We are at a very interesting crossroad this week however (at time of posting): We are 1/3rd of the way between Valentine's Day and the end of the Lenten period which began Feb 10th & will end with the Feast at the Last Supper on March 24th. This is a season of penance and prayer. Having just celebrated our commercialized version of Valentine’s Day, I don’t even think anyone actually gives thought to the origin of Valentine's Day. There are many stories around Valentines: the key to your heart, cards & sweets, but in the Anglican Church, it was originally an official Anglican feast day to honor Saint Valentine. It's also a day of celebration in the Lutheran Church as well. Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten, and now it has become a hugely commercialized holiday. I am reminded way back in December that Valentine’s Day is coming up, but unless you’re in the Church or some spiritual community, there is no commercial or advertisement reminding you that Lent is coming up. And so in this month’s blog, we’re going to look at Love, but not that sappy, romantic, passionate, sensual love that gets sold to us this time every year in February. Instead, let's look at what life teaches us about Love - what it is, what it is not. Rather than letting Man define Love, what Love is, what Love should look like, or should be, let us look to God instead whose very nature defines Love!
When I was a teenager, all my friends had boyfriends and they were all in love except for me. I hadn't blossomed yet and so I naively felt I must have been the most unlovable person in the whole world. I would secretly pick some cute boy in my school & declare him to be my boyfriend (unbeknownst to him of course!), and I would walk around my house swooning over this imaginary love of mine, dramatically quoting this vague definition of Love: “Love is a feeling you get when you're feeling a feeling you've never felt before”. I couldn't wait to feel this feeling that was indefinably wonderful that everybody else was feeling. As the years progressed, I grew up chasing that feeling. I felt I came close many times but somehow I always fell short. Remember the song “Looking for love in all the wrong places”? That was me. And so I looked everywhere and at everyone. Then one day I ‘woke up’ – so to speak - and came across a quote from Doreen Valiente that a dear friend of mine had included in one of her communications: “If that which you seek you find not within, you will never find without”. I had been looking in all the wrong places, when all I needed to do was to go within.
So this month, let's go back to the Source, the Creator and see what the Bible says about Love. Love is what we all strive for, wish for, hope for, live for. It’s been said that Love conquers all. And the greatest Love of all? How could it not be but the gift of Christ on the cross? This is perhaps the biggest Love lesson of all. In our lifetime we will have learnt many lessons. Life teaches us to work hard, to achieve, to be successful. But life also teaches us short cuts, white lies, looking out for #1, and actions that compromise our integrity. Our role models are many, both good & bad - from the parents who out of Love created us and were our very 1st models of dutiful & loyal love of family. From there, our role models extended out to the teachers and the people in our surrounding community, and to the world at large who taught us various versions of Love. But although life teaches us about Love, life also teaches us that it is all about choice. I remember bothering my mother for some random privilege that my friends had that I didn’t, but I needed/wanted. Her practical (and wise) response was usually: "If your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump too?” It wasn’t until I became a parent myself, that I understood the wisdom of that statement. If you were born into abuse, hate, poverty or ignorance, are you doomed to repeat those lessons & the lessons of your forefathers? Or can you learn from the example of others what not to do, & how not to be? Can you use your adversity as a steppingstone to a different type of life?
Life teaches us that sometimes good people suffer unnecessarily and die way too early. Life teaches us that we all have the same needs - from the homeless person on the street to the heads of state. Life teaches us that charity begins at home. Developmental psychologists like Eric Erickson & Piaget¸ described in
their works, the stages of growth and development that take us from infancy all the way through old-age and death, where we have various crises/achievements we have to accomplish along the different milestones in our life. And though we all progress through the stages at our own pace and in our own time, we all face the same developmental tasks at some point along the continuum of our lives, and at every point, we will have to make a choice. Life teaches us that life is short so live your life without regrets because tomorrow is not promised, and life’s lessons go on, and on, and on…. for as long as you are alive. How does the power of God’s Love transform life's hardest lessons?
This Godly Love that we speak of is not based on a feeling. It's an active will where we put the welfare of others above ourselves. God’s Love is revealed to us in the way we love. We love because it is our nature to love, and we must be true to our nature. “Caritas” is a Latin word meaning 'caring for others' (think ‘charity’). It is a Christian love of humankind & love for all. In the Bible, there are 4 different ways that love is demonstrated: Eros, Storge, Philia & Agape Love.
◦ EROS is the physical, sensual love between a husband and wife as demonstrated in the book of Songs of Solomon. I encourage you if you are in a relationship or considering pursuing one, to read Songs of Solomon. Paul also in 1st Corinthians 7:8-9 said: "It is better to marry than burn with passion", because he understood this type of love, although he himself had chosen instead to serve the Lord.
◦ STORGE love is familial love - it's the bond between mothers & fathers, sisters and brothers, & a classic example of this is the love of sisters Martha and Mary for their brother Lazarus. It’s the story of the love that Jacob had for his sons. The 10 Commandments said "Honor your father and mother so that your days may be long on the earth that God has given you" (Exodus 21:12). And perhaps my most favorite story of all is that of Ruth and Naomi, who believed strongly in the bonds and Love of family.
◦ Whether it's used as a prefix or suffix, the Greek word ‘PHILIA’ denotes fondness or affinity, but in its extreme - an abnormal love for a specified thing. Philadelphia is called the “City of Brotherly Love”. The Bible encourages us to love one another with brotherly affection (Romans 12:10), and advises us to
“show love to your enemies”.
◦ Then there is AGAPE love. This is a Greek word for empathy and concern. It is the highest form of Love - love of God for man and man for God. Agape love is selfless, sacrificial unconditional love. It is the love that Jesus Christ had for his Father and his followers, and He said “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them" (John 14:21). Perhaps 1 of the most well known & quoted passages demonstrates this Love: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". To its extreme, we have people who are quick to kill others and who are willing to die for their country for their religious beliefs. This is played out in the news daily to the point where we're almost immune to it.
So my Friends, Love is not the sappy, romanticized or idealized Love that we think of on Valentine's Day when we give cards and chocolate and candy. Love is not dependent on what a person has done for us. Love is not conditional. Love has no limits or boundaries. We love the unlovable. We love because it is our nature to love. We love because we are commanded to do so. I’ll end this month’s message with the message of Love from the epistle of Paul to the Corinthians in 1st Corinthians ch. 13:
1. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
3. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs.
6. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
7. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, it always perseveres.
8. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge it will pass away.
9. For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
10. But when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11. When I was a child I spoke like a child. I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away the ways of childhood behind me.
12. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror. Then we shall see face-to-face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully even as I am fully known.
13. And now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love".
Love & Light!
Audrey Steele, Acupuncture Physician