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Notes On Love – 2/10/2013

There is a famous passage in the first letter attributed to John, one of the books of the Christian bible, that contains the line, “We love because He first loved us.”[i] The ‘He’ in this case is God. Now here in this place we have a variety of different views on the bible, not all of us consider ourselves to be Christians, not all of us believe in God. And yet, these words contain a powerful insight that all of us need to remember.

Love begets love. We learn how to love from other people loving us. Love yearns to grow and to spread, so that the love we feel for anyone else – our parents, our siblings, our children, our friends, our selves – that love becomes a training ground. How we treat the people we care most about should be our practice for how we treat everyone else as well. But hate and fear and indifference also have the same ability to expand in our hearts, so that we need to be constantly moving our relationships in a loving direction.

Now, that word, love, is among the most worn-out and over-used in our society, so that it is all-too easy for people to just ignore it when they hear it. It is simple enough to pretend that it has no real meaning because it has been used in so many different ways to mean so many different things. But I want to tell you that love – the real

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stuff, the good stuff – has four dimensions to it. There are four pieces that make up what love really is, and they are: compassion, connection, appreciation and commitment.

Compassion I would think would be a pretty obvious one. It just means being able to care about and appreciate how someone feels. You can’t love someone and have no understanding of or concern for their feelings, and when you do love somebody, it can be frightening how strongly you feel their happiness and sadness along with them. When you’re sick in bed and you feel lousy and your dog comes over and jumps up on the bed with you and just wants to lie there like her tummy is hurting too; that’s compassion.

The second part of love, connection, is very similar, and the two often go together. Connection is the awareness that what happens to the other person will also affect you. Your stories weave together to the point that you are actually sharing the same story. You can’t ignore them, and they can’t ignore you. I said that this is very similar to compassion, but it isn’t quite the same. Compassion without connection just leads to pity or distant charity: you know how the other person feels, you might even care a little bit, but the depths of what they’re experiencing don’t create the same deep feelings in you. And of course, connection without compassion can most easily be summarized in the way most Red Sox fans feel about the New York Yankees. There is a profound personal interest in what happens to them, but that does not mean that they are rooting for the other team to succeed.

Connection and compassion paired together are powerful, but that’s not everything that makes up love. Because loving someone means more than just caring about them – it means appreciating them. It means that you can find in them things to celebrate, to cherish, and to learn from. In your daughter’s dance recital, your uncle’s highly doubtable fishing stories, your best friend’s dream of releasing a country western album – in all of these things you can find surprising wonder and gladness when viewed through loving eyes.

The final requirement for love – the thing that lets you know that it is not some other combination of emotions at work – is commitment. Love endures, it lasts. Over time it can change and it can be defeated here and there if it is treated badly enough. But it takes a long time, and while love is felt, it is not a casual, passive force. It guides the way we act, and the way we are in the world, so it is not easily exchanged for something else and it is not a short term thing. As the poet said, even just last week, “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it.”

Each week, in this sanctuary, we remind each other that love is the spirit of this church. It is a sentiment we get from the larger movement of which we are a part, our faith whose national social justice campaign is called, ‘Standing on the Side of Love’. That loyalty is, for us, supposed to be greater than any other. But we weren’t born on the finish line – it takes work. It takes attention to each of the relationships in our lives so that every one of them can be defined less and less by fear or expedience or our own ego, and more and more by love.

This makes for many challenges: being kind and gentle towards our own selves and towards those closest to us. Finding things to value in people who frustrate or frighten us, or who are simply different than we are. And holding on to the sense of connection we have, expanding it as wide as we can and letting it guide us even and especially when the going gets tough. We love because someone – a great many someones, in most of our cases – loved us first. It is up to us to continue that great chain of compassion, connection, affection and commitment. To learn to love one another and ourselves as best we can, and to pass that learning on to as many people in this world as possible.



[i] 1 John 4:19

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First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915

978-922-3968

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