Happy Sunday. For many in my adopted land, this is Super Bowl Sunday, a chance for modern day gladiators to beat the shit out of each other while we all munch on tortilla chips and vote on this year’s most enterprising adverts in that unofficial Oscars for best Commercial. Most Americans love this annual ritual just as they love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (yeugh!). But love….? We use the word ‘love’ in so many ways it is perhaps one of the most overused and misunderstood words in our language. After my forays into the subjects of shame and forgiveness, the love theme began to grow large in my thoughts. But as I mused it became clear I could not possibly write a few short paragraphs and then…done! Love is in the bag!
So, to be realistic, I will come back to this over and over, as I continue to grapple with what this simple four letter word might really mean. For now, I have determined to begin by doing a series on some of the things that have occurred to me in the realm of love. I don’t know how long I will stay with this, but we’ll start with part one and see how it goes. So let’s start with what I believe love isn’t. Love is not sex. There we go, I had to mention it. So its done now and we can move on! Seriously, though, it has occurred to me that we have so emphasized the role of sex in the arena of love that it now dominates our understanding and the whole construct. Any student of Freud would probably start there and barely leave the subject! We even use the phrase ‘making love’ as a euphemism and Hollywood films would have us believe the act of sex is the ultimate expression of love between a man and a woman or increasingly between those of the same sex. Indeed, this is probably at the root of such strong sentiments surrounding homophobia today.
Love isn’t romance either, even though, like sex, we might express our love towards certain people through these means. But then, what is ‘romantic’ to one person might just be a bunch of flowers to another. What I would like to do is provoke a discussion about what the word ‘love’ might really mean as it applies not to the Super Bowl or peanut butter sandwiches, but as the most important thing we can talk about when we talk about faith in God or on the level of how we relate with each other as human beings?’. I happen to believe that we were born, primarily, to love and to be loved and so a better understanding of what that means might just enhance the life we have been given. It is also important to properly frame this discussion by emphasizing this does not just mean the love between two people that might involve romance and sex, but the love of any human being for another and ultimately the love that is experienced in a more spiritual realm, wherever you put your faith. By this, I mean that which I happen to experience as a result of my relationship with God or that anyone might experience outside the realm of the natural.
For the follower of Jesus, he was attributed as saying two remarkable things about love, that I believe are central to this discussion. “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36 – 40. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34.
I am going to end, having hardly started, by suggesting one major thought to ponder. Is it possible to love without first having been loved? For the purpose of this question, I am going to give us a working definition of love that is not the finished article, but will serve as a springboard for later discussion and development. ‘Love happens when our own needs and desires take second place to the needs and desires of one or more others and our lives reflect that inner reality.’ So have I experienced that kind of love expressed towards me? Have you? And is our ability to express that kind of love dependent on having experienced it ourselves? Next week I intend to get in to this subject in earnest and I think we will go back to the Genesis story again and see where it takes us.
“Love” – a word that has been so over-used and distorted that is difficult for us to give a clear and concise definition. I look forward to the small rocks you will be throwing into the pond on this subject! 🙂 To my way of thinking, love is essentially an action word … real love is not passive. The great example of love is given in John 3:16 – “For God so loved … that he gave his son.”
In an explanation of the “Our Father” (commonly called “the Lord’s prayer”), attributed to St Francis of Assisi, I like his take on “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven … to the end that we may love you with our whole heart by always thinking of you; with whole soul by ever desiring you; with our whole mind by directing all our intentions to you, by seeking your honour in all things; and with all our strength by spending all our powers and senses of body and soul in the service of your love and in nought else; and that we may love our neighbours even as ourselves, drawing all to your love to the best of our power; rejoicing in the good of others as in our own and compassionating them in their troubles and giving no offence to anyone.”
Whew … some challenge!
Enough from me for now … I have a cricket match to watch: NZ vs Australia in a 3 match one-day series. Tied one – one at the moment. And, yes, I will flick over to the Super Bowl from time-to-time for a small “fix” on the American “gridiron”! 🙂
As you say – I’m a little overwhelmed by that challenge – I think it might take a few bite size chunks to even create the kind of inner adjustment to move closer to this kind of selfless giving! Enjoy the cricket – we’ll be catching glimpses of the gridiron amongst the main event – the commercials!
Yes, life is a continuing stream of challenges … I suspect they continue until life’s end or when we awake in the presence of our Saviour! The cricket match was just one small challenge … with a great outcome for the Kiwis and no such a great one for our neighbours across the Tasman Sea! I am sure they will get their’s back, perhaps in the upcoming cricket tests! Enjoyed bits of the Super Bowl; however, we missed out on the great commericals over here … just had our local ones. 🙁
The game was a little disappointing as Carolina conspired to lose rather than Denver really winning
First time in ages I’ve had enough internet and time to read one of your posts… (after Blip, of course!) Very good – like your attempt at defining love… worth thinking about – would be better face-to-face, over a glass of wine, mind you… I think I love you and Leyna BUT not at all sure your needs and desires take precedence over mine and my family’s…
Thanks Daveen – great that you are beginning to find your feet and the Internet! Of course it would be wonderful to have a long conversation about this over several glasses of wine – so let’s do it as soon as becomes practical for us to come to Portugal but definitely this year. Good point on the practical out working of love towards others – I think it comes down to inner attitude and our love is practically expressed when the needs of the other become important and salient to our relationship with that person rather than always putting the needs of the other above our own. I am sure Jesus had to take care of his needs during his sojourn on earth but when it came to the crunch, was willing to lay down his life at the point it became necessary – still thinking this all through but there’s another thought for the discussion.
Part of the problem is that we obviously use the word “love” to cover over a multitude of disparate and overlapping things, so nailing it down is impossible. That said, I agree with Daveen’s comment about love not necessarily being about putting someone else above yourself. I don’t think that the concept really works and I don’t think there is such a thing as a selfless good deed (a philosophical tangent for another time).
To me, love is about tying yourself up with someone else so that their happiness truly makes you happy. To do this, you have to care enough to know what truly makes a difference in their life and then make the effort to see that happen. And you will only do this if it’s worth it to you. Meaning, you love that person.
That’s how I think of interpersonal love (which is going to be a different thing entirely than the appreciative love of trees, par example).
Because of this conception, I think love is incredibly complex because of problems that arise- what if what you think is best for someone is different from what they think is best? Is it love to yield to their preference even if you think it’s wrong, or is it love to force your conception of what’s good for them onto them? (Obviously this question depends on the relationship, as a parent probably has a greater right to this than a friend). But true love can get difficult.
Thanks Jo – very valuable addition to the conversation and I think most would agree with the complexity aspect – especially the conflict that can and does occur when people’s love for someone else differs from what they believe is best for them. True love can indeed get difficult if we even know what it is. I’m hoping the conversation might help to at least gain a better understanding
Thank you SO much for doing ‘love’. I’ve been thinking about it all week, and am pleasantly amused that your thoughts have fallen all over the shop as mine have done.
And so I send you a response: my first real experience of love was when I understood a tree. That will sound like crazy hippy talk, and I humbly accept that criticism. But I deeply love trees. I just think that they’re amazing gestures of nature. Do they love me back? Possibly (I find the theory of morphic resonance and shared consciousness very convincing); but do I care whether they do or not? Nope. The feeling is all mine. It’s a very selfish, instinctive, and natural sort of feeling. I don’t go out hugging them or anything… I just, kinda, love them.
This week my head has kept drifting back to confession, forgiveness, love, and the complex interchange between the three. I’m no further forwards. I’m fascinated that I have someone in my life who I cannot forgive but still love. Augustine (unsurprisingly) waxes lyrical on that point, albeit enigmatically: “since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul”. Perhaps the answer lies in the soul, whatever that is?
I always look forward to your responses and thank you for the encouragement to keep going – you have already had quite some influence on the direction of thinking. You nailed it of course, once I started on this ‘love’ thing, it started to overwhelm and I feel like itching the scratch only makes it need more scratching! But that’s one of the best parts of examining these deeper issues, the journey of understanding, which seems to open up all kinds of new lines of thinking. I like your comment ‘I deeply love trees’ – by the way, don’t miss out on the hugging bit – could be fun!
I think I can understand the loving without forgiving, which is obviously something personal to you, though, I think my thoughts on forgiveness definitely revolve around the whole process of reconciliation. So you can love someone from a distance, but perhaps not have intimacy without forgiveness and reconciliation. Intimacy – probably another subject rolling into view!
Also, I really like the fact that Augustine links beauty to the growth of love – now that’s something I am going to think about and hopefully draw into this ongoing conversation – not sure where this is all going but I am really enjoying going there. Thanks again.