Those of us limited to the English language have this word, love, which gets used for loving everything from ourselves to another person, to our families, to our dogs and cats and horses, to our cars and other material things, to the essence of nature itself. And then there’s the religious dimension expressed in various world religions and among indigenous and native people most often referring to a higher power beyond ourselves, different names in different cultures for that creative force that has loved us into being. Yahweh, God, Allah, Shiva or Vishnu, Kami, Shen, Ngai, Jah, Biame, Wakan Tanka, Gtiche Manitou, Waheguru and Zeus, among others. The native people who live in and with the natural world seem to grasp the essence of our being as much or more than most which is why many of us find a measure of peace and joy immersed there.
Using Greek as an example of a language that has at least 4 different words expressing love, a different word is used to describe the kinds of love we express and experience. Here’s a brief “description” of each of these experiences.
Eros – most easily translated as erotic or physical love characterized by deep emotions of attraction and desire, expressed in sexual behaviors and sensual experiences.
Philos – Filial love seen as “brotherly” or “sisterly” love, used for love between family members, between friends, and a desire or enjoyment of an activity.
Storge – that strong bond of love from parents to their children, and vice-versa.
Agape – unconditional love, powerful redeeming love, empathic love and acceptance.
Spanish also has different words and first you have to decide, in context, whether you are using the word as a noun, verb or adjective for each one is applied differently. I prefer an active, dynamic verb rather than a static noun.
One fairly well-known Biblical description of love can be found in Christian Scriptures in the New Testament. This appears in Paul’s first letter to the relatively new church community in Corinth. Apparently the church was struggling and in conflict and Paul wanted to urge them to come together around this common bond of love as he understood it. Corinth is a city in south central Greece about 48 miles west of Athens. The letter was written around 53-54 c.e. and probably delivered by Titus.
Among the myriad problems in the Corinthian church were: claims of spiritual superiority over one another, suing one another in public courts, abusing the communal meal, and sexual misbehavior. (History does repeat itself!). Paul wrote to demand that the early church community in Corinth step up to higher ethical and moral standards. In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word for love used in this letter is agape.
“If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Here is a quote from one of my mentors whom I followed for years and finally met in 1968 in Detroit, one month before he was assassinated in Memphis. He was 39 years old. I was 31.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
And finally, this: “The act of love is the surrender of self into life as it is. This is a love larger than our word “love” can contain or express. It embraces all of life and does not judge: tragedy and war, suffering and joy, creativity and destruction. Beauty. Death. The Other. Within this embrace of life as it is, lie acceptance, forgiveness, healing.” Anne Hillman in “The Dancing Animal Woman.”