“God is love.”
We are so inundated by bad news, natural or man-made destruction, and daily acts of brutality and hatred that we seldom consider either the meaning or the power of love. In this time of great confusion and contradiction, the subject is worth considering.
Back in the days when I was a high school teacher, I would have my students read some of the common, but profound wisdom from Max Ehrman’s words for life, “Desiderata.” One of the passages, advice about love, always evoked a lively discussion.
The particular passage read:
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
The discussion that followed involved the meaning of certain words and, eventually, the meaning of the entire selection
As to words, the ones that were commonly misunderstood or unknown to students were “feign,” “cynical,” “aridity,” “disenchantment” and “perennial.” So we would take the time to find dictionary definitions of each of these words
“Feign” meant to pretend; “cynical” meant distrusting; “aridity” meant dull or unexciting; “disenchantment” meant to lose interest in something; “perennial” meant forever. With those definitions in mind, we were then able to discuss the entire passage. To begin, I asked questions:
What is love? Why should we not pretend to love someone? Why should we not be distrustful of the existence and power of love? Can real love be dull and unexciting? Is it possible to love someone forever? For the most part, my students were highly thoughtful in their answers to each of these important questions.
As their teacher, I was able to toss in some concepts of love as defined in the Bible, in philosophy, and in psychology. For example, my students were interested in the four types of love described in Greek philosophy: agape, phileo, storge and eros.
I defined agape as the highest form of love, that is, love for all mankind, without condition. Phileo, I explained is, in their terms, a BFF (best friends forever), a chosen friend conditioned on the return of friendship. Storge is love of family members or friends, but it is also carries certain conditions. Finally, eros is romantic love largely conditioned on the outward appearance of the object of such love.
Naturally, as adolescents, they were particularly interested in the latter, eros. That is perfectly natural but, I would ask them, what if you love (the eros type!) someone who doesn’t love you, or who feigns or fakes their affection for you? Again, they were quite astute in their answers, although I am not quite sure their understandings translated into actual behavior. Otherwise, I would not have heard of so many love woes.
The problem here is that many people, not just adolescents, “fall in love” with someone based on an initial, mutual, superficial attraction. Such attractions usually do not last very long, although one of the two people involved may rationalize or completely deny the relationship has changed or ended. I don’t know what Max Ehrman or Greek philosophers would have to say about such a situation, but I would say don’t walk away, run!
The deeper problem, I think, is that many people in romantic relationships treat the object of their affection as a possession — my boyfriend, or my girlfriend. But, no matter how much one person loves another in the romantic sense, the results are usually aridity, disenchantment, cynicism, jealousy, and outright conflict. Rather than go through all that, run!
Although there may be many reasons to let go of various forms of love relationships, the perennial, enduring, love of mankind must never be forsaken. It is the highest form of love. It is the love that God commands of us. In it, there is the power to move mountains, heal this trouble world, and change the meaning of our existence during our comet-like stay here.
Still, somehow this simple fact continues to elude us. And that, I suppose, is why we hear so little good news these days. Perhaps, in our cynicism and disenchantment with love and life, we have unwittingly exchanged excitement for dullness; right action for following daily routines; and personal security and fortune for human kindness and forgiveness.
If all the above is true, we have lost some things, not the least of which is the path to perennial joy. God Is Love.
Have a nice day.
Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.