Love Another Language

 

fiddler-on-the-roofIn THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the beleaguered family patriarch Tevye finds his thinking on marriage to be challenged in different ways by each of his daughters.  While the usual way of marriage for the villagers is an arranged marriage by the parents of the bride and the groom, Tevye is confronted with a new idea: people choosing to be married based on their love for one another.  Tevye asks his wife if she loves him.  She is struck by the question:  after 25 years of her raising their children, washing his clothes, cooking his meals, why would he even ask, isn’t it obvious?  An issue is raised, do we by our behavior speak love to our spouses in a way that they can understand and feel loved?

five-love-languagesI read Gary Chapman”s book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, and found it an interesting read and a potential tool to help couples strengthen their marriages.  The book and the tools it offers help people gain self knowledge and also to gain understanding of others.  This can help people overcome stumbling blocks in their relationships.  Here are a few quotes from the book:

Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.  (Kindle  Location 310-312)

Chapman argues that love is a form of language.  Humans have different love languages – some behaviors from family and friend make us feel more loved than other behaviors even if all the behaviors are shown to us in love.  If I am feeling like a failure, offering me cookies might be comforting, but praising me for deeds I’ve done might be the thing that makes me feel loved.

Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment. It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender. Forgiveness is an expression of love. “I love you. I care about you, and I choose to forgive you. Even though my feelings of hurt may linger, I will not allow what has happened to come between us. I hope that we can learn from this experience. You are not a failure because you have failed. You are my spouse, and together we will go on from here.” Those are the words of affirmation expressed in the dialect of kind words.  (Kindle  Location 463-467)

Forgiveness is central to our Christian lives.  Chapman reminds us that forgiving a loved one who has hurt or offended you is an act of love.  It is one way we do show love to another.

We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to solve. A relationship calls for sympathetic listening with a view to understanding the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and desires.  (Kindle  Location 686-688)

A good reminder for any couples who are struggling – your marriage is not a problem to be solved, but a relationship which requires us to listen and to speak.

But I vacuum our house now, and I vacuum it regularly. There is only one reason I vacuum our house. Love. You couldn’t pay me enough to vacuum a house, but I do it for love. You see, when an action doesn’t come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love. My wife knows that when I vacuum the house, it’s nothing but 100 percent pure, unadulterated love, and I get credit for the whole thing!  (Kindle  Location 1613-1616)

We show love in many ways.  The issue is that not everyone sees our behavior in the same way.  Doing acts of kindness are a form of love, but some people need to be held and touched gently before they feel loved.  We can learn the love language of those around us.  We can learn the love language we like to speak.  We can learn how to love people so that they feel loved.

We both knew it was the choice to love. We had realized that if we continued our pattern of demanding and condemning, we would destroy our marriage. Fortunately over a period of about a year, we had learned how to discuss our differences without condemning each other, how to make decisions without destroying our unity, how to give constructive suggestions without being demanding, and eventually how to speak each other’s primary love language.  (Kindle  Location 1731-1734)

There is hope.  We are able to learn and change and improve our relationships!

Love as an Action Verb, Not a Feeling Noun

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, RSV)

“Like faith, love is a word people fill with all kinds of significance. For many, love is an emotion rather than an action. For Paul, however, love is a verb, an action. This becomes especially clear in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 13. Where the English translations have a series of adjectives ascribed to love (‘love is patient, love is kind,’, etc.), the Greek text  that Paul actually wrote has a string of verbs associated with love. The closest we can get in English is to translate them as ‘love acts patiently, love does kindness,’ etc.

Like faith, then, for Paul love is an action-word, a covenantal term that describes the fundamental relationship that should exist among God’s people and from God’s people toward others. If faith is the essential ‘vertical’ relationship in the covenant, love is its corollary ‘horizontal’ relationship. Faith expresses itself in love (Gal. 5:6).” (Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul, p 156)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NKJV)

God’s Eternal Mercy, Love and Compassion

“Just as an abundantly flowing fountain is not blocked by a handful of dust, so the Maker’s mercy is not overcome by the wickedness of those whom He has created.[…]

In love did God bring the world into existence;

in love does He guide it during its temporal existence;

in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and

in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things.

In love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally compromised.

Just because the terms ‘wrath’, ‘anger’, ‘hatred’ and the rest are used of the Creator in the Bible, we should not imagine that He actually does anything in anger, hatred or zeal. Many figurative terms are used of God in the Scriptures, terms which are far removed from His true nature. Among all God’s actions there is none which is not entirely a matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and end of His dealings with us.” (St. Isaac in The Wisdom of St. Isaac of Nineveh  by Sebastian Brock, pp 18 & 38)

The Beauty of Christ And the Deformed

 

St. Maria Skobtsova (d. 1945AD) understood well that the beauty and truth of the Orthodox Liturgy comes alive in believers when they show love and compassion to the poor and needy.   She discerned correctly that if Christ was confined to the church building and liturgical services, the lives of believers would remain untouched by divinity.  And she recognized the temptation in Orthodoxy to keep the doors of the church closed in order to preserve the antiquity and protect the pure museum quality of the liturgical pomp and church accouterments.   She wrote:

“The eyes of love will perhaps be able to see how Christ Himself departs, quietly and invisibly, from the sanctuary that is protected by a splendid iconostasis. The singing will continue to resound, clouds of incense will still rise, the faithful will be overcome by the ecstatic beauty of the services. But Christ will go out on to the church steps and mingle with the crowd: the poor, the lepers, the desperate, the embittered, the holy fools. Christ will go out into the streets, the prisons, the hospitals, the low haunts and dives. Again and again Christ lays down his soul for his friends. What are our beauty and our ugliness in comparison with Christ, His eternal truth and eternal beauty? Or is it not the reverse? Does He not see in our ugliness, in our impoverished lives, in our festering sores, in our crippled souls – does He not see there His own divine image and a reflection of his eternal glory and eternal beauty? And so He will return to the churches and bring with Him all those whom He has summoned to the wedding feast, has gathered from the highways, the poor and the maimed, prostitutes and sinners.

mercytoChristThe most terrible thing is that it may well be that the guardians of beauty, those who study and understand the world’s beauty, will not comprehend Christ’s beauty, and will not let Him into the church because behind Him there will follow a crowd of people deformed by sin, by ugliness, drunkenness, depravity, and hate. Then their chant will fade away in the air, the smell of incense will disperse, and Someone will say to them: ‘I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ ”

(Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, p 161)

Aiming at Love

Make love your aim…”

 (1 Cor 14:1)

“For the person who does not show kindness and love towards his brother ‘does not know God, for God is love’ (1 John 4:8), as John the son of thunder and beloved disciple of Christ proclaims; and he adds that if Christ, the Savior of all, ‘laid down His soul for us, then we ought to lay down our souls for our brethren’ (1 John 3:16).  Love has fittingly been called the citadel of the virtues, the sum of the Law and the prophets (cf. Matt. 22:40; Rom. 13:10). So let us make every effort until we attain it. Through love we shall shake off the tyranny of the passions and rise to heaven, lifted up on the wings of the virtues; and we shall see God, so far as this is possible for human nature.”  (St Theodoros the Great, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 11310-25)

Love; An Action Verb

“So often when we say,  

‘I love you’

we say it with a huge

I

and a small

‘you’.

A New Commandment: Love One Another

We use love as a conjunction instead of it being a verb implying action. It’s no good just gazing out into the open space hoping to see the Lord; instead we have to look closely at our neighbor, someone whom God has willed into existence, someone who God has died for. Everyone we meet has the right to exist, because he has value in himself, and we are not used to this. The acceptance of otherness is a danger to us, it threatens us. To recognize the other’s right to be himself might mean recognizing his right to kill me. But if we set a limit to his right to exist, it’s no right at all. Love is difficult. Christ was crucified because he taught a kind of love which is a terror for men, a love which demands total surrender: It spells death. If we turn to God and come face to face with him, we must be prepared to pay the cost. If we are not prepared to pay the cost, we must walk through life being a beggar, hoping someone else will pay. But if we turn to God we discover that life is deep, vast and immensely worth living.” (Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, p xiv)

The Unexpected Causes of Love: Necessity, Commerce and Treasties

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) says that God has ordered the world to encourage us to love one another.  As Chrysostom sees it, our needs and mutual dependencies bind humans together to encourage cooperation.  Human life is ordered by God not to encourage rugged individualism but rather mutual interdependence.   This is the lesson taught to us from birth by our birth:  we don’t bring ourselves into the world, nor do we create the world into which we are born.  Rather we share the earth with others and are to value others because they can provide us things we cannot provide for ourselves.   Society itself exists as a means for humans to serve one another and help meet the needs of all.

“All good works are the fruit of charity…Now charity teaches us not only by words but also by deeds. In the first place, we ought to keep in mind the way in which we have been created. Indeed, after he had created the one man, God ordained that we should be born from him, so that we all should consider ourselves as one and try to practice charity for one another. In the second place, God in his wisdom fostered our mutual love through our treaties and commerce. Look how God has filled the universe with many goods, but to each part of the earth he has given its particular fruits. In this way, impelled by our needs we communicate with one another, give to others what we have overmuch and receive what we lack.

Thus we increase our love for our brethren. The same thing God has done with each human life. He has not given to all of us to know everything, rather to one medicine, to another architecture, yet to another, art, so that we may love one another by necessity. The same thing is to be seen in the spiritual order, as St. Paul says: ‘To one the Spirit gives wisdom in discourse, to another the power to express knowledge; by the same Spirit another is given the gift of healing, and still another miraculous powers….’ ”(Daily Readings from the Writing of St. John Chrysostom, pp 105-106)

The Centurion’s Faith and Humility

The Gospel lesson of Matthew 8:5-13 reads:

As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him,    beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”  And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 391AD) says that  the centurion’s faith and approach to the Lord offer all of us an example of how to approach Christ in humility:

“Wherefore we must purify ourselves first, and then approach this converse with the Pure…be like the Centurion who would seek for healing, but would not, through a praiseworthy fear, receive the Healer into his house. Let each one of us also speak so, as long as he is uncleansed, and is a Centurion still, commanding many in wickedness, and serving in the army of Caesar, the World-ruler of those who are being dragged down; ‘I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof”.”

(Archbishop Dmitri, The Miracles of Christ, pg. 103)

The centurion has not given up his position in the Roman imperial army when he approaches Christ.   From a Jewish point of view, the centurion is entangled with all manner of religious heresy, false practice and belief, worldly values, and additionally is there in Israel for no other purpose than to oppress God’s people.   So when he says he is not worthy to have Christ enter his household, he is not speaking  so much humbly as he is  honestly.   He has not given up his position of power nor his involvement with the Roman legions (which by definition means he was involved in pagan sacrificial rites).  Again from a Jewish religious point of view, the centurion in fact was “commanding many in wickedness” (in the words of St. Gregory Nazianzus).    And yet, though he represents the political power and military might of the empire and all its legions and gods, he seeks mercy from Christ not for himself but  for one of his servants.  Christ sees through all of the signs of power, and sees the honest and humble heart of the man before him.  Christ sees his faith and hope, mercy and compassion; He sees a man after his own heart and responds in kind.

The Wisdom of Love

On one occasion when Abba John and the brethren who were with him were going up from Scete, he who was guiding them lost the way, and the brethren said unto Abba John, “What shall we do father? For this brother has lost the way, and peradventure we shall die in wandering about.”

Abba John said unto them, “If you tell him he will be grieved and feel ashamed. But behold I will feign to be sick, and will say that I am not able to go on any further.”  The brethren said, “Well said, Father.”

And they acted thus, and decided that they would stay where they were until the morning, rather than rebuke the brother who was guiding them.

(Adapted from E. Wallis Budge, The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, pg. 260)

Christian Love: the Cure for What ails Society

make_love_not_warIn the 1960’s in the U.S. some imagined a world of free love, over turning stuffy old conventions, and undermining the sexual mores of past generations.

Freeing oneself from the constrictions of the past has probably been a goal of the Enlightenment since it blossomed as a philosophical movement in the 18th Century.  It was the ultimate path to creating “the individual” as versus seeing each human as a social being, part of a social construct.

But “love” is not the invention of the philosophical movement of Western Europe.  Love was advocated by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, though what he emphasized in love was not self-centered and selfish, but rather was self-denying and focused on the good of the other.  In Christ’s vision of love, one is not freed from others, but rather love is always oriented toward others.  The 60’s really advocated self-love rather than the love which Christ offered the world.     St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (d. 1783) described what he imagined to be a world based in Christ-like love:

“Oh, how wonderful everything would be if everyone would love one another! Then there would be no theft, no robbery, no deceit, no murder, no deception…the courts would not be overwhelmed with complaints, these avaricious people would not be roaming through the streets and town squares…the jails would not be overflowing with prisoners, locked up because of crimes, moneylending, failures to pay debts; there would finally be no poor and needy any longer, but all would be equal.” (Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, pg. 455)

In St. Tikhon’s vision of what a Christian country would be like, there would be no banks and no prisons, no crime and no poverty.   St. Tikhon imagined certain social ills would be eliminated if everyone followed the teachings of Jesus Christ to love God and neighbor.   The practice of love was the way to virtue for all.    And it is obvious that his vision of what would emerge in a completely Christian nation is unlike anything that exists in the world today.   It is his vision of a Christian paradise: love – the self-sacrificial and co-suffering love which Christ incarnated in His own life – would reign in each person’s heart.  When that happened, rich and poor would care for one another and that would eliminate the need for banks and prisons.  Christian love, not the free love of the 1960s, was in St. Tikhon’s mind the cure for what ails society.