Saturday, 8 September 2012

About love

A few days ago, Gail posted in a comment:
“I've been thinking a lot about loving others lately and sometimes I find it doesn't come easily to me. I like most people but haven't quite got the love bit yet. Of course it's easy to love family and friends but the person I don't know; well it's difficult. Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and how you manage it.”

That really caught my attention, because as it happened we’d been sitting round talking about this very thing in our household just the day before.

I wish we had more than one word for “love” in English, because I think it isn’t helpful that we have this command from Jesus to “love one another”, as clearly nobody can be commanded to experience the deep and abiding visceral affection that “love” means to us.

So here is a digest of what we thought and said here – though now I can’t remember who said what; and then thoughts of my own.

It all started because someone mentioned a recent visit by the Wretched Wretch to our household, touching upon the habit he has developed of saying to us, quite often and quite sincerely, “I love you.”  This is not just a learned jingle for him, he really means it: “I love you, Mumble, very much,” he’ll say.

Talk moved around what he meant by it (The Wretched Wretch is three), and the consensus settled on the evaluation that he was describing a passing impulse of affection, a warm upwelling of positive emotion.  In a different mood he was given to saying “I hate you,” but discovered that didn’t go down too well with his mama.

So, “I love you” at three years old might mean “Here in this moment my soul opens to you, I feel a bond with you, I feel affection towards you”: one of the “warm and fuzzies” the Transactional Analysis people used to talk about. 

Before this emotion and its articulation can begin, other kinds of love – or other kinds of expression of love – have to happen.  His mother’s endless patience with him (this is not an especially easy child), her self-sacrifice in doing everything for him, being unfailingly kind and gentle with him, sitting up nights with him, always being there for him, giving up so much for him.  That’s love.  When he comes to our home, we don’t always feel like seeing him of course, but he is always, always welcome.  Toys and books are provided for him, and a sandpit and juice and cookies, space to play.  Sometimes – eg in a church home group – he has been somewhat inconvenient as a guest, not noticeably in sync with anything else going on; even so he was unquestionably included, always welcome.  That’s also love. 

So love as we commonly mean it sometimes has warm and fuzzy emotion attached to it, sometimes not.  His warm and fuzzy feelings towards us are rooted in the compost of the patient kindness of his mother and the welcome he receives with us.  Thus love doesn’t always feel warm and fuzzy but does produce warm and fuzzies at times.  Sometimes we look at him and think, “Awww – you’re so sweet”; and sometimes we don’t.

Then there’s adult to adult love.  The keyword here is “appropriate”.  Love is not love that feeds off another in neediness.  A mother might L O V E her son – insisting on endless attention, in competition with his wife, furious if he forgets her birthday.  Is that in fact love?  She thinks so, I don’t.  Without respect, without boundaries, without firebreaks, love goes rotten.

I love my (now adult) children.  I would do anything for them, but I don’t do everything for them, if you see what I mean.  “Appropriate”: that’s the word.

But there’s another thing that became the focus of our conversation here about love.  Our family . . . well  . . . we are not (any of us) the clingy type.

People think of love as outgoing, as attachment, as affection.  Love is portrayed and expressed in hugs and kisses, in touch and contact and time (lots and lots and lots of it) spent together, in gazing into each other’s eyes and doing things together, in saying “I love you” and multiple other endearments.

In our family a different rif is strumming.  Something like “Love me but leave me in peace”.  Yes, we love each other, and that is understood.  But we are all people who value – need – solitude; space to think and breathe and be.

In the near future Alice has to go to hospital to have her wisdom tooth surgically removed.  The Badger will take her and collect her.  Hebe will go with her, staying with her until she is safely home.  Here, we will all watch over her and get her everything she needs.  In that way, we will love her.  But I’d be surprised if any of us ever said to her “Alice I love you” in her entire life.

And in my marriage (and the one before and the one before that), sure, it’s a sacramental covenant relationship to be honoured until death.  Within that, the aim is to make home a sanctuary of welcome and peace, a refuge, a safe place to be.  But I don’t need a husband.  I’m glad I’m married, but if I leaned too heavily what will happen if he moves – falls ill, becomes disabled, dies?  Responsible love, in my view, stands on its own feet.  There are times when our relationship can be turbulent or when big spaces open up between us, but even then we are vowed until death do us part, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, as long as we both shall live.  That’s non-negotiable, for me - and for the Badger.  Tomorrow is our sixth wedding anniversary. We are not always warm and fuzzy, but we are in it for the long haul.  Even so, nothing lasts forever.  At the very least, one day one of us will die.  Too intertwined a soul life is not wise even if it is wonderful.  But maybe I say that because I have the kind of soul that does not entwine?  I look at people’s gushing about their husband – “my hero” etc – and think “Really?  OK.”  I am at a loss.  That is not my kind of love.  I am a cat that walks alone.  I do not readily or often feel love, as the Wretched Wretch does.  But I would give anything (appropriate) and do anything (appropriate) for the ones God has entrusted to me.

So then we come on to loving our neighbour.  “And who is my neighbour?” someone asked Jesus long ago.

Jesus went on to expand the concept of “neighbour” beyond what I have talked about here – those close to us, those we know, those who belong to us, part of our circle. 

In some ways, the less immediate the relationship, the harder to ascertain what is appropriate – what is, therefore, in an adult sense, “love”.

There are some countries far away which need huge support.  Decimated by famine, AIDS, war, unscrupulous government, the lives of ordinary people hang by a thread.  So I wonder, is it right to mop up the consequences of civil war with overseas aid?  Doesn’t that encourage the citizens of the country to export responsibility?  But then someone says the international politics are complicated.  That colonialisation and free trade rules favouring us and disadvantaging them underlie the causation of war.  That dispossession from multi-national conglomerates whose products we consume have impoverished the land, the people and caused the wars.  And I hesitate, confused.  Then I look at their dictators with their tanks and guns and limousines and palaces – and I ask myself if perhaps that country doesn’t need to get its priorities straight internally.  Is foreign aid only confusing the issue?  But then I discover that why we are so much richer than they are is because we manufacture and sell them the arms that their people have used against each other.  And I see the stick-thin limbs, the bloated bellies, the huge eyes full of despair, and all I know is these people need lots and lots and lots of what I have very little of to give.  In such circumstances, which one among so many that I cannot reach is my neighbour, and how can I possibly help her, when she is so very far away?  What is love, what is appropriate, in such a case?

In our actual household, we give according to our means as we think best.  I give just a little each month to MRDF, the Badger gives hundreds of pounds regularly and often to support a young African woman through university.  She calls him “Daddy”, and not without cause.  But their despair, which I share, is greater and more powerful than my love.  Their despair is a flood and my love but a drop in its ocean.  If my love for these people might be measured by the sorrow I feel when I see them (and then turn away) it might be something.

I think Jesus, in telling us to love our neighbour, was onto something.  He meant (I think) that if a person has in any sense entered our lives, to that extent they become, in a sense, our responsibility.  If they have showed up in our lives, we are family.  There’s some good stuff about this in the Ho’oponopono teaching. Um . . . let me look . . .

This explains it somewhat.

The Ho’oponopono approach is a prayer (expressive of a sincere inner intention):
I’m sorry
Please forgive me
Thank you
I love you
which is repeated (internally) over and over as a mantra to soak its good vibes into any situation exhibiting dysfunctionality or distress, to clean away the accretions of disharmony and bring all to peace.  One doesn’t have to feel any emotion in praying it, just send it forth with the true intention of one’s soul, trusting that it will find its application because on the plane of reality there is continuity, there are no divisions.  It’s jolly good and (to put it crudely) it works.  It proceeds on the understanding that we are all one, that there is no separation, so I can address within myself what I see in you, and that if something – anything, anyone – shows up in my life in any sense, I am empowered to take responsibility for it and address it.  That doesn’t mean everything is my fault – whose fault things are is immaterial, blame is just one more part of the problem.  But to heal things, you take responsibility for them – this is what Jesus does, in his work on the Cross.

My thought have got tangled and it’s lunchtime, so that’s enough for now.


365 366 Day 252 – Saturday September 8th 
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

 A couple of duster things.  But we have several others.  We aren’t that focused on dusting.


Anonymous said...

What is love?

All you have said here resonates within my heart Pen.

Love is not clingy. It is not demanding. It is not dependent. It does not hold grudges. It is not cruel. It does not expect anything back. Love is exactly what Paul described in 1Corinthians 13.

Oh Pen...what a can of worms you have opened up here. I was abused physically by my parents when I was a child, and yet, whey they say they 'love' me, I become a bit confused when they say that.

It is hard for me to accept this kind of love, and even now, as I continue to study and allow Christ to show me what true love is, I remember those moments of pain...and ask Him...did they truly love me? No, I don't believe they did, because they still do not understand the love of the Bible.

This is love to me Pen. The love of Christ...His life, His example, is my standard of love. It is how I react to I love them.

When you love others, it can not be with what you expect back, but instead what can you give them.

I can go on...and on, my friend.

As always, your words, your example speaks so loudly and it is heard, my friend. Loud and clear.


Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hello friend. God bless your living and your loving, God lift you up and fill you with His peace. xx

Sandra Ann said...

I know i'm going to re-read this when i'm not so tired as there is such a lot to ponder!

From my own experience and faith journey, two things I have carried with me that true love is a sacrifice - we only have to look at Jesus on the cross and the other that, it is an act of the will - very similar to the prayer mantra at the end.

Thanks for sharing


Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friend :0) Thanks for your good thoughts x

Anonymous said...

I wish my mother had told me that she loved me when I was young. My mother was very, very strict which meant that I only saw her in her role as a disciplinarian. Her attitude towards my younger sister was much more loving. (Yet I was always the 'good girl' - too afraid to be naughty like my sister.) Other family members and friends of my parents have told me that this wasn't in my imagination - they could see it too. Now my mum is 75 and I've never been able to tell her how hurtful her attitude was. It's too late now and would just cause upset in her later years.
I know you are a much kinder mother to your children and that you hava an open and honest relationship with them, but I still think that it would be good to tell them that you love them. Just now and again.

Bean said...

Ember I found comfort and confirmation in your words. I too believe that the neighbors we are called to love are those brought into our life. I have many opportunities to "love my neighbor" simply because I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend, and within those circles I always have opportunity to love and to be loved throughout the days of my life. As you noted it is unfortunate that in the English language we only have one word for love.

Thank you for a thought provoking post, and you are good at provoking thought that is for sure :) I LOVE it!


Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Thank you for your good thoughts, friends - I so much value the wise and insightful comments here. x

Rebecca said...

The quote from the Trilogy that stood out to me this afternoon was that from Mother re. Father Matthew trying so hard to be good that he forgot to be kind. (I think it rather relates to this thought-provoking post of yours....)

I'm finding so much pleasure in reading this. Having spent a week of silence at Gethsemane a couple of years ago, I have a sort of setting in which to place Abbot Peregrine, etc.

I'm VERY curious to know what (if anything) of The Hawk and the Dove come out of your own experience....

I'm not that focused on dusting either :)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Rebecca

When I wrote the original Hawk & Dove trilogy, my children were very small. I have five daughters. They were all born within a space of 6 years, not spaced out like the ones in the trilogy, but the very first book, the one actually called "The Hawk & the Dove" I wrote partly so they could have the delight of finding themselves in a book. My second child's name is Grace, but her middle name is Melissa. Some but not all the incidents in the modern frame-tale are drawn from our family life, and the ones that are fictional might have happened and are representative of how our life actually was.
When the first one was first published, the lady who edited it described the modern part as cosy family life set in Edwardian times, and thought I'd have done better to make it more "gritty" and set it in one of the poorer regions of inner London (Tower Hamlets was what she said - UK folk will know of the area). She and I were not really on the same wavelength, so I just vaguely resisted the suggestion without going into the explanation that this was not an Edwardian setting, it was our family now, and that the "cosiness" was a hard-won discipline of peace practised in the face of a persisting financial shortfall.
Out house was a small three-bedroomed row house on the top of a hill in Hastings on the south coast of England. As well as me and my husband, five kids, two dogs and two cats, we had a changing procession of lodgers - a teenager who'd attempted suicide and had nowhere to go when he came out of hospital, a young man just starting out leaving home, a prisoner with nowhere to go on his release.
We never locked our house and from spring to autumn our doors stood open. Coming home, we never knew who we'd find there. We never locked our car either - homeless people slept in it overnight - we'd find their cigarette butts in the ashtray in the morning. My husband kept his dog-walking coat in the back of the car, and it was gone one morning - but a few days later we found it neatly folded on our doorstep. The car was stolen, but only once, and it broke down before it reached the end of the road.
Sorry for nostalgia - your question brought back so many memories!!
I did used to wear a voluminous blue skirt (as the mother in the book did). But we went to the Methodist chapel, the church in the book is based on the one I went to when I was a child.
The details about Yorkshire relatives are from my own life.
The conversation about the "orang-utan pie" did actually happen - that was our Alice :0)
So historical detail as all woven in with stories made up to expound a point or start a theme.
As to the monastic stories - I have lived with, and dearly loved, both monks and nuns, and based my life on lessons learned from their spirituality and the spirituality of this community:

Hope all that self-indulgent reminiscing is interesting and not too tedious!! x

gail said...

Hi Ember,
Thank you so much for this post. I also feel that the English word love is completely inadequate when defining the love Jesus was referring to. I enjoyed reading about the way your family express their love for one another.
As I stated before I find it difficult to love a stranger, however over the last little while I have been trying to understand how I can make this part of my life's journey. I've come to the conclusion that it's not a me thing, it's a God thing and I can love them by loving Him. I may not be explaining this well but because I want to do His will I am able to look beyond the word and take myself out of the equation and then I can do what needs to be done.
You have given much food for thought and I appreciate that you took the time to respond.
Blessings Gail

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Gail :0)

Yes, I find this a tricky one too, because I am not outgoing at all and prefer to avoid all forms of socialising - it's hard to figure out how to love people while crossing the street to avoid them!!
So I do my best, by writing books etc, to put goodness into the life of strangers. I have no idea what God thinks about this - if it meets His criteria or not - and I worry about that sometimes; but hey.

Rebecca said...

Your response "tedious"? Never! I suspected there was a bit of "you" in the precious home life depicted on the pages I've just read.

Thank you for taking the time to give me some of the background. My appreciation for what I've just read is quadrupled (at least).

I can't wait for evening to come so I can begin the second book.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) x

Anonymous said...

Another fine post, Penelope. I've been moved to respond at length, so won't go on here. You can find it at

As always, your comments gratefully received.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi Bruce - good to hear from you. I've just spent a happy half hour reading your blog posts on Quaker Plain.
And indeed I am a holy terror - "born to rattle the cage of the Methodist church" was what one ecclesiastical dignitary said, and "like the wrath of God" once said a friend. But I like to think this is an appropriate response to the requirement of the occasion ;0)
I specially liked your thought about love being the core of prana - it made me think of how a candle flame has a heart-colour different from its outer or surrounding colour and the halo of its shine. Maybe the heart colour id love, the main form of the flame is prana and the halo of shine the grace that intermingles easily with the shining of different lights.
God bless your day, friend. I spent a year worshipping with the Quakers in Hastings, loved the silence, loved them, missed the hymns and thoroughgoing Bible teaching of Methodism, and was in the end scared off by the community involvement required (being somewhat of a recluse). But Conservative Friends - indeed Friends in general - are, to me, entirely beautiful.

Pen Wilcock said...

er - sorry- "is" not "id" - better make that clear to a man who deals professionally in such terms!!