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Reflection Archive

We’re talking about love today, in honor of our monthly theme of love, and Valentine’s Day coming up.  In that spirit, I have a love trivia question for you.  Which language has the most words for love?

I’ll give you a hint…the top two are ancient languages.  Sanskrit has 96 words for love and ancient Persian has 80.

That’s a far cry from our English roster of one.

Author Robert Johnson had something to say about this. See if you agree.

He maintains that English having only one word for love is indicative of the poverty of awareness and/or the absence of emphasis that we give to what he calls the tremendously important realm of feeling.

He goes on to point out that Eskimos have 30 words for snow, because it’s of  life-and-death importance to be that exacting about the element they live with so intimately.

Put that way, it does make one stop and think about the significance that we place on our emotional state, our feelings.

Do you think we’d live differently, have different priorities or ways of thinking and being if our vocabulary had 30 words for love?

What would it say about us and what we value?  What does it say about us that we don’t?

Johnson thinks we’d be different. He says, “We would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart; as is, we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.”

That’s a mouthful, but it’s worth pondering.

I have to admit, it is a little odd to use the same word to talk about Krispy Kreme doughnuts as to talk about transcendence, or connectedness with soulmates or our children.

So yes, our ‘love’ word is working overtime…it means lots of different things, and is experienced in lots of different ways, even though it’s wrapped in the same little four-letter vernacular package.

In order to spice things up, let’s borrow from our Greek friends, and appreciate the myriad of ways that that language recognizes love.

We can start with the Romeo and Juliet variety, known as Eros. Eros is the passion that new lovers feel for each other, head-over-heels, counting the minutes to be together, pained by being apart.

From this physically-based love come words such as erotic, erogenous.   attraction.  This is the stuff most of the songs on the radio are about…like Donna Summers’ I’d Love to Love You, Baby.

She is not talking to her little baby infant here.

Interestingly, the ancient Greeks considered eros dangerous because of the out-of-control element that it ushers in, and how those powerful feelings can get you into trouble.

On to our next kind of love… Pragma, or long-standing love. The burning, crazy-making eros phase is passed, and this is the love shared by long-standing relationships, often seen in people who have been married for a long time.

I like this next line….when we start a relationship we fall in love; with the passage of time in that relationship we standin love. That is Pragma.

A song that speaks to this kind of love is the Little River Band’s song “Reminiscing”.  Now as the years roll on, each time we hear our favorite song,
the memories come along.

There’s a shallowness at play when folks move from one eros experience to another, never allowing the sage and comfort of pragma love to take hold.   It’s like having the sugary glaze from Krispy Kreme for your meal, over and over.

Pragma, from which we get the term “pragmatic” isn’t as racy or sexy.  It’s not the amusement park roller coaster, but instead is the Buick that reliably sees you through the hills and valleys of life.

On to the next kind of love, compliments of our ancient Greek friends.   This one is called Philia, the love of deep friendship. We share philia love with long-time friends from past school days.

Soldiers often have this following shared combat experiences, or social activists who have shared other kinds of trenches with their comrades.

A song you might know about this love is Andrew Gold’s Thank You For Being a Friend.

Interestingly, the opposite of philia is phobia. As we know, phobia is fear-based, which would make philia love and trust-based.

Next is storge love.  This is the love found in families, and is described as the most natural because it is present without coercion.  Based on familiarity, this type of love pays the least attention to characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and thus is able to transcend most discriminating factors.

The strength of storge love makes it vulnerable, because, due the appearance of being “built-in” people come to expect it irrespective of their behavior and its consequences.

John Lennon sings about this kind of love in his song for his son Sean called song….Beautiful Boy.

Next is Agape love: the other-centered love based on compassion. Buddhists refer to this as Loving-kindness. If you were to read the Christian Bible in its original Greek, agape is repeatedly seen.

Because the word ‘love’ is so overused in our language, I’m going to set it aside for a moment and instead focus on the central concept behind agape love, which, again, is compassion.

I’m going to take a well-known bible verse from 1 Corinthians 13… one of history’s most extraordinary statements on love. If you were to ask the average Joe Schmoe about descriptors of this crazy little thing called Love, excerpts from these verses is likely what they’d quote.

This time, though, I’m going to paraphrase (a LOT), and substitute ‘compassion’ for the more general term of lo

Here’s part of that famous passage, with the word “compassion insertions as a better translation than “love.”

Those of you who are compassionate demonstrate your compassion by being patient and kind.  You can recognize a compassionate person because s/he isn’t burdened with jealously, they’re not arrogant or grumpy or bitter.  They don’t espouse “My way or the highway.”  Instead, they are invested in truth, shouldering all that comes, choosing to believe and to hope and to endure, come what may.  This is the stuff of eternity…stories come and go, what we think we know passes with time.  But compassion doesn’t.  Fueled by faith and held in hope, compassion is the most elevated of all ways of being.

This is agape love.  This is the love of Jesus.  Of Gandhi, of Martin.

Agape’s song – Dion singing… Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham, can you tell me where he’s gone? He freed a lot of people but it seems the good they die young.  I just looked around and he was gone.

In a world that is often threatened by this truest kind of love, you risk paying the ultimate price by stepping fully into this way of being.

Abraham, Martin and John, and Gandhi, and certainly Jesus, are all examples.  And where in the world would this world be without them?

Our last kind of love is often completely overlooked.  It’s called Philautia, or self love. When in a state of sacred balance, this love knows about self-esteem and self worth and self confidence.

Here there is no room or need for narcissism or ego. be balanced: there’s self-love that is positive self- This kind of love needs to esteem and a happy self-confidence.

There’s simply recognition of the travesty of excluding oneself from the presence and grace that we aspire to show everyone else.

We talk so much about how much Jesus loves us.   Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

We don’t hear nearly as much as how much he had to have been in his own skin, had self awareness and knew about his inherent self worth.

In order for him to have lived as he did, and to have endured the death that he did, he had to be in touch with this type of love as much as any other..

Jesus had self-love, I know, just look at the seeds he sowed.

I think he would’ve loved Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”… I’m beautiful in my way ’cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.

Yes indeed, lots of different kinds of experiences and emotions that we dump into the big bowl known as love.

Forrest Gump likened life to a box of chocolates, due to you never knowing what you’re going to get.  Fair enough.

I would say that love is also like a box of chocolates, given the richness contained within, and the diversity of ways the morsels manifest themselves.

Sometimes crunchy and nutty, which might even cause you to break something when you bite in…like a tooth.  Or a heart.

Other times sweet and smooth.

Sometimes messy when it (or we) melt down.

Yes, Love can be like a box of chocolates, complete with a plethora of options, and sometimes risk.


But always, always worth that risk.


If you’ll remember from last week when we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. we heard his words recounted by Clara Jean Ester from a gathering the night before Martin was killed.


The Memphis church where he was to speak that night was packed and after Dr. King finally arrived, he said, “When I entered into the city of Memphis, I was told about all of these threats… But none of that matters anymore cause I’ve been to the mountaintop.”


What mountaintop do you suppose he spoke of?


How could it be anything other than the mountain of love, complete with it’s varying peaks of family love, of the love of partners, of friends, of Beloved Community, love of self…                                                                   all enveloped in Divine Love.


Before we hear your part of the Reflection, let us be together in prayer.  Please join me…


We bring ourselves before You in the name of love, in the NAMES of love.

In the name of the love of family, which brought us into being, allowed us to bloom, and then sent us on our way with courage.


In the name of the love of partnered hearts, which teaches us to trust and helps us know that who we are does not end at the barrier of our own skin.


In the name of the love of friends, who help us to feel and be seen, and who sing our song back to us when we cannot hear it with our ears alone.


We bring ourselves before You in the name of the love of community, that which envelopes us in belonging and calls us to see the needs of others as our own.


And finally, we bring ourselves before You in the name of the greatest love…your love, the love manifested in Jesus… the love that will not let us go, even in our fear, even in our failure, even when we are lonely or lost.


Your love, oh Divine Wonder, Creator, Healer…your love invites us home.  


 If we listen, we hear your voice – in our families, our partners and friends, and in this Community – calling us home to our truest selves.


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