Love is a word that is often misunderstood, over used but under practised and in many cases ridiculed and yet it is the most powerful force I have ever experienced in my life. It changes you forever.
Love has had many great detractors through out human history. Plato saw it as “divine madness”, Schopenahaur saw it as “natures” great deception” played on humanity merely to preserve the species. Erich Fromm saw it as a coping mechanism to counter the pain of separateness and existential isolation and Freud saw love as a form of psychopathology, he saw it as being essentially an irrational aberration. Freud obviously didn’t think much of it.
The ancient Greeks wrote endlessly about love. For them it manifested in three main ways. These being eros (romantic love), philia (love between friends and family) and agape (spiritual love). We though have just one word which incorporates all forms. All we have is love. All forms have the capacity to change us, but when we speak of love what do we mean?
When the great faiths talk of love, it is essentially Agape or spiritual love that they speak of. This is the love that Jesus preached in the New Testament, this is the loving kindness that is talked of in Buddhism. It is a universal principle found in all the great faith traditions. This is the love that transforms human hearts and souls, that can bring us into oneness, into harmony with all creation and God.
This is the love that is referred to in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul wrote:
1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If 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 have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The Buddha’s word’s on loving kindness, the Metta Sutta says.
“So with a boundless heart; Should one cherish all living beings; Radiating kindness over the entire world:”
Agape love is a universal principle it is not only found in the message that Jesus brought to humanity but is central to all the great faith traditions theistic and non – theistic.
Agapaic love has no boundaries, unlike that felt for family or lovers. Agape melts the differences between “us” and “them”. It removes the barriers we humans create between gender, class, colour, religion, sexual orientation age. It recognises that all of us are children of life, children of love, children of God and we all deserve compassion no matter where we have been, whatever our pasts.
“Simple, but not easy” as a great man once said.
If we are to follow the way of love and to truly experience love then we will have to learn to love our enemies. Is this possible? Well if we do not we will remain bound to them, they will own us and the hatred we feel for them will stop us truly practising love for others. We may well become just like our enemies and then we will come to despise ourselves. Where is the love then?
Many years ago I embarked upon a spiritual programme of change, it is still central to my life today. At its core is the principle of self giving love and it is this love that changes the person involved. It enables them to live in the world. Free!
One vital element was to go back through my life and clear up old wreckage. I had no issue with most of this. The part I found the hardest though was going to see those who had caused me and those I love the greatest pain. The most difficult of all was mother’s second husband. A man who for most of my life I was terrified of.
I say it was difficult, when the truth is that it was virtually impossible, I did it though and do you know what it set me free. It was hard and it was painful but I managed it. By the way it was during this time that I discovered the power of prayer it certainly held me through this difficult process.
I met him at my sister’s house, his daughter, and do you know what all the ill feeling left me there and then. We sat and we talked and I left knowing who and what he was and all that he had done but without the bondage of hatred. I’ve never been quite the same person since. I was able to love him as a human being, while not forgetting all that he had done.
Agape love is not a sentimental feeling it is a decision we must make. It is a decision we must make towards all people no matter how undeserving they may appear to be. As M. Scott Peck said Agape love is “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” "Simple, not easy."
I have learnt that in order to live freely in this world I need to offer love to all regardless of who they are. I do not have to be their friend, to offer familial love and I do not need to go out of my way to spend time with them. I see my former step father at family occasions, I have no issue with him today. I can sit and talk with him, knowing the truth but with no ill feeling. This is nothing short of a miracle.
Besides which I’ve been no angel myself I have hurt the ones I claimed to love and I’m certainly by no means perfect.I only have to look at the last seven days of my life to be aware of how often I still mess up, often through foolishness, but I still do it.
The key of course is to not become inhibited by the fear of our mistakes, and to keep on reaching out beyond ourselves so that we can continue to experience this love.
As Paul said:
“13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Without love all that we accomplish in life means nothing. We can have everything we could have ever desired but if loves is not present it means nothing. Without love life becomes a living hell.
Of the three Faith, hope and love, why is the greatest love? Well because it is love that connects us to our true selves, to one another and to the great mystery that is essence of all life. We need this connection. Love has to be at the centre of life.
Love must be the greatest because without love how can we have faith. Without connecting in love to one another we have nothing to be faithful to. Without love our hope, our vision and our experience of life’s possibilities implodes into a black hole of self absorbed narcissism. Love feeds our deepest hope. our deepest hope transcends our petty desires and our deepest hopes transcend the physical limits of our lives life. It transcends our very selves and sets us free from every kind of bondage of the mind.
Love must be at the centre of all we do or all that we do will have no meaning.
“Let love continue long and show to us the way and if that love be strong no hurt can a say”