Love: An Introduction

Welcome to October at New Unity. October is known for lengthening nights and shortening days. It is a time of dropping temperatures, of getting out the cold-weather clothes. It's a time for Halloween, All-Souls Day and Samhain - observances that bring death closer to our minds. 

And at New Unity, October is the month of love! 

Or at least, that's our chosen theme for the month. Perhaps it should be our theme ever month. Love has a very good reputation, after all. It is the thing that makes life worth living, the only thing that can defeat hate, and the thing that makes life worth living.

Or is it a thing at all? Is it one thing? 

I love sushi. 

I love my wife. 

I love my son. 

I love my ministry. 

I love New Unity. 

I love sleep. 

Are these all the same thing? Of course, they're not. 

This is a bad subject to talk about in English. If we were doing this in Greek, it would all be so much clearer... 

Well - except that none of us actually speak Greek... so it would not be all that helpful. 

Why would Greek be better? Because in Greek, and in several other languages, there are multiple words for what we simply call love. Love of family is a different word from the love of friendship is a different word from the love of sushi is a different word from passionate or romantic love. 

Today, I don't want to talk anymore about romantic love, which in Greek is Eros. And I don't want to talk about the way we use 'love' to mean liking very, very much - like a favourite food or music or flower.

I want to talk about the kind of love that is most relevant to our lives together in community - here and in the larger and small scales of human community. 

This is the kind of love that religion has so often talked about. In Buddhism, it is metta, translated as loving kindness. It is Chesed in Judaism. In the New Testament of Christianity, it is a Greek word - 'agape.' 

Franz Wright - the author of "The Night Walk" describes the encounter of emptiness as an all-night petrol station with no one behind the counter. No one even responding to the bell. But, he realizes "There must be thousands of people in this city who are dying to welcome you into their small bolted rooms, to sit you down and tell you what has happened to their lives." 

" And an intense love rushes to your heart." 

Wright is correct, of course, accept that it's not thousands of people in this city who are dying for a connection, it is millions. Life without that kind of connection - the connection I will call love - is emptiness and hollowness and an ache that weighs upon us. 

Love changes that. The Dalai Lama says that "[t]he greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being."

Don't we all yearn for that inner peace? Don't we ache no longer to feel alone and separate - to feel connected and cared for? 

"Out Of a great need We are all holding hands And climbing. Not loving is a letting go. Listen, The terrain around here Is Far too Dangerous For That." 

These are the words of Hafiz, a 14th-century Persian mystic. Love holds us up - it holds us together. It is the connection of hands that keeps us from falling and allows us all to ascend. 

We yearn for that hand of connection almost as much as we fear and avoid it. Love is not easy. I suppose this accounts for the terrible lack of love around us in our society and in the larger world today. 

If love was easy, we would all be happy. We would all have understanding for one another. We would not feel hurt and exposed and embarrassed and ashamed... But love is not easy. It is not safe. Playing with the intimacy that is love is like playing with fire - deeply powerful and transformative, but you can get burned. Author and therapist Amy Bloom reminds us that "... intimacy involves the revelation of one's self and the loving gaze upon another's true self (no makeup, no fancy car, no defensive charm, no seduction) -- that's what makes it so damn hard. Intimacy requires honesty and kindness in almost equal measure[...], trust and trustworthiness, forgiveness and the capacity to be forgiven . . . It's more than worth it -- just don't let them tell you it's bliss." 

In love, there is an opening up of ourselves that exposes every insecurity and worry we have. A common nightmare among ministers is to show up at the morning service with no papers, no notes... and naked. I have double-checked both my notes and my clothes today, just in case... 

Love - and I don't mean romantic love her although it may sound that way - love involves allowing ourselves to be naked in front of others and having the strength and courage to perceive another's flawed nakedness and accept it all. How naked are you prepared to be? How much nakedness are you prepared to see? 

Franz Wright talked about all those dying to sit you down and tell you what has happened to their lives. The telling is become naked. The listening is accepting every wrinkle, scar, mole, role of fat... everything... just as it is. 

John Fox speaks of listening. He speaks of the dented and empty cup we carry and - through being heard - feeling it filled - first to understanding, and then - to a place beyond understanding - a place of acceptance - a place that is love. 

Fox knows the power of something we prosaically call listening: 

"When someone deeply listens to you, your bare feet are on the earth and a beloved land that seemed distant is now at home within you." 

It may pain you to say what needs to be heard, and yet it fills you. It may pain you to hear what needs to be heard, and yet it heals. 

As we begin to talk about love, let us put talking at the end of our list, and put hearing at the top. 

This is the beginning of love.