed, be divine activity whenever it is just and loving. In her book, Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right, Heyward asserts that 'the love we make... is God's own love'.[8] In Heyward's work, God is therefore not a personal figure, but instead the ground of being, seen for example in compassionate action, which is 'the movement of God in and through the heights and depths of all that is'.[9]

        Heyward believes that 'God was indeed in Jesus just as God is in us - as our Sacred, Sensual Power, deeply infusing our flesh, root of our embodied yearning to reach out to one another'.[10] This power works to change despair, fear and apathy to hope, courage and what Heyward terms 'justice-love'.[10] But God's Spirit is not contained 'solely in one human life or religion or historical event or moment'.[11] God was Jesus' relational power for 'forging right (mutual) relation, in which Jesus himself and those around him were empowered to be more fully who they were called to be'.[12] Insisting on the God-incarnating power of all, Heyward observes that 'the human act of love, befriending, making justice is our act of making God incarnate in the world'.[13] Interestingly, in her recent work she suggests that even the non-human creation may incarnate God, commenting that 'there are more faces of Jesus on earth, throughout history and all of nature, than we can begin even to imagine'.[14]' (Wikipedia)

        Love then, I will argue is both theological and human relations, and the Bible says 'God is love,' then I stop right there and say-there's my theology-Love.

This Valentine’s day, an ancient mythic day originally dedicated to fertility and mating more than romantic love, has evolved into a day dedicated to love, a reminder that love gives life its meaning as well, I will also argue, it’s morality. Judge all on love- religion, God, family, friends, work associates, ourselves, and romantic love if we are fortunate.

        I believe the Beatles had it right when they sang, 'All you need is love.'

Happy Valentine’s Day!
With all my love, Art