It is perhaps one of the great questions; perhaps one of the un-answerable questions. They say it makes the world go round. It certainly inspires people to many great things, or at least they say it does. But what is it? It’s not a substance, it isn't solid and you certainly can’t catch it or pin it down and pull it to pieces to explain what it is made of. By the way I don’t believe that when you do that with anything you can understand what it is; only what it is made of. When you pin a butterfly down and examine it you don’t really learn much about what a butterfly actually is. To learn what a butterfly is you have to watch it fly. I suspect it’s the same with love. To understand what love is you have to watch it fly through the gardens of life, the gardens of delight.
Where I come from the word “Love” is a colloquialism, a bit like “Pet” in the North East or “Duck” in the East Midlands. It can trouble those who visit the Leeds area. Over twenty years ago I worked as a civil servant in the National Health Service. They had just moved their headquarters from London to Leeds and many people and been transferred “up north”. Well one morning a colleague came in looking visibly shaken and quite disturbed. People gathered round to see if he was all right. After a while he explained what had happened - He said that he had to get the bus into work that morning as his car was being serviced. As he got on the bus and paid his fare the driver said to him “That will be £1.20 Love”. He paid the fare and then sat in his seat and after a while it dawned on him what this large hairy northern man had said to him - Well we burst into laughter, which didn't really amuse him. We explained that it is just the way people speak round these parts, even big hairy bus drivers.
Now I suspect that the bus driver was not making a romantic advance to my colleague, although you never know, it’s just what he says to everyone who gets on his bus. I wonder how many times in my life I have heard the words “Danny love...or all right love, can you do this for me love, what do you think of this love, we’re going to have pie and peas for tea tonight love”
The ancient Greeks had six different words for love. One was “Eros”, which was primarily sexual or passionate desire. This may surprise some but the ancient Greeks did not always hold a positive view of Eros, It could be seen as fiery and irrational. It involved a loss of control that was feared. Just think of the story of Helen of Troy, “the face that sailed a thousand ships.” Plato saw it as “Divine” madness.
The ancient Greeks understood what it meant to “fall madly in love”. I have been consumed by this kind of overpowering love many times in my life, I hope to goodness I will again. It is a part of our humanity, but not the only part.
Another form of love that the Ancient Greeks spoke of was “Ludus”. This is a kind of playful or flirtatious love. It comes alive in friendly banter, around the people we feel comfortable with or when we dance and flirt with others.
Another form was “Pragma” or long standing love. This is a form of mature love that develops over long-term relationships say between married couples. Pragma was about making compromises and developing patience and tolerance so that relationships could mature over time. It was not so much about the madness of falling in love we find in “Eros” and more about standing and holding in love. I suspect that this is the kind of love we see less and less of these days. People of my generation seem to be inspired by the need to be free and have their personal needs met, rather than this kind of love. It’s not something I've ever been any good at, I must admit. Over the last few weeks I have seen much of my enormous and complicated family. I have not seen many of them for years. The majority have asked me if I was married yet, to which my stock answer has been “oh I'm not very good at that sort of thing.” Most of them responded in rather lovely ways by saying things like “it will happen at the right time” etc, they all seemed most concerned about me. My uncle Gerald epitomised it with following response, he said “Oh it’ll come lad and when you least expect it.”
I recently came across an almost perfect expression of what "Love" is. It was in a short piece written by Robert Johnson and titled "Stirring the Oatmeal." Below is a short extract from it.
From "Stirring the Oatmeal" by Robert Johnson
Many years ago a wise friend gave me a name for human love. She called it "stirring-the-oatmeal" love. She was right: Within this phrase, if we will humble ourselves enough to look, is the very essence of what human love is, and it shows us the principal differences between human love and romance.
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Words from 1 John chapter 4 v 16. These words speak powerfully to me, to my spirit and to my life. They could easily become a personal credo statement. Now many would probably want me to explain what I mean, but I'm not sure I can adequately. All I know is that it make sense to me and my experience of life and that the realisation of the truth within this statement both powers and guides my life.
I love the way that Richard Trudeau describes “Universalism in a Nutshell”
"God is love.
No one is condemned.
The way to be happy is to do good.
There are sources of religious truth outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.
God is love."
Now no doubt many will want to argue about what is meant by God. Well like “Love” it may mean different things to different people. In my view it is a word that attempts to speak of something beyond description. I tend to follow the great modern Universalist Forrest Church who said “God is not God’s name, God is our name for that power that is greater than all and yet present in each”. This makes sense to me, to my experiences.
This is the love I have come to know and it is this that fills me up and allows me to live in love in this life.
I will end this blogspot with some words by Mark Belletini
Love, you are strong as a dark blue mountain.
Love, you are as fluid as a wide silver river.
Love, you are as splendid as clear night sky.
Love, you are as mysterious as a dark forest.
Love, you as wise as enduring friendship.
Love, you are true power, not mere distraction
Truth, not deceit,
Purpose, not impulse,
Poetry, not prose,
Sing, not sang,
Now more than tomorrow,
But tomorrow more than yesterday.
Love, condense yourself into this moment,
Permeate the silence that joins us in community,
So that in the fire of the words to come,
The promise of this hour
Might be sealed in peace