This Week's Prayer

Dear Great Unknown,

Some theoretical physicists are now suggesting that there was no big bang, no beginning point of time, and that the age of the universe is infinite. We do not know if this is true. Did our universe have a beginning, about 13.8 billion years ago, or is it eternal? Will it reach an end, or go on forever? We do not know.

We have the experiences of our brief flicker of life; white snows of winters, lush verdant summers; we love, and what we have loved passes away from us; we get and we spend; we struggle and we rest; moments of laughter come, and moments of tears -- all of this within a fleeting life within a context of mystery so profound we cannot even say if it began a very, very long time ago, or never had a beginning at all.

Knowledge is power and power is for doing, and when we set aside doing to enter the space of simply being -- of cherishing what is for what it is rather than its usefulness -- then we have entered the way of not knowing, the way of simple openness to what arises without explaining or categorizing; the way of infinite curiosity, ever unfolding; the space of presence; the space of prayer.

Dear Great Unknown, we are unknowing travelers, sometimes far from home. We journey, explore, enjoy, and hurt. We do harm and seek the joy of harming less. This day holds the “bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty.” It also holds terrible pain and loss and death.

May we use what we know for the sake of love and life, understanding that what we know is never final, always provisional, always, dear Great Unknown, within a context of utterly unknowable mystery.


Drawn by Love toward Love (Instead of Guilt, 4)

We humans do love life – not just our own, I mean. We love the abundantly diverse forms of life. We are built to love life. We are drawn to baby faces of any mammal -- we find them universally cute and adorable. Our positive emotional response toward baby mammals across species helps increase the survival rates of all mammals. We keep plants and flowers in and around our homes. (Our love of flowers is probably connected to the fact that most fruits begin as flowers, and it was crucial for our ancestors to detect and remember plants that would later provide food.) Our natural love for life leads us to sustain life.

Researchers are finding that a nurturing relationship with animals is important in early and middle childhood development (Myers and Saunders in Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations, 2002). Richard Louv finds that modern urban living is producing children with “nature-deficit disorder.” Attention disorders, obesity, depression, and dampened creativity, he argues, result from children spending more hours indoors and fewer hours in unstructured, solitary contact with the natural world (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, 2005).

We are built to love life, to be drawn to it and want diversity of life around us. Through the centuries, however, we have slowly built up ways of life that separate us from it. We twenty-first century humans have grown accustomed to disconnection, and it won’t be easy to reconnect. It will be even harder for our kids.

Julia Whitty reports:
“Children who play unsupervised in the wild before the age of 11 develop strong environmental ethics. Children exposed only to structured hierarchical play in the wild – through, for example, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, or by hunting or fishing alongside supervising adults – do not. To interact humbly with nature we need to be free and undomesticated in it. Otherwise, we succumb to hubris in maturity.” (Mother Jones, "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," 2006)

Unsupervised in the wild before age 11. I had that. When I was 9 we lived next to woods that went on as far as I could walk in a day. There was one time I got lost back there and was pretty scared for a while, but I did find my own way home eventually. I now look back on that experience as an important part of the development of my capacity for awe – full-scale awe that does have a tinge of fear in it – and wonder and ultimately love for the natural habitats of this planet. And I learned I could trust myself in it.

Not many kids today are so lucky. Today, kids simply left alone in a park for a few hours might get the parent arrested (for example, SEE HERE). Wow.

So it’s going to be hard to find ways to connect with the Earth, with nature, with all the variety of life forms on it – harder than it was for previous generations. It’s hard for us to get out into the wildness and abundance of life of natural habitats. Most of us have gradually developed habits that keep us cut off.

Connecting with life – as with exercising; as with eating well; as with going to bed at a sensible hour so we can get enough sleep; as with maintaining a discipline of journaling, spiritual study, and meditation – feels good. It is a joy. But the inertia of habit sometimes prevents us from doing the things that bring us joy.

Drawn by love, toward love, acts of caring for all beings become as natural as a mother caring for her infant. And just as mothering styles differ, we will have different degrees of caring for all life. Which is just fine, as long as, wherever you are, you’re attuned to the world’s invitation to go just a little further -- in love.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Following Your Bliss Ain't Easy (Instead of Guilt, 3)

At the end of part 2, The Liberal Pulpit asked:
"Where do you draw the line between the harm you’re willing keep doing and the harm you’ve decided to stop doing?"
Here's where I draw it:

I am a vegetarian. Also, for the last fifteen years, all my clothes – except for socks and underwear – have come from second-hand thrift stores, hand-me downs, and the occasional gift. So I draw the line somewhere north of supporting the environmental degradation of the meat industry and the labor oppression of the textile trade, at least directly.

But I drive a car, fly in airplanes, use some heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, and electric lights all year around. Sometimes I hang my laundry to dry on an indoor clothesline, but sometimes I use the dryer. I eat eggs and dairy, buy foods that are processed, packaged, and imported; and wear shoes that aren’t even tofu.

There’s a lot of harm I’m still doing.

I try to draw the line not where guilt pushes me to, but where it is joyous to do so, where the gladness of simplicity calls. Your discernment about where to draw the line probably yields different results. Following where the spirit’s joy calls. This method is not uniform -- it yields different results for different people -- nor is it easy. "Follow your bliss," Joseph Campbell told us. But following your bliss is a rigorous path and a lot harder than, "Just do any old thing you happen to feel like at the time."

Material things don’t make us happy. We know that. Within six months, at the longest, after even the most exciting material acquisition, a person's overall happiness is back to its baseline level. While we know that material things don't make us happy, it's also true that forcing ourselves to give them up before it feels right to do so won’t make us happy either. Mohandas Gandhi reminds us:
"No sacrifice is worth the name unless it is a joy. Sacrifice and a long face go ill together."
Many religious traditions recognize sacrifice as a spiritual practice. Lent begins on Wednesday, and I do think the Christian tradition of giving something up for lent is a good practice for cultivating spiritual health. Our early ancestors noticed thousands of years ago that, while there is a certain satisfaction in acquiring things, it also, sometimes, feels good to give some of them up.

Other times, the prospect of sacrificing doesn't feel so good -- in which case, as Gandhi cautions us, sacrifice isn't much good as a spiritual practice:
"Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you."
When you want some other condition so much that that the thing no longer has any attraction for you!

Should you, for example, bump that thermostat down from 68 to 67 – or down to 64 during the day and 57 at night? Only if you want some other condition so much that the few extra degrees no longer has any attraction. Only if it feels joyful to be participating just a tiny bit less in climate change and the various harms of fossil fuel use and dependence.

Should you become vegetarian or even vegan? Only if it feels joyful to be participating less in massive cruelty, pain, suffering, and greenhouse-gas production.

Would that feel joyful? Let’s look at how it might.

These steps toward reducing harm will feel joyful insofar as we understand them connecting us with life. Connected to life and this Earth, small acts of care for ecological systems and the sentient beings with whom we share our planet develop our love, expand how loving we are.

Picture someone wearing three sweaters and those mitten-glove-combo things while indoors in their own home -- a single LED lightbulb in the whole house burning, by which they are reading “Household tips from the Amish.” Why would someone do that to themselves if they didn’t have to? They might do it because they understood what they were doing as part of a gentler, more loving relationship with the Earth, and being in that relationship was a source of great joy for them.

* * *
This is part 3 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4


The Harm We Do (Instead of Guilt, 2)

If we eat meat we underwrite tremendous pain and suffering. Millions of cows, pigs, and chickens are subjected to such cruel conditions that killing them is the kindest thing we do. Moreover, the industrial meat production industry produces 18% of greenhouse gases. It’s a larger factor of climate change than the entire transportation sector. If factory farms were out of business tomorrow, we would not, by that move alone, get CO2 back down to the sustainable level of 350 parts-per-million, but it would certainly be a big help.

If we don’t eat meat, but we eat vegetables that weren’t locally grown, or that involved pesticides or inorganic fertilizers, then we contribute to environmental harm – though not as much as eating meat does, since so many more pounds of grain have to be grown to feed to the animal.

If we drive our internal-combustion-engine cars at all, we’re pumping a variety of pollutants into the air in addition to the greenhouse gases, and we’re a part of the political mess that comes from US dependence on oil.

If we use the clothes dryer instead of hanging clothes out to dry, if we run the heat at all in our homes tonight as the temperatures sink below zero Fahrenheit, then, unless we have solar panels enough to have us off the grid, we are cranking that killer CO2 into our atmosphere.

If we do not spend hours carefully researching every single purchase, no matter how minor, then we are almost certainly complicit in unfair labor practices and oppression of workers.

If you ever buy new clothes, you’re supporting a textile and garment industry with a long and continuing tradition of sweatshops and worker exploitation, as well as one that's hard on the environment. Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals. Rayon comes from woodpulp, for which old growth forests are cut down and subsistence farmers displaced. Cotton is the most pesticide-intensive crop in the world. Wool subjects some agricultural and craft workers to organophosphate sheep dip. And the bleaching, dyeing and finishing process for both cotton and wool involves polluting waterways.

We – including me – are doing harm all day long. Don’t panic. Breathe. Oh, wait. Even breathing releases CO2 – which is miniscule and would normally be fine because it cycles back into plants through photosynthesis, but there are 7 billion of us now, and lots of carbon that used to be trapped in organisms from millions of years ago is now also in the air from burning the fossil fuel those organisms turned into, so there’s already more carbon than current plant levels can absorb, plus everyday we’re cutting down more of the forests that used to re-absorb carbon, so...

What do we do? Tofu shoes? No. Number 1, let’s do keep breathing. Number 2, let’s don’t give up either. We are always doing harm. But maybe we can do a little bit less. We can move toward doing less harm to the environment and less harm to sentient beings

Here’s where guilt comes in, because guilt is tempting, but it doesn’t help. Guilt is not an effective way to change behavior, tempting as it is. If you are talking to a parent who doesn’t vaccinate her kids, and you try to guilt her by saying such nonvaccination is leading to a measles outbreak, that’s probably not going to change her mind. There’s nothing that will change her mind very quickly. Compassion is your best bet. Compassion paves the way for a possible eventual mind change -- possible, not inevitable; and eventual, not immediate.

That second source of the living tradition we share is "words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love." They don't challenge us to confront wrongdoing with guilt-tripping. They challenge us, rather, to bring justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love. When the harm-doer is ourselves, the best bet for change is to bring compassion and transforming love to ourselves. Instead of guilt, the transforming power of love. Instead of guilt, joy.

Where do you draw the line between the harm you’re willing keep doing and the harm you’ve decided to stop doing? And, more important, what, for you, might be the next step? Wherever it is you now draw that line, the important thing is being engaged in an ongoing process of finding joy in continually redrawing our circle of care larger. Wherever you might be now, what would feel good to you as a next step?

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This is part 2 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4


An Unanswered Question (Instead of Guilt, 1)

Instead of guilt, my hope, for myself and for all of us, is to be drawn by love, toward love, into acts of care for all of life.

The second source of the living tradition we share is:
"Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love."
The prophetic tradition is all about speaking truth to power. What if the power to which you need to speak some truth is yourself? What does it look like to confront yourself with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?

Because we are all doing harm. Feeling guilty about that may not be the most helpful move, but I do think it’s good to recognize that fact. We harm other sentient beings and we harm the earth.

Strict adherents of the Indian religion Jainism carefully sweep the walkway wherever they go to avoid stepping on a bug, and wear a cloth over their mouth and nose lest they breathe in some organism. They’re trying really hard not to do any harm to any animal, but agriculture is not forbidden in Jainism. If you’re going to plough the ground, you’re going to cut through some worms and kill various microbes. There’s just no way around it.

The Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, besides being really into geometry, also had a very strict moral-religious code. They said, eat only fruits, berries, and nuts that have fallen by themselves from the tree. Don’t even hurt the tree by plucking it. I don’t know if that ever really worked, and I don’t think we could keep 7 billion humans fed that way. We’re going to need agriculture, and agriculture is going to do some killing. We do harm – and we have to.

We also harm our environment, and maybe, in this case, we don’t have to, but we will – unless and until catastrophe stops us.

The Earth does regenerate continuously, but we’re using it up faster than earth can replenish.
“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what humans use up in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.” (Global Footprint Network)
If everyone lived the way the average American does, it would take four Earths to sustain the 7 billion people. We’re doing harm, and it’s pretty clear we’re going to go on doing harm. In this country a significant chunk of the populace still has doubts about whether climate change is the result of human activity, so, I don’t see the US substantially reducing the rate at which it uses up the earth any time soon.

As for you and me, are we ready to really live sustainably? Apparently not. Maybe, though, we could move a little more in that direction.

Sometimes it seems silly to try.

Some years ago my mother clipped out a comic strip from the Sunday paper and mailed it to me without comment. It was from the strip “Zits.”
Jeremy [to his friend, Pierce]: “Why aren’t you wearing your boots today, Pierce?”
Pierce: “Can’t. I’m boycotting leather in support of animal rights.”
Jeremy: “Then couldn’t you just wear your sneakers?”
Pierce: “Nope. The rubber soles are made with petroleum-based plasticizers, and I’m against arctic drilling.”
Jeremy: “What about your wooden sandals?”
Pierce: “And support deforestation? Not likely. I’m an activist, Jeremy. I have to set an example to show others that there is a better way to live.”
[Last panel, we finally see Pierce’s footwear]
Jeremy: “Hence, the tofu shoes.”
Pierce: “Teriyaki flavor. Want some?”
Sometimes the quest to do the right thing with our purchasing decisions might seem silly. Yet our purchases and what we consume really does have consequences. I wrote back to Mom:
"It’s worse than that. Tofu is made from soybeans, and if the soybeans aren’t organic, there’s the harm of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and there’s pesticides. Even if it’s all organic, there may have been monoculture growing, without proper crop rotation and variation. Finally, even if you fix all that, there’s almost certainly some oppressed labor somewhere along the way. So, Mom, where do you draw the line? Do you so thoroughly trust your government as to figure that anything they haven’t outlawed has got to be morally and environmentally OK to participate in?”
She never answered. When I saw her some months later at Christmas, I asked her about it. "I assumed the question was rhetorical," she said.

I can imagine my children writing to me with that question: “Well, OK, Dad, where do you draw the line?” I don’t know if I’d answer either.

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Instead of Guilt"
Click for other parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


This Week's Prayer

All of all,

We begin in gratitude. Let us say again what we have said before: Thank you.

Thank you for the heart that beats in our chest. For the lungs and air to breathe. Thank you for this day, for its challenges, its rests, its excitements, its moments of calm, its lessons and its tests.

Thank you for the love that connects us with others and that lifts us from the delusion of separation – the love that does not come from us, though it comes through us, that is not directed toward us, but surrounds us.

We begin in gratitude and move toward hope.

Grateful for compassion, we hope to nurture it in our hearts and to act from it with our hands – with our time and resources.

May our compassion encompass prisoners throughout the world. May the innocent be freed and the guilty restored and reconciled.

May our compassion encompass the refugees, and all those who have been displaced from their homes. Our hearts go out, for example, to detention camps in New Mexico where children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and elsewhere are being held.

May our compassion encompass Syria, Burkina Faso, Iraq, Afghanistan, and countries affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger. May peace with justice come to those troubles peoples.

We are grateful for the ceasefire announced in Ukraine. May it hold.

May our compassion encompass all faiths and tribes. This week in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Deah Shaddy Barakat, his spouseYusor Mohammad and her sibling Razan were killed by their neighbor. May we remember them, and their memories spur the work of building understanding.

May our compassion encompass all our neighbors, embodying and realizing love. May we see in others the divinity that dwells in us all. And may we thus be transformed into clearer vessels of that shining love.


This Week's Prayer

Mystery of Life,

We are touched with awe at the resilience of life – in its adaptability and in its capacity sometimes not to change at all. This week, scientists identified what may be the oldest living species on Earth – a microscopic deep-sea bacteria in the mud off the South American Pacific coast. It hasn’t evolved in more than two billion years. New species emerge, and, in the last century, many more have become extinct. Yet there is also, deep in the mud, a life unchanging and enduring.

Our lives are such brief flashes, and we struggle to bring peace to our species, to realize harmony with all of life.

Islamic State forces killed a captive Jordanian pilot, burning him alive. Muslim leaders throughout the world declared the act to be heinous and against the teachings of the Koran. In retaliation, Jordan executed a number of Islamic extremists.

Mystery of life, may we find a way.

A United Nations report says Iraqi children are becoming victims of “systematic sexual abuse, including sexual slavery” in areas controlled by the Islamic State.

Mystery of life, may we find a way.

Fighting has been escalating in Ukraine. Chad has deployed 2,500 troops against the Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria.

Mystery of life, may we find a way.

In Malawi, more than 300,000 people have been displaced by the worst flooding in 15 years, with many cut off from any aid. In South Sudan, there are still more than 2 million displaced by the fighting.

Mystery of life, we are your manifestation. From you we have this brief time. Your long evolution built us with conflicting impulses toward violence and toward peace. We play out your story in ways we cannot help. May we serve your harmony intentionally, in ways we can help.


Love Built Into the Structure of Reality: Love, 4

Over time, some of the strangers become friends – and xenia becomes philia – the love of friends. The context of the couple, the family, the hospitality to the passing stranger, affords a special place for those who are none of these: not a romantic affair, not family, yet no longer a stranger either: friend.

Through our friends, qualities and potentials in ourselves that would otherwise be invisible to us are reflected back to us. For Socrates, “one’s greatest desire should be to have good friends.” Friendship thus offers intimacy, yet multiplicity. Philia creates, says Socrates, “a soil the most glorious and fertile where we are sure to gather the fairest and best of fruit.”

Eros, storge, xenia, and philia: through these forms of love, we are bound by ties of recognition and concern. In these various relationships we acquire the ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of another person. We gain the narrative imagination which allows us to dream of a world in which our connections grow ever broader, deeper, higher, and wider. Our friends teach our souls the meaning of befriending – and thus make it possible to conceive of befriending everything – and thus we come to agape.
“In Hellenic Greece, agape was considered the highest form of love, self-sacrificial and unconditional love that springs from an overflowing within.” (Christopher Phillips, Socrates in Love, 227)
by Sharon Hudson (sharonhudson.com)
Through a quirk of language, the Greek word, agape, transliterated into the Roman alphabet, comes out spelled the same as the English word, agape. With agape, the heart, the soul stands agape: wide open to whatever may come – constantly astonished by beauty.

Agape is a capacity of awareness of the connectedness of all things – and since love is constituted by connection, agape is awareness of the fundamental love that makes up the structure of reality. It is the awareness that, as former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Bill Sinkford, put it:
“There is a love that has never broken faith with us and never will.”
Ultimately, there are no tidy divides between these forms of love. We cannot remake ourselves, our society, our universe if we do not harness all these types of love in concert.

To be complete calls for eros, storge, xenia, philia and agape.

In our sanctuary on a Sunday morning, there is some romance going on. Some of the people gathered are there with their partners. Some of them met their partner in our sanctuary. Others still might.

And in our congregation's building there is storge: some of those gathered came with their families. Parents have brought their children as an act of love for them to know the gift of authoritative community, and the congregation shares, to an extent, parental love of one another’s children. There is among us a love that feels familial.

And in a world where we so often don’t feel safe, our congregation offers us a way to love the stranger, to extend hospitality to those we have not met.

In our congregation, too, we form friendships – multiple yet intimate.

And in our congregation we practice to touch the divine, to get a taste, perhaps for just a moment, of love built into the structure of reality, through its suffering just as much as through its ecstasy.

Community Unitarian Church was built by the friendship of its members, by other friends before the current ones, and by friends of those friends going back to 1909. This place is sustained with our hands, and our hearts, and our thought. It was built by and is sustained with our love. It is where we learn day by day from each other how better to love.

Love, actually, is all around. Notice. Be very still a moment. Feel it in your fingers. Feel it in your toes.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "What's Love Got to Do with It?"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Alien Love: Love, 3

The romantic connection to another person is basis for connecting to the world. Lovers discover that when the beloved is the whole world, then the whole world is the beloved. It's an individual transformation -- and we saw also saw it illustrated on a large scale in the 1960s. Eros burst out in the sexual revolution, which then unfolded into yearning for a wider revolution, political and spiritual and economic. The call to “make love, not war” lifted eros into a vision of a world where everything we do, everything we produce, is a form of expression geared toward greater freedom. Let all our waking and working moments be creative outlets for and expressions of our passions, including sexual passions.

Out of the lovers’ connection emerges family, household: from making babies we step into having and raising them – and love sprouts a new branch: storge – familial, especially parental, love.

It is a difficult thing to wrestle with the balance between supporting your child, being there for her heart and soul, loving unconditionally – yet also making judgments about what to correct, to punish; when to assist and when to step and back and let your child have the invaluable, precious, and absolutely necessary experience of failure.

And, again, the love that passes through the trials of storge emerges with socially transformative power.v
“If a family just looks out for its own selfish interests, theirs isn’t true family love, because they have no concern for the greater family of” community, of humanity, of life. (Christopher Phillips, Socrates in Love, 103-04)
If eros pulls us out of our individuality to connect with another person, storge pulls the couple out of obsessive coupliness and into contact with a child.

Through storge, our life has the meaning it has through a context of others. We begin to get a sense of what the African Zulu call “ubuntu”:
“I am who I am because of who we all are. . . . We are human only through the humanity of other human beings.” (Phillips 109 & 116)
Familial love brings awareness of our meaning within embedded context, preparing us to see the planet as our family.

Storge, then, paves the way for xenia -- stranger love, hospitality for the foreigner – because seeing the planet as our family is going to mean taking in a lot of strangers. Our children may sometimes seem like little aliens -- and loving them helps prepare us to love other aliens.

The ancient Greeks, apparently, extended effusive hospitality, no matter how abject or beggarly the appearance of a stranger. The stranger also has a special place of care within the Jewish tradition which we inherit. The Hebrew God, Yahweh, declares himself to be
“God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10: 17-18, NRSV)
Yahweh then commands his people:
“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV)
I fear we Americans have become a people with more xenophobia than xenia. Our government policy, then, follows the pattern of our people.
“The United Nations has long requested that each developed country contribute 0.7 percent of its GNP to economic development efforts in the Third World countries.”
Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden meet or exceed this request.
“The United States, the world’s wealthiest nation, contributes 0.08 percent of its GNP to these efforts.” (Phillips 164)
When we reach beyond our individuality, beyond our couplehood, beyond our family, to embrace the stranger with care, we begin to manifest our most essential being.

Said Heidegger:
“Care is the most basic state of human existence. In the act of caring for others and for ourselves, we necessarily discover how human existence interrelates with existence in general . . .” (cited in Phillips)
We are thrown into this world, without asking to be born or choosing our conditions. The only way to make it less alien, more authentic, more of our own making, is through the investment of caring. To love the alien heals our own alienation.

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This is part 3 of 4 of "What's Love Got to Do with It?"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4


Feel That Push and Pull of Eros: Love, 2

The Greeks gave us names for types of love.
  • Eros for erotic love.
  • Philia for the love of friends.
  • Agape for selfless, unconditional, spiritual love.
You may have heard of these three.
The Greeks also offered us a couple others, less often mentioned.
  • Storge: familial love, especially as a parent for a child.
  • Xenia: stranger love – hospitality -- a fullest embrace and appreciation of what is Other and different.
Each of the five types support the others.

At the same time we can see a developmental progression, a narrative arc in which eros unfolds into storge, which opens to xenia, which moves into philia, which finally points to agape. Romantic love flowers into a family and creates the context for storge, love of our children, to emerge. The family, then, needing not to be insular, opens into xenia, hospitality to the stranger. Some of those strangers then become friends, thus philia, love of friends, emerges. And all of this ultimately brings forth agape. Love and life, of course, are messy and not so neat and orderly, yet this pilgrim’s progress of unfurling love sketches a kind of archetype underlying the scrambles and modifications our lives make.

The sexually-charged energy of erotic love begins to open up possibilities for us in adolescence, and it draws us toward beauty in the human form. Eros fires the creative furnaces, producing poetry, music, painting and sculpture. More than that, it opens our lenses to new possibilities and dimensions of being the particular animal that we are.

Socrates was keenly interested in love.
Eros, to Socrates, is the merging of acquired judgment with our instinctual desire for pleasure. Eros is neither reason nor instinct, but both, entwined in the service of” wholeness. (Christopher Phillips, Socrates in Love, 36)
In the entwining of reason and instinct, the heart opens up and opens up the mind with it. It changes us. The medieval Sufi poet of love, Rumi, says a lover’s goal is feel that push and pull of love.
“Lovers who do not seek this, Rumi would say, reject true love, because they do not care to change. They refuse to leave themselves vulnerable to love, to lay themselves bare to its possibilities and so are missing out on life, missing out on the prospect of true love.” (Phillips 67)
This transformation, then, is not merely personal but social, for
“when you fall in love with someone, you fall more in love with the world in such a way that beauty pervades even the most mundane.” (Phillips 70)
The whole world looks different -- which prompts us to act in ways that make the world different.

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This is part 2 of 4 of "What's Love Got to Do with It?"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4


That Grubbiest, Smelliest, Slimiest Word: Love, 1

In the category of my favorite movie-opening voice-over monologs, there is, of course, the one from "Bull Durham": “I believe in the church of baseball....” I love the connection between baseball and religion, and the cleverness of it.

I think, though, that the one I like even more is the one from “Love Actually” – which isn’t clever, but beautifully simple. The movie opens with shots in an airport – Heathrow Airport in London, we’re told, but it could be any airport. And what we’re seeing is what you’ve seen in airports, people arriving, finding the people who are waiting there for them and hugging each other in greeting. Over these shots of airport smiles and hugs, laughs and even tears of joy of reuniting, we hear Hugh Grant’s voice saying:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling that you'll find love actually is all around.”
View the scene on Youtube: CLICK HERE.

As the film illustrates, sometimes love is . . . lovely. And often it’s messy. The ups and downs of romance get most of the movie's attention, but the devoted love and tender care of a sister for her mentally ill brother – and of a man for the 11-year-old step-son of whom he finds himself the single parent – and of friends for each other – are equally key manifestations of the love that actually is all around.

It’s all around, yet our hearts yearn for it. It begins with noticing. Notice that love that is all around us, plunge into it, let it awaken joy.

I know, I know, Tina Turner calls love "a second-hand emotion" and "a sweet, old-fashioned notion." Aldous Huxley said,
“Of all the worn, smudged, dog’s-eared words in our vocabulary, ‘love’ is surely the grubbiest, smelliest, slimiest. Bawled from a million pulpits, lasciviously crooned through hundreds of millions of loud-speakers, it has become an outrage to good taste and decent feeling, an obscenity which one hesitates to pronounce.”


As Huxley then acknowledges: “And yet it has to be pronounced, for, after all, Love is the last word.”

We use the word “love” in so many different ways. We love a spouse, a child, a friend, a neighbor. We might speak of loving Jane Austen’s novels or Emily Dickinson’s poetry, or Vermeer’s paintings or Vivaldi’s string quartets or chocolate or yoga or a favorite chair. Is the word that we use to describe the depth of soul connection to a life partner with whom we have committed our whole lives to share bed, board, budget, and the burden of our humanness really the same word we should use to describe our relationship with cheese?

The different forms of love don’t have a unifying essence, but they have a unifying end. All the forms serve to connect us with life, with joy.

I remember a story about boyhood remembrances of a grandfather. The grandfather had come from to America from Europe, spoke broken English. The boy remembers a scene he witnessed. He heard a noise in the middle of the night from the kitchen. The boy goes to take a look. And in the kitchen light he sees his grandfather, with a beatific expression on his face, lifting up a loaf of bread, turning around with it, beaming at it. “Pan!” [Bread!] exclaims the grandfather. And he kisses the loaf and holds it too his chest and spins around again.

Sure that’s love. It’s that intensity of gratitude and connection, and what we are loving in all the various forms of love is ultimately life itself: life, in the form of the romantic beloved, life in the form of a child, life in the form a stranger, life in the form a friend. When we love the beach sand on our toes, or a mountain, or woods filled with snow, or the stars at night -- as well as when we love a spouse, a child, or a friend -- we are loving this life, this opportunity to be aware amidst this the wondrous universe.

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This is part 1 of 4 of "What's Love Got to Do with It?"
Click for other parts: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4