What is Love?

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The sermon was not video-taped this week.

Sermon text:

What is love?  That is a complicated question.  Most of you know by now that this church is not a place to come if you are looking for easy answers.

Frank Sinatra sang about love being a many splendored thing.

“It’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring.
Love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living.”

The Greeks, who were quite excellent at philosophy, broke love down into four different types: Eros, a passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings, Storge, is family or brotherly love, something you might feel for your children or your very best friend, Phileo, is the affection you feel for the people you like, and last, but not least, Agape, which is love in the verb form, an unconditional love that requires action.

The Greeks distinguished their forms of love not only by the qualities of the different types of love they were defining, but also about where that love was directed: to a lover, a family member, a friend, or to the world.

What they left out was love of self, which is an odd and significant omission I think.  I have no clue as to why, except maybe it was just assumed that people love themselves.  The Greeks were much less guilt ridden and prone to self-esteem issues than is our modern culture.

It is very difficult to love anyone else if you don’t love and respect yourself.  Can we apply all four of the Greek forms of love to ourselves?  Can we like ourselves as in Phileo?  Other people like us, so it shouldn’t be that hard for us to like ourselves as well.  Can we love ourselves like a close family member?  After all, we know ourselves better than we know anyone else. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with self-love in terms of Eros.  We are all sexual beings; passion is part of our nature.  Loving yourself, satisfying yourself sexually, is not a sin.  We’re probably going to need talk more someday soon about sin and what it means in our religious tradition, but for me, a sin is something that actually causes harm, not just something that someone says you shouldn’t do.

And then there is Agape, love as a verb, love as unconditional.  Agape love directed inward is a form of radical self-acceptance.  It drives us toward spiritual health, and moves us to make the changes in our own lives that allow us to focus that Agape love on other people and on the planet.

So what do you think love is?  Do you think it can be divided into categories like the Greeks did?

My friend, the Rev. David Miller, who serves as the minister of one of our congregations in San Diego, CA. has been posting quotes about love on his facebook page.

Some of my favorites are:

Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker

“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”

Rita Mae Brown, Riding Shotgun

“Sorrow is how we learn to love. Your heart isn’t breaking. It hurts because it’s getting larger. The larger it gets, the more love it holds.”

Marianne Williamson

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth.

Carl Jung

Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.

Lord Byron

“There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

Everyone, it seems, has something to say about love.  The minister who officiated at my recent wedding asked both Anne and I what we had learned about love in our 39 years together.  This is what I wrote:

What I have learned about love is this:  it doesn’t come easy. It isn’t a happily ever after riding into the sunset with a prince or princess by your side.  Soul mates aren’t magic mirrors reflecting back how you want to see yourself or them.  Reach through the mirror, pay attention to the cracks.  They are how the love – and light gets in.  Leonard Cohen taught me a lot with that line.  You aren’t royalty either, just a frog like other frogs.  Life is the swamp can be lovely though.  It is not necessary to sing every song in tune or dance in time with a perfect rhythm.

Marriage means so much more if you have been engaged for decades.  I know this from experience.  Because engagement is the thing, one of them, that makes a marriage, a partnership, work.  Be real and honest and yourself.  Listen carefully.  Pay attention.  Hold your lover’s hand, but don’t hold them back, and try to catch them when they fall.  You will stumble too.  Stay engaged even after you are married.  I think that might be the key.

In any case be grateful.  If someone really loves you, it is a miracle

Love, like justice, does not come easy, but with enough grace, with enough effort, it comes.

That is what I wrote, and the minister used some of those words in the ceremony.  After the wedding, our daughter gave us a toast.  It really moved me, and I am going to read parts of it for you.

“Not many daughters get the opportunity to give a wedding toast for their parents. It’s kind of an unusual situation. It’s like, “when I first met Anne and Theresa…I was in the womb. I remember when they were just two young lovebirds, the vague sound of their voices coming through to my amniotic sac.”

I also can’t ruminate on their future together. It’s like “spoiler alert,” 39 years later.. things are pretty good. You still get nervous when the other person drives. You are still in love. You have 3 kids.. and they turned out awesome.

So, I don’t get to do the typical wedding toast. But, instead I do have this really remarkable opportunity to celebrate my moms’ relationship.  I want to talk about what I’ve learned from my witty, opinionated mothers.

Especially with all of the news and debate about marriage equality today, I’ve had lots of time to think about my moms and the impact they have had on me.  Am I all screwed up because I have lesbian moms? Am I confused about who I am? Do I wish I had a dad?

I’ve had to answer those questions a lot. And the answer is no.

My mothers are parents who chose to be together, in spite of real obstacles.

These are parents who pushed their children to always be who we are, no matter what other people think. Parents who taught us to advocate for our rights and for the rights of others. Parents who taught us to love who we love, no matter what.

They have taught me so much, but because today is a wedding, I want to talk in particular about what I’ve learned from my mothers about love.

Some of you might know that last summer, I hiked the John Muir Trail. It’s a backcountry trail that runs 218 miles from Yosemite, over 8 mountain passes to Mt. Whitney, all in the backcountry.  This is something I would never have considered if not for the wonderful summers my mothers spent taking the three of us camping in Yosemite, in Yellowstone, in Glacier national parks.

One of the things I was thinking about as I was hiking, was my moms. I had called them from an outpost a week into the hike, and they told me that they had been officially married in California.

It’s good I had my moms to think about because while the trail was beautiful, actually hiking it was also the hardest thing I have ever done. My backpack was too heavy; it weighed 45 pounds. I had to clamber up these endless 10-mile inclines, up thousands of feet in elevation, to get to each peak. And then I had to do it all over again. Those climbs were absolutely horrible.

But then, I’d get to the top.

And the top was unfailingly the most beautiful place I’d ever been, each peak more breathtaking than the last. There were turquoise alpine lakes, wildflowers, and snowcapped peaks, the whole world spread out below your feet.

And I realized, this is what I know about love. And I learned it from my moms. It is hard sometimes. It can be horrible. There are endless switchbacks and sometimes you don’t know if they’ll end, you’re not sure if you’ll make it to the top.

But you keep working at it, you put your head down and put one foot in front of the other and you make it to the top. And at the top is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been.

And then you do it all over again.

And, mommy and mama, you’ve been through a lot together. You’ve climbed a lot of long uphills, and I’ve watched you put the work into many of them. You have reached so many glorious peaks. Thank you for your perseverance and your honesty, your commitment and your love.  You’ve taught me that the things that matter, like love, take work.”

That made me cry when I heard it, and it still makes me a bit teary-eyed.

We have had some hard things to deal with in this community the last few weeks.  Many of us have been experiencing grief and loss.  But even in the midst of painful emotions, we know that life is better because of love.  Life is better with you.

I want to end this sermon with you, reading something together.  Please turn in your grey hymnals to #639.  The words are from 1 John 4.  Your part is in italics.

Let us love one another, because love is from God.

Whoever does not love God does not know God, for God is love.

No one has ever seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us.

God is love and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.

There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.

Those who say “I love God” and hate their brothers and sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

No one has seen God, if we love one another, God lives in us.

Namaste my friends, Namaste.

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