Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Highest Form Of Love

I love language and its many nuances. You can learn a lot about a culture and what it holds as most important by its language. Iceland has for example many words for snow. Some have suggested even a hundred, although a more accurate figure is probably about 40. The Icelandic language has many subtle variations for different types of snow and the time of day and year in which the snow has fallen. The English language has just one word, snow.

The English language also only has one word for Love, love. Love it is clear comes in many forms and yet we only have one word that seems to cover every single type of love going. The love I have for language is not the same love I had for my grandfather who died a couple of years ago or other forms of love I held and hold for other people. Dear friends I have known, family members who have loved me unconditionally, lovers I have known and brothers in arms. My love for Yorkshire cricket and all things Yorkshire or the music of New Model Army. My love for the congregations I serve and this work I have been given. All these loves come under the same umbrella of “Love”, but they are not the same kind of love, no not at all. That said “Love” is the only word I have to use, thanks to limits of the English language that I profess to love.

Now unlike the English language of the 21st century the ancient Greeks had at least six, perhaps even more, different words for love. The main six were “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.

The Greeks viewed “Philia” as a higher form of love than “Eros”. This is the type of love that develops through deep friendships. When they spoke of “Philia” they were often talking of the kind of love that was formed on the battlefield between comrades in arms, brotherly love. It’s the kind of love that compels a person to go to any lengths to protect the person or persons they love; it’s the kind of love that inspires self-sacrifice. In many ways it is similar to “Storge” which the ancient Greeks described as the love parents feel for their children. When I look at my life this is a love that has grown and developed in me in recent years. It’s the kind of love that is formed in 12 step fellowships and religious communities, you see it in sporting teams too and other communities where people bind together and look out for one another.

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. It’s the love that comes alive when I joke with members of the congregations I serve during worship. It’s the wink of the eye and the knowing smile.

Another form is Agape love. This is a love without prejudice, a selfless love, some call it religious love. In Christianity it is seen as the highest form of love. When translated into Latin it became Caritas from which comes the word charity. This is the love that is spoken of by the Epistle Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 13 “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.” Agape has parallels with the Buddhist concept of “metta” or “universal loving kindness”. 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:”

Another form was “Pragma” or longstanding 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 myself, I must admit.

The final form was “Philautia” or self-love. Now for the ancient Greeks this manifested in two ways. It had both a light and a shadow side. Its negative aspect was a form of narcissistic self-obsession, which was motivated by vanity and greed and self-absorption, to the total neglect of others. Think of the story “Echo and Narcissus”. Yet the other aspect of “Philautia” “self-love” was, perhaps the most important, and from which all forms of healthy human love grew. It is what today we would describe as positive self-regard, although actually I believe it runs much deeper than that. It is the kind of experience that is vital in order to deeply and appropriately love others and for that matter all life. Without this sense of love being at the core of who we are we are never going to offer “Agape” love to others, or not in a positive way. This is because we will love our neighbour as ourselves, in the sense that we will hate them as we hate ourselves, if we do not experience this form of love at the core of our being.

We need to love our reflection as we look at it in the glass, “warts and all and beauty spots too”, although we need to guard against becoming self-absorbed. Remember we are formed from the same stuff as everyone else and in everyone is a reflection of the divine. We are formed from the divine spark.

The ancient Greeks considered Philautia to be the highest form of “Love” and I believe that they were right.

Have you heard of Philautia before? Have you ever tried to practise it? For most folk true Philautia is the area where there is perhaps the greatest potential for growth and yet it is the one area that most of us feel least comfortable exploring. The ancient Greeks believed that when philautia was practiced appropriately (in a healthy, blanced and non-narcisisstic way) it provided the foundation upon which all other love could be built. You see the better your self-love-foundation is, the more brilliant loving life you could build.

If you do not experience and express the love within you, the love that you are formed from, you cannot offer real love to others. It is often said that before you can give to others you need to take care of yourself. If you give too much from your cup, your well will soon become dry and you will be unable to help others. It is said that you’ve got to look after yourself first, before you can help others. This to me is an expression of Philautia, real self-love. The aeroplane analogy is often used, which goes something like the following. If you are in an aeroplane and it gets into distress, so much so that the cabin becomes de-compressed, leading to the oxygen masks having to be deployed, before you can help anyone else you must first secure your own oxygen mask. This is not a selfish act, but it is an act of self-love, taking care of yourself so that you can then take care of others. We need to take care of ourselves if we are to be of use to anyone or anything. If we do not take care of our basic human needs, it means we end up depending on others to do so for us. This I believe leads to unhealthy and needy expressions of so called love.

This brings me back to thoughts around “The Golden Rule”, the core principle of all good religion and philosophy. It is for me the core of everything and the true expression of God manifesting in human life, for God is love. I believe that we all live by the golden rule, we do in fact love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The problem being that often we do not truly recognise the love we are created from. We can feel shame about loving ourselves. We somehow see this as being selfish or narcissistic, when that is the last thing that it is. In fact philautia, self-love, is essential to truly loving our neighbours as the very same children of love, children of God that we ourselves are. By failing to love ourselves we are actually separating ourselves from the rest of the creative life. We need to respect and celebrate our own beautiful uniqueness in order to recognise this in others.

We need to let go of the idea that loving ourselves truly as we, warts and all and beauty spots too is in any sense a selfish or narcissistic act. Please remember that a selfish person is interested only in himself wants everything for herself; can see nothing but her or himself. A selfish person does not love herself too much, but too little. You see the truth is that a truly selfish person is incapable of loving others because they are seemingly unable to love themselves.

To truly love yourself is to follow that greatest commandment, it is to acknowledge that love is at the root of all that we are. If we do not love ourselves, then we cannot love our neighbour.

Parker Palmer said that:

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”

Taking care of ourselves, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually is not a selfish act, it is the opposite it is loving act. In fact I would suggest to not do so is actually more like selfishness as we usually understand it. It is our responsibility in fact to take care of the life we have been given. Each life is unique and is there to be used for the purpose of all. To truly achieve this we need to take care of ourselves and to express our joy in life. You see to be joyful, to be happy, is to express all that you are; to be all that you can be is neither selfish or greedy, it is a true expression of love in all its forms.

It is what we are here for and it inspires others to love both themselves and each other too.

So my message to you on Valentines Day, on this festival of Love is simply this. Love all life, love all that you are, warts and all and beauty spots too…Fill your heart with the love that surrounds you and pour out this love on our love starved world, for it surely needs it…

I’m going to end this little "blogspot" with a blessing by Barbara Pescan, taken from “Morning Watch”

“Blessing” by Barbara Pescan from “Morning Watch”

We spend so much time running from ourselves
Fleeing from what we know
about the goodness in our hearts
we think we can escape
the intelligence of our loving.

Imagine you are standing before a bodhisattva—
Jesus, Buddha, the first mother
it does not matter what you call the holy one—
he has dust on his shoes
chaff clings to her
the smells of being alive—
Shining from their faces is the beam of
all their questions
the compassion of their living

Can you see yourself through those eyes?
Can we know each other like this?
(We, who no longer believe in messiahs
can hardly believe in each other.)

Can we
know ourselves seen
and know each other this same way
until our restless hearts
learn to abide
in this knowing and this love?
Can we live in this gaze of blessing?

1 comment:

  1. hello Danny
    The English are world-famous for talking about the weather. I once heard of an English manager who was posted to the southern-African republic of Malawi. Every day he arrived at his desk in morning sunshine beaming “Nice day, isn’t it!” After a week, one Malawian chirped back “Sir, it’s always a nice day in Malawi”.
    Yes, our language has only one word for snow. But each to their own climate: it has at least seven for rain – rain, drizzle, mizzle, downpour, shower, deluge, thunderstorm. And English’s love of imprecision enables weather forecasters to promise “light rain or drizzle”, or “showery rain”, as if recognising a boundary-edge as blurry as the visibility in such weather; or “torrential rain”; or even, as one broadcasted earlier this year, “the day will be dry, with some showers”!
    It may interest you that my Greek dictionary gives “eethee’llio” for “love-affair”, a word related linguistically to ‘idyllic. And their word for ‘love’ in the phrase ‘make love to’ is the same as their word for ‘flirt’ and not connected, linguistically, to either agape or eros.
    While looking that up, I was amused to stumble on the translation given for ‘bungle’. It’s valo’no – obviously the root of our word ‘baloney’. Which your (shall we say) lovely piece, Danny, clearly is not.