Four Loves

Last week I finished C. S. Lewis’ classic examination of love. In his book, Four Loves, Lewis lays out love with the help of the ancient Greeks. They defined love as Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape – this last one, Agape, is known in Christianity as Charity. Let’s take a moment to see these loves through Lewis’ eyes, then wonder with St. Peter and Jesus how we may respond to love in all its forms.

Storge may be translated into “Affection” – “affection, especially of parents to offspring”; but also of offspring to parents. Thinking about infancy, a child is completely dependent on the mother for nourishment, comfort, and care. Paradoxically, the mother is also dependent upon the little one. She’s dependent on her child through the maternal need to give of herself. It’s a love that needs to be needed joined to the need-love of the child[1].

Storge, Lewis argues, can also be attributed to things other than humans. For example, we can have affection towards our pets, nature, our country, town, or parish. We sometimes hear people say that they love pizza, a movie, or chocolate. All these types of affections are considered storge love – again, affectionate love.

Next comes friendship, or “Philia.” Here, Lewis gives us a contrasting image of lovers and friends. With lovers, we may picture them gazing into one another’s eyes. They are face-to-face. With friendship, however, friends are side-by-side with their eyes fixed ahead.[2]They don’t look ahead at different objects, but stare at the same thing. It’s like going to a concert and you bump into someone you half-heartedly knew, and you look at each and seem to say, “You too? You like this band? I thought I was the only one.” And here begins the friendship where the bond strengthens because of a common interest, love, or desire.

Lewis quotes Emerson who quoted Jesus’ question to Peter found in our Gospel reading this morning, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[3] Friends are the ones who after being apart for weeks, months, or even years pick up the conversation, the argument, the discussion where it was left. Time passes, but the common pursuit holds fast.

The next love is Eros which Lewis says is the “state which we call “being in love”; or, if you prefer, that kind of love which lovers are “in.” Where we might have a flexible amount of friends and affections, with eros, we discriminate and are distinct. Lewis writes, “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman.”[4] In our own prayer book’s marriage rite, the woman consents to the man, and the man to the woman when they say they will love, comfort, honor and keep one another in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful to this one as long as they both shall live.[5] Theologically, the marriage rite points to the “mystical…union between God and Man,” the Incarnation – or Christ, the bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. Ultimately, Christ as groom gave his life for the bride, the Church, so that she may have new life in him.

The fourth and final love Lewis speaks of is Charity or Agape. For Lewis, Agape love is grace-filled. If storge, philia, and eros are natural loves, then agape is supernatural. It comes from outside ourselves, and we participate in this love like playing with a new gift. We’re surprised by this love, mystified by this love, and forever grateful when we get hints of it – or see it out of the corner of our eye. The great Biblical example of receiving this type of love is the divine fiat of Our Lady in the Annunciation, “Let it be unto me according to thy will.” Listen to Lewis again, “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”[6] Mother Mary would later learn that her own heart would be pierced like a sword because of her sorrows…because of her charity towards her Son, and thus God.

These are the four loves of antiquity, and in today’s Gospel, the writer plays with half of them. There’s a conversation between Peter and Jesus using agape and philia.

“Do you agape me, Peter?” Yes, you know that I philia you.”

Jesus begins with the highest form of love, a love that is unconditional. He invites Peter into its company. Perhaps it’s too much to ask at this point because Peter desires friendship. I love you like a friend, he might have said. The second time Jesus asks the same question. Peter answers the same way. “I love you like a friend.” Then something amazing happens. It shouldn’t surprise us and at the same time it’s a bit haunting. Jesus asks Peter for the last time, not “Do you love me unconditionally (agape),” but Do you love me like a friend? In other words, Jesus meets Peter where he is in his Philia love. Quoting Lewis again who was quoting Emerson, Do you love me? which means “Do you see the same truth? – Or at least, “Do you care about the same truth?”[7] Peter, answering in the affirmative, is now charged with “tending” and “feeding” Jesus’ sheep. In other words, learning to love others as Christ loves Him. And how did Christ love him? As a friend who laid down his life for him. The scriptures go on to tell us what kind of death Peter would have. It would be a death where he too laid down his life for his friends, and perhaps before then, receiving the divine gift of agape love, of unconditional cooperative love that wills the good of the other.

This week, why not meditate on love? Perhaps you may read 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes called the love chapter in the Bible. Maybe 1 John chapter 4 where John boldly claims that God is Love. Those of you who are married, why not pick up the prayer book and together read the marriage liturgy within it. This week, look for the various nuances of the four loves, and laugh at yourself when you find one. Be surprised by love this week.

[1]                The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis (HarperOne: New York, 2017), 763.

[2]                Ibid., 786.

[3]                Ibid., 786.

[4]                Ibid., 805.

[5]                The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 424

[6]                Ibid., Lewis, 824.

[7]                Ibid., 786

Listening for the Voice of God

On page 853 in The Book of Common Prayer there is a question: Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God? The prayer book answers this question in the following way: We call [the Holy Scriptures] the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible. I stumbled upon an interesting picture this week. It was one where a young man sat anxiety laden, body stiffened, and hands tightly clasped at his breakfast table. Opposite the table laid a closed Bible. The caption below the picture angrily asked the question, “Why won’t you speak to me God?” Perhaps God was wondering a similar question in regards to the young man; that is, Why aren’t you listening to me, dear one? If we are to believe the Church when she says the human authors of the Bible were inspired by God, and that God still speaks to us through its poetry, prose, Gospels, letters, history, laws, and stories, then this tells us at least two things. One, be open to God’s inspiration both in yourself and of others. Two, open your Bibles and read them. Don’t leave them sitting at breakfast tables gathering dust. The truth is that God still speaks to us through God’s creation and through God’s inspired Word. We might even take that extra step reminding ourselves The Word of God was made flesh – that is, Jesus Christ is the personified Word of God whom still speaks to us today if we have the ears to hear him, the experience to see him in the other, and continue to listen for his voice throughout Holy Scripture.

When I was in the eighth grade I was inspired to read through the Bible in a year. This was all made possible by a trend in Christian publishing houses of the 1990’s – mainly, a resource entitled, The One Year Bible. One Year Bibles were very popular then; the covers coming in a variety of primary colors, the text in an assortment of translations – NIV, NKJV, KJV, NRSV – to name a few. Southern Baptist Churches at the time were preaching and teaching out of the New International Version, so my parents purchased an NIV One Year Bible for me on my birthday. All I had to do was wait until January 1st and start. I don’t know where the inspiration came to read through the entirety of the Bible in a year, but looking back I do remember being in a Bible study class where it was mandatory that certain Bible verses be memorized weekly. The very first Bible verse of those lessons was Psalm 119:11. I still remember it, and even have a memory of the room I was asked to recite the verse in. The Psalm was not in the NIV or NRSV translations, but the King James. Psalm 119:11 had the poet proclaiming to God, “Thy Word have I treasured in my heart that I may not sin against Thee.” It’s a verse that has been with me ever since. The poet’s words usually surface at times in my life where life is really giving me (or someone I love) a real beating. When my heart is open enough to listen to God speaking to me, I usually hear God’s voice through a Psalm here or a Gospel passage there. Nowadays prayers from the prayer book bubble up as well as the Our Father or even the Hail Mary. When God speaks to me through the ancient words of the Bible or from the prayers of His Church – that Psalm – Psalm 119:11 usually comes to mind after my anxieties have finally fallen away, and my soul has been restored. “Thy Word have I treasured in my heart that I may not sin against Thee” is then delivered to God in a prayer of thanksgiving, and with a spirit of gratefulness. I’m thankful that God was and is with me even in the valley of the shadow of death, and acknowledging his presence with that simple verse from the Psalms turns my head and gives attention to the virtue of joy even in the midst of sorrow.

As I have matured in the faith I have recently found God’s Holy Word in God’s Holy People. I am thankful for spiritual friendships, fellow disciples of Christ, and strangers and neighbors disguised as Jesus himself (Matt 25:35-36). It hasn’t always been this way. I used to find comfort, solace, and relationship with God only through the Bible and a few close friends or relatives here and there. St. Paul’s metaphor of the Church as The Body of Christ was always abstract to me. I felt and experienced the power of its image; and yet, couldn’t fully grasp it. Intentional life within a parish community has broadened Paul’s imagery for me, and the gifts of God found in the people of God help point to a larger lesson of love – that is, all were created in the image of God so that when we see, experience, live, and love one another, we see, experience, live, and love Christ’ body in the world. If this is the case, then “Thy word I have treasured in my heart” is the word of the Lord witnessed in Holy Scripture and within one another – the Body of Christ, the Church. With that insight, getting to know my Bible is just as important as getting to know my neighbor. Both introduce and reintroduce me to new life found in Jesus Christ. Both remind me of the faithful promises of God. Both remind me that God is always reliable when I am near to peace, and when I am far off (Eph 2:17).

This week, dust off your Bible and get to know God through it. Starting with the Psalms or St. John’s Gospel are always good places to begin again. If reading God’s Holy Word is a constant practice of yours, try listening to God’s Holy Word in a stranger, a neighbor, a friend, or even an enemy knowing all were and are created in His Image. In doing these two things – seeking inspiration in God’s Word and one another – you are living out the two commandments Jesus said were the greatest; that is, love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mk 12:30-31). Treasure these relationships in your heart; and joy (even in the midst of sorrow) will be near.

In The End Love Remains


MawMaw and I dancing at my cousin Tony’s wedding a few years back

Romans 6:12-23

When those who are close to us die, or are actively dying all the pettiness of life with its distractions and annoyances are disregarded like a heavy coat. The living suddenly awaken to shed inconsequential irritations in the name of love. This may be the last lesson from the dying to the living. When those whom we love have died, reflecting on all our silly habits, the way we spend our time, and the people we have ignored or left unforgiven are all revealed. The dead and dying gift us with new, living eyes that expose our trivial ways. In the end, we are all left with nothing just as we had nothing upon entering into life. Why do we spend large amounts of time, energy, and money seeking things that will pass away? In the end, love remains. Love brought us into the world and it stays with us in the end.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul is promoting new life; but this new life – this new beginning – is only revealed when we have bumped up and against death. When we face death, we see the things we should have seen all along. We remember love. We see beauty. We experience gratefulness, and even regret. The regret (I suppose) comes from bumping up against the truth – the truth that love was always there, and is always an option. It is not inconsequential. Being able to see these things anew can make one regretful of their past sins.

Christians believe that Christ’s death was and is a gift. His death is a gift because we are asked to join him in his death, and in doing so we get to shed those parts of ourselves that keep us from loving – that keep us from His Love. The good news of Jesus Christ is that death is not the end, but a new beginning in Him. Just as Christ has died, we will die (in him) but just as Christ has risen – we too are called to newness of life. St. Paul put this way, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). What Paul may be saying here is that we can do nothing apart from God. God is with us when we are dying, dead, and done. God is with us when we are living, alive, and experiencing life eternal. We cannot get away so why not choose life (in Him); and if we choose this life Paul says we are set free. Free to love. Free to forgive. Free to be forgiven. Again, all our pettiness passes away and the road to freedom is made clearer.

What then, do we do when we remember the freedom of Christ and at the same time forget it? Paul answers this with a fancy word. He says, the advantage…is sanctification (Romans 6:22). Sanctification defined is simply being made holy in and by and through God. In other words, you can’t be made holy on your own. Holiness comes from God; therefore, we are only holy when God’s holiness is shining and showing through us. This may be Paul’s argument in a nutshell, but what does it mean for us today?

I believe it leaves us with two choices: To get busy dying, or to get busy living. For Christians, however, these two choices become one reality when we realize we are constantly dying to ourselves in order to experience more of the eternal found within us. This is what’s called a life in Christ. Christ unites the dead to the living and at the same time transcends both. So again: What does this mean for us? Here in lies the brilliance of God: It has nothing to do with “us” and everything to do with Christ. In other words, God is asking “us” to get out of the way, and to be receptive to his love, forgiveness, mercy, and sanctification. This is such a hard lesson because we always want to do something. St. Paul is saying we don’t do anything; instead, we let go, and let God.

On Friday, I personally had a let go and let God moment or two. I got a call from my Mom letting me know that MawMaw (my 99-year-old maternal grandmother) was having post-operative complications. She was non-responsive; her blood pressure was dangerously low, and nobody (including the doctors) knew if she was going to pull through. Listening to my Mom’s retelling of her last 24 hours put me into two different mindsets. One was that MawMaw was simply ready to go. She had lived an amazingly full life, and her time was immanent. The other thought was more selfish: What about her 100th birthday party? So many people, including MawMaw, are so looking forward to it, but like the above example that referred to choices of life and death these too were transcended in Christ, and I remembered God’s transcending power. I remembered that ultimately these things have nothing to do with me, and everything to do with God.

This afternoon, Henry and I are driving to Texas. For Henry, it’s a planned trip where he will get to see his MeMe and Papa. For me, it’s an unplanned trip where I may be saying a last goodbye to my MawMaw or not. As of yesterday, she has perked up and is doing better. Also, we still have plans to celebrate her 100th birthday in August, but for now thanksgiving and gratefulness are made present in my heart, and what will be will be when August 20th rolls around. In fact, what will be will be at any old time. This whole experience has awakened me to pay a bit more attention to the things that matter most in my life. It has also given me the chance to reflect on my own life and to focus on what’s important and what to let go. Finally, it has allowed a part of me to fall away and to remember that it is not all about me. It’s about Christ, and relying on him to do what he always does: To hold the balance of life and death in Himself, yet transcending it all, awakening the heart to trustworthiness in His Love.

MawMaw&Henry MawMaw and my son, Henry, in her sunroom