“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 13:13
My spiritual journey has been amazing! Every day, I travel to intellectual and mystical places that help me understand the power of God, the universe, the Creator or whatever one believes to be a higher power. I understand a little more about the ways of the cosmos and better appreciate life in this world. With each step on the path, I uncover new revelations that become more profound as I meander along.
St. Paul the Apostle, especially his First letter to the Corinthians, has been a major influence on that spiritual journey. I’ve written much about my understanding of faith and hope in the context of my life story. These reflections have strengthened my belief that accepting what we can’t control and managing what we can are the first steps toward finding inner peace. Over the next several posts, I plan to explore where love fits in.
St. Paul wrote in the language of his era. The ancient Greek word he used for love is generally characterized as giving of oneself for the sake of others regardless of the circumstance, otherwise known as “unconditional love.” Throughout my spiritual journey, I’ve contemplated deeply on the existence of unconditional love. Is it even possible? Can a human being truly love without conditions?
Love means different things to different people. Some people believe that love is necessary for life. Others associate it with giving to others and practicing unselfish acts. The word is often used when describing someone’s fondness for a sports team, food, book, movie, music, etc. British author and Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis, tried to make sense of it all in a ground-breaking book he published in 1960
In The Four Loves, Lewis sheds light on these concepts and describes four categories of love: Affection, Friendship, Eros (Romance), and Charity (God’s Love).
Affection is the kind of love between parents and their children, siblings, and other blood relations. This is one of the strongest forms of love that most of us are blessed to experience. Since it’s bound together by bloodlines and relatives, Lewis believes that 90% of a person’s happiness is related to affection. For that same reason, the suffering and pain caused by family friction is disproportionately intense.
Friendship is driven by choice, rather than built-in family love. Sharing things in common brings people together as friends. All of these commonalities and circumstances of meeting seem to happen by coincidence. But, with God in control, nothing happens by chance. According to Lewis, “friendship is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties in others.”
Eros is tricky. Anyone who has been “in love” knows that to be true. When we think of romantic love, the warm and fuzzy feelings of happiness, butterflies in the stomach, and hugs and smooches come to mind. Potential for jealousy, power struggles, and possessiveness can complicate matters and doom a romantic relationship. The phrase, “For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death, do us part” is the true meaning of Eros.
Charity is the most powerful form of love. This is the kind of love God has for humanity. There are no strings attached. For Christians, the Passion story illustrates how love can change the world. God allowed Jesus to be tortured and humiliated on the road to his crucifixion so that the account could shine a light on God’s message about charity and giving of oneself for the sake of others. In St. Paul;’s letter, God calls on us to act on our better instincts.
At no moment in my lifetime has His call to action been so important. The COVID-19 crisis has all of us on edge. Public health experts tell us that social distancing will slow down the spread of the virus. That means that we have to give up many of the things that make us happy. No eating out, no going to the movies, no working out at the gym, no watching March Madness. As the days, weeks, and maybe months wear on, we’re sure to become irritable and increasingly selfish.
Now is the time to reflect on and practice love in all of its forms. Inasmuch as we want and need the affection of family, we must be vigilant to follow public health guidelines, especially with loved ones who are at a higher risk of infection. Friendships can and should continue to flourish despite not being able to connect in person. Romance must make do in sickness and in health without hugs and kisses.
Most of all, charity must thrive in these most uncertain of times. Share those precious necessities at the grocery stores with fellow shoppers. If you have a common cold or flu symptoms, stay home and heal instead of flooding emergency rooms at the expense of sicker patients. Check and double-check your information sources before sharing with friends and family to prevent unnecessary worry and panic. Major TV and radio networks and newspapers are your best bet.
When the dark clouds of uncertainty start gathering and force us to make difficult choices, love is always the answer. With my life story serving as a backdrop, I look forward to sharing my thoughts on the meaning of love in the coming weeks. In the meantime stay healthy!