Happy Valentine’s Day!! It’s one of my favorite days – any day that makes love its centerpiece has my vote. Not the cloying “go buy something” version, nor the tortured martyr of Catholic “lives of the saints”; my day is easy sharing of love and laughter. In the spirit of the day – roses are red, violets are blue, – here’s a small essay, uploaded to view. 🙂
When I was in 5th grade, I had pneumonia. Not the 24hr bug I expected, missing 3 weeks of school, ice baths and what my mom called delirious ramblings about dolphins, canopies and Queen Elizabeth I. I remember two things 1) there was a periwinkle miasma, shot through with red-orange and 2) my Dad sitting in the armchair beside the couch, working on his Sunday school lesson.
My Dad embraced the 45-minute lecture each week with all the zeal of the physics teacher/academic dean he was. It wasn’t good enough for him to do a lesson about Abraham and Isaac. He researched the history of multiple wives among early nomadic cultures, could tell you how a sacrificial altar was made, and tie it symbolically to the cairns of Europe as well. He would explain how the concept of sacrifice runs through all religion, and how later theologians would link the New Testament to this story – making it so that if it didn’t happen, its existence was essential to link the traditions. In other words, listening to him was far more entertaining than the same old stories his class had heard since childhood. The upshot of this lovely Sunday morning Dad tangent, the lesson he explained to me as I tumbled between delirium and sleep remained with me, perhaps seared in by the fever. It seems rather appropriate to see if I can recreate it to some extent today.
Love, true love (and no, Daddy had never seen the Princess Bride), I love my country, my wife, my kids, God is love, I love sparkly champagne (remember I’m recreating it) – can you really love champagne as much as your lover?
My Dad’s position was a qualified yes. Drawing from Greek philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, and CS Lewis my Dad made the argument that just as there are many relationships in our day to day existence, love itself was different, responding to the nature of what, how and who we loved. In general, four types of love are offered, although CS Lewis makes interesting and useful distinctions that refine the ideas somewhat – as in the case of a “pleasure-need” love and “pleasure-appreciation” love. For example, as you crawl from the desert into a glorious oasis with gallons of fresh water, your “I love water” is vastly different from the “I love water,” as you watch a waterfall cascade down the mountain trying to angle yourself just right for a selfie.
The first, while embraced by Lewis, was less common in Greek philosophical circles. Called STORGE, it is the empathy bond, the familiar – love for hearth and family. It’s that warm, cozy feeling you have as you drive home from vacation – the delight you feel as you share time with your family. However, both the ancients and Lewis warn of a dark side to this type of love. That love of the comfortable, the known, the accepted – leads some to accept ‘tyrants’ as a price for love, and the tyrant to expect the love will be there no matter the tantrum or demand. Conversely, at its best, it uplifts the love into a shared empathy strengthening each person in the dynamic. Kind of a “goodnight, John-Boy” connection, offering support and understanding as each strive for completeness in themselves.
Next up is PHILIA, the love shared by “we few, we happy few…” in any band of brothers situation. You know the word – Philadelphia, our city of brotherly love – those bonds for things and people with whom we choose to share our affection. Love books, you share bibliophilia – France it’s francophilia and so forth. For both classical and within Lewis’ theological musings – philia is a higher form of love, as an individual chooses to engage. Think of the bonds between David and Jonathon, or Butch and Sundance, or Robin and Little John. Even in today’s digitized world, think of the friends we find on social media – rebuilding bonds of memory and connection across miles and time.
In keeping with the day, EROS is all about the passion. What makes it transcend raw sexuality is its connection to a person – while one can find the male/female form incredibly arousing, eros deepens and connects lovers on a higher plane. While physicality can be a joyous and natural outgrowth of eros, platonic love such as that of Abelard & Heloise unites them beyond their skin. The unity/oneness they find is the highest form of passion, in Carl Jung’s terms “psychic relatedness”.
The highest form of love, unconditional and “awe-some” (Mircea Eliade’s fantastic definition) is called AGÁPE. Often used in concert with the idea of religiosity, Thomas Aquinas thought of it as “wanting to do good for others”, or charity. While for the most part the loves are not hierarchical, in nearly every framework – agápe is often regarded as the ultimate form of love. Making a difference in the world and subsuming the ‘self’ are hallmarks of this love.
In the end, my father concluded, love can’t sort itself into boxes or categories as neatly as the lines on the 3×5 cards on which he made his lecture notes. I tend to agree, love like life is chaotic and messy – romance, friendship, family and faith all jumble together blurring the margins and making life and days to celebrate love treasures to cherish.
- Brother, Can you Spare a Dime (Bing Crosby) — a Depression anthem, Bing’s cover adds that slightly sardonic “we’re all in this together” edge
- Down to the River to Prayer (Alison Krauss) — this gospel inspired number just radiates love
- I Stand (Idina Menzel) — love till it hurts like crazy — her voice makes you want to reach out to the words
- Misguided Angel (Cowboy Junkies) — as I’ve said, I think the Trinity sessions, offer pure music in a perfect venue — this song in particular ebbs and flows like a heartbeat
- For Good (from Wicked) — the “handprint on my heart” is such a perfectly imaged concept of friendship that it shivers along my spine
- Friend Like Me (from Aladdin) — then again friendship can be a rollicking celebration full of wonder & joy — Robin Williams was incomparable, though Brian D’arcy James did amazing on Broadway, at least the YouTube clips
- Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead) — friendship defined by its reverse — this song always makes me want to be hanging out at a bonfire with some friends and music rippling on the night breezes .
- Accidentally in Love (Counting Crows) — one of those amazing songs that paints the feeling of new love with a catchy backbeat
- All you need is love (Beatles) — so often, this has become an internet meme, along the lines of “all you need is love…. and a million dollars,” “all you need is love…. and a dog” — I just think the song is bright and shiny with hope — and that makes me happy.
- Almost like Being in Love (Gene Kelly) — so there are better versions as Gene Kelly was by far a better dancer — but his confident, tender delivery makes this song resonant
- Baby Love (the Supremes) — before “girl power” was cool, there were the Supremes — and songs like this which sparked a million high schoolers to learn to dance
- Damn, I wish I was your lover (Sophie B. Hawkins) — so, direct and to the point — passion at its rawest
- Fooled around and Fell in Love (Elvin Bishop) — I love so much that the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack brought all these songs back into airplay!!
- Does your Mama Know (from Mamma Mia) — little twist on the concept of love — with a May-December twist
- Baboon/Mama Said (the Vaughn Brothers) — I adore family bands, and the delight Jimmy and Stevie Ray take in each other on their Family Style album is infectious
- Mama Said (the Shirelles) — speaking of girl groups — this song fits in about a million circumstances
- Faith of our Fathers (Bing Crosby) — one of those songs that makes itself larger and more majestic as it peaks
- Daddy Sang Bass (Johnny Cash) — always a legend, this is one of his kitchen table/Saturday night potluck kind of songs — it feels homey and complete.
- One of Us (Joan Osborne) — a provocative and thoughtful trip beyond the “awe” to attempt to understand —
- Swing Low Sweet Chariot (She & Him) and Every Time I feel the Spirit (the 5 Blind Boys of Alabama) — My parents used to joke that the only reason I attended church was for the music. When I got the bulletin, I immediately found the songs — long before I looked at anything else — love these two, although I’ll admit the Swing Low is a bit of a hipster version
“There is no remedy for love but to love more ” –> Henry David Thoreau
Take care, Aly