Friday, 15 May 2009

Real Love

In the New Testament, Jesus says to his disciples:

"You have heard that it was said, You shall love your
neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your
enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you
may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his
sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the
righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who
love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax
collectors do the same?"

There are, of course, many kinds of love. There is the love
between parents and children, there is the love between
neighbors, friends, and lovers, and of course the love
between a human being and God, to name but a few. Here,
Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the love between
people, which he says ought to be modeled on the way God
loves us -- God loves the righteous and the unrighteous
alike. He will later say that this commandment, to love our
neighbor, coupled with the commandment to love God, is the
entire essence of the law.

Christ begins by telling his disciples that they must love
their enemies and pray for their persecutors. The concept
of our 'enemy', of course, is by no means limited to those
people who wish to literally kill or maim or ruin us. Our
'enemy' can also include that person who, at the moment,
happens to be aggravating us.

As Jesus goes on to point out, there is nothing especially
admirable or praiseworthy about loving someone who we know
loves us - this is so simple that even tax collectors can
do it! The disciples are told that their love has to be
much more than this. They will have to love their neighbor
even when their love is not returned, even when the
neighbor is annoying or cruel and loving is difficult.

We all like to wax sentimental about loving, yet a little
authentic self-observation makes it abundantly clear that
we rarely if ever can do it. Our lack of success is evident
everywhere we look -- from wars between nations, to
violence in the streets, to broken homes and families, to
all hatred that we hide within our hearts. Real loving is
an arduous task. It requires a great deal of effort, a
great deal of patience, and a great deal of Grace.

Yet, for the most part, we are stunningly misled into
believing that we have nothing more to learn about love
than what we already figured out by about the age of
fourteen. To the contrary, however, the subject of love
ought to be the subject of a lifetime of contemplation.

A human being is composed of a Body, Heart, and Mind, and
each of these components has its own special kind of 'love'.

(1) The love that has to do with the Body is all about
chemical attraction. This is that desperate and dazzling
sensation of sexual need and hunger that overtakes us in
the presence of certain people, that focuses all our
attention on the desire for union with their body and the
release of overwhelming physical tension.

Pure physical love can be profoundly enjoyable, and as such
it is good for the soul and good for a relationship. Human
beings have the right to enjoy their sexuality. (Jewish
tradition even requires married couples to have sexual
relations on the Sabbath). Once the union of bodies and the
release of tension have been achieved, however, the
'hunger' disappears, at least temporarily and perhaps
forever. So by itself, this kind of love does not sustain a
meaningful relationship for very long. And, tragically, the
vulgarity that pervades so much of modern culture tends to
associate the sex act with filth, while relentlessly
insisting that this is all the love we should ever expect
or aspire to achieve. Sadly, then, this kind of love is all
that some people will ever know.

(2) But most of us will eventually go on to seek the kind
of love that has to do with the Heart. This is the kind of
love in which we feel a burning need to be utterly
fulfilled by the Beloved after our heart has been struck by
Cupid's Arrow and we find ourselves hopelessly 'in love'.
This is the kind of love that is venerated in much of our
literature and art, the exquisite experience of passion,
desire, and romance, that we all hope we will find and
remain immersed in forever.

But unless great care is taken, the erotic force of these
wonderful emotions will also eventually begin to dissipate,
and ultimately degenerate into something negative. If we
focus our attention inward and look honestly at these
swirling emotions, we see that they are passive emotions.
Rather than actually actively loving the Beloved, we find a
desperate emotional need for the Beloved to love us. That
is, after the initial exhilaration of falling 'in love',
the situation soon deteriorates into a passive/aggressive
demand to be loved. This, of course, eventually evokes
resentment on the part of the Beloved, and we see this over
and over again in the romantic disasters of our lives, as
couples get together, break up, get together in new pairs,
break these up too, finally pair up in marriage, and then
spend years tied together in misery, or get divorced and
continue the same old process all over again. This hopeless
floundering between ecstasy and despair is all that most of
us will ever know of love.

(3) But there is a third kind of love which has to do with
the Mind. This is the love that Jesus is talking about with
his disciples, a conscious love that requires the Mind to
be active - and this requires genuine maturity, so that we
are no longer at the mercy of vulgar fashion trends or
emotional selfishness.

The disciples must learn to consciously and actively love,
regardless of whether they receive love in return. They
must love the enemies who hate them, they must love the
persecutors who torture them, they must love the righteous
and the unrighteous alike. This will require a Herculean
effort of Will.

Considering how filled with rage and malice we become when
someone merely cuts us off in traffic, we really must see
that, as we are, we would in no way be capable of loving an
enemy who was literally trying to kill us. But if we recall
that the term 'enemy' can symbolically refer to the friend
or husband or wife who at the moment happens to be annoying
us, we can bring this idea down to a level where we might
be able to make use of it. Even tax collectors can feel
lovingly toward people when all is going well and people
are behaving lovingly toward them. When things are not
going well, when life is difficult, when our 'Beloved' is
being moody and exasperating - this is when real effort is
required to give love, and this is when love really means
something. When we can honestly wish for the happiness and
well-being of another human soul, regardless of their
behavior, with no thought to any results for ourselves,
this is when love really means something.

In the case of a deep and nourishing friendship, the
efforts of conscious love are necessary to sustain the
relationship throughout the years. A marriage, however,
requires even more. A marriage requires all three kinds of
love. But it is only the Mind's conscious effort to
steadfastly love even our 'enemies', to will ourselves to
love the Beloved even in the most trying of moments, that
can fan the fires of our physical desire and emotional
passion and keep them burning year after year.

Our ancestors, at least in theory, understood this idea far
better than we do. They arranged the marriages of their
children, and then taught them (or perhaps just forced them
by trial and error to learn for themselves) how to create
an active and long lasting love. It did not always succeed,
but many of these marriages were filled with contentment
and joy as two strangers learned how to love one another.
Today, we base our marriages on emotionally 'falling in
love', which certainly seems more fair and more romantic.
But no one ever teaches us how to love our partners
actively and consciously so that love can continue to
blossom and to grow, rather than to passively deteriorate.
Without this knowledge and ability, most marriages are
doomed to fail, since a solely emotional 'love' (which is
really just a demand to be loved) eventually evokes its
opposite: that is, it evokes resentment in return.

As Christ realized, it is only conscious love, a selfless
love that does not demand anything in return, that
paradoxically evokes love in return.


About the Author:

Dr. Andrew Cort, D.C., J.D., is a Teacher, an Attorney, and
a Doctor of Chiropractic. His books include "Return to
Meaning: The American Psyche in Search of its Soul" (this
article is an excerpt), "The Song of Songs: A Lover's
Poetic Dialogue", and "From Joshua to Jesus". To read Free
Excerpts, to order books, and to find out about Talks and
Seminars, visit http://www.andrewcort.com . Dr. Cort lives
in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.