I wrote ‘Conclusion’, then immediately added the rest, thinking, how on earth can you ever stop talking about love? My feeble efforts to describe this deep conundrum we call love have only raised more questions and already broadened my own perspectives on the subject. It has also challenged me to examine just how I express love in my own life to my wife, my children, grandchildren, friends, enemies, acquaintances and strangers.
I was challenged this week by a negative review of our Fort Worth Coffee House. The reviewer took issue with our stance on not allowing open carrying of firearms and gave us one star for this rather than a fair assessment of our worth as a Coffee House. I wanted to lash out and retaliate for the injustice I felt, but after penning a carefully calculated rebuke, the words of Jesus ‘Love your enemies’ just wouldn’t go away and I deleted the whole calculated put down. I realized that love sometimes means not getting your own back. Hurting someone with words was really just a way to gain some selfish satisfaction for myself.
So I resolved to put a semi-colon in this conversation after writing some of the things I have dwelt on in the last few weeks. They don’t apply to every relationship, but cover many aspects of this fascinating thing we call love. So…
Caring more for another than for myself
Resisting the temptation to control or possess
Choosing to stay with the one we love even when it no longer suits us to do so…or
Letting another go when we want to keep them
Speaking truth without an ounce of manipulation
Being willing to die to self interest and preferring the interest of another
Being entirely honest in communication especially when it disadvantages ourselves
Being willing to fully embrace the gifts of those given through love
Approaching love making with a desire to give and not take
Knowing when to speak up and when to back off
Not gaining satisfaction through retaliation
Never giving up on the other person even if they give up on us
Choosing not to take out our anger, frustration, disappointment on another
Not dwelling on the failings of others and never seeking to remind of past mistakes
Ever seeking ways to enhance the one loved, especially in the eyes of others
Looking for the best, believing the best and hoping the best
Not limited by culture, ethnic background, race or gender
Expressed in thoughts as well as deeds, gifts and honor
Thanks for sharing in this conversation, I’ll be back next Sunday with something new, but in the meantime, love someone, love anyone, love everyone. Who knows what might come of it. In the immortal words of Huey Lewis and the News,
The power of love is a curious thing
make one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
more than a feeling that’s the power of love
Tougher than diamonds, rich like cream
Stronger and harder than a bad girl’s dream
make a bad one good make a wrong one right
power of love that keeps you home at night
You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
but it might just save your life
That’s the power of love
Apologies for being late to the table here, but what a fascinating subject and lots of very interesting thoughts. I’ve had a bit of a potter around this morning to see if I can add any food for thought, and I found my meanderings even more interesting than I was expecting.
When I’m approaching a topic I nearly always start at the etymology dictionary. Seeing the history of a word often gives valuable insight into what it has meant to different groups of people over the years, and therefore shows how ideas have grown and developed, and what they might have meant in the beginning.
The etymology of ‘love’ did not disappoint. It neatly encompasses its beautiful complexity, and gives many good starting points for thought. The Anglo Saxon verb ‘lufian’ embraced the meanings ‘to love, to cherish, to show love to; to delight in, to approve”. The original Proto-Indo European translates as ‘to care, to desire’, and from it sprang many offshoots, of which my favourite is the Lithuanian ‘liaupse’, which means “song of praise”. What I quite like about this is that throughout history one common semantic theme clearly emerges: a directing of powerful emotion away from one and towards another. An obvious point, perhaps, but I think that this can sometimes be lost in modern English, as the ‘I’ pronoun is so strong. I love: love is about how I feel. Yet the original word in many different languages is all about praise – an emotional gift. The ‘I’ recedes into the background, and is only ever as valuable as the individual can make it.
I was expecting to find this quite a comforting and easy answer to the problem of love, but when I started to look into the Hebrew and ancient Aramaic things became a little more complex. In those languages, love is strictly a philosophical concept. Indeed, there are four types of ‘love’ in both Hebrew and Aramaic. We translate them all simply as ‘love’ when we construct biblical texts in English, but not only do the four have different meanings in their original languages, they also develop and change over time – ‘Racham’ is hardly used in the Old Testament, but is used fairly frequently in the New, but this is invisible to us. So, there is Ahav (love), Racham (tender mercies (sometimes ‘romantic love’), Dodi (spousal love), and Ra’ah (brotherly love). When “God so loved the world” he did so in a different way to how Jesus says he loved his disciples. The strong implication here is that in the Old Galilean dialect there are different ‘levels’ of love, with the highly unfortunate consequence that any notion of unconditional love is rendered obsolete.
This caused me a bit of a panic. I’m not a Christian, but living in a sociocultural environment that takes its moral codes and values from biblical texts I didn’t want to suddenly discover that I have to throw everything I thought I knew about love out of the window. But we don’t have to panic. A bit of further searching and thinking, and I found that obsolescence is in itself quite powerful, because it demands that love is transactional in order to be complete. When “God so loved the world” the type of love is ‘ahav’ – love that is not completed or returned. When Jesus loves his disciple in John 21:20, the type of love is ‘racham’, which is completed love (or love that is returned). So this means that God’s love for the world remains incomplete until that love is returned in the form of praise, thereby completing the missing link. One of the articles I read supported this theory with Zephaniah 3:17, where in return for our love God “rejoices over you with singing”. Although I think that there is significantly more going on in that verse than a description of the divine love circle, on close inspection it is definitely there.
From all of this what I walk away with are two things. Firstly, love is something that is transactional. It is unfortunate that that particular word (‘transactional’) is so cold and hard, because it is clear from multiple ancient languages that the transactional nature of love is something to delight in, something that enables the deepest form of non-verbal dialogue between two people, and something that by combining two people together results in a more powerful emotional expression. Love is therefore both easy and hard, and is something that has to be worked for and worked on. Secondly, that the logical step in this particular journey is to look at ‘praise’.
Thank you so much for this. The research you have done is really fascinating and adds much to this conversation – I deliberately suggested I was putting a semi colon and not really a conclusion to this as I am sure I am going to come back to this over and over. I thought quite a bit this week about those different words for love, though I was more familiar with their Greek manifestations agape, eros, philia and pragma which I believe we’re all used in the New Testament. Further interesting expansions of the theme for further development may come from the ancient Greeks’ other 2 words ludus (a kind of playful more frivolous kind of love) and philautia, which deals with love of self.
I am intrigued by the introduction of praise into the mix and will spend some time thinking about this – thanks once again for the thoughtful contribution.
You’re absolutely right: most of the articles I read began with the Greek and worked backwards to Aramaic, albeit frequently pointing out the numerous problems of attempting to translate any of the original biblical languages into Greek. I’ll definitely be adding this one to my list of things to check when I finally invent a time machine: did the Greeks impose their philosophical codes on the Hebrew, or did the latter inform the development of the former?
One thing that did strike me about your writing was just how many different ways there are of understanding, expressing, and feeling love. That in itself is very interesting, because it makes the concept somehow ‘bigger’ than the human space and experience. Any neuroscientist reading that would no doubt have kittens, but there is a very non-scientific sense of size to love nonetheless.
Many thanks again, and I’ll look forward to the next one! Just checked the etymology of ‘praise’ and am already intrigued…