I love this amazing thing we call the Internet. What an amazing opportunity it gives us to be introduced to individuals we may not have otherwise met! Joni McClain is a fabulous writer, an inspiring artist, and someone I am thrilled to have met along this journey. This article is re-posted with Joni’s permission. The original article can be found here. Enjoy! -Mandy
Love and Ordinary Spirituality
By Joni McClain
This topic just won’t leave me alone. It hardly ever does. Even this rainy lazy beautiful Saturday morning when I’m itching to resume catching up on Downton Abbey (shouldn’t the adorable Jessica Brown-Findlay play Bette in a flashback version of The L Word – the College Years? … and I’m just on the ep from season one wherein Lady Sybil scandalously wears trousers to dinner, but I digress.)
Anyhoo, as Valentine’s Day rolled by last month, I wondered how many of us bothered to use the day to reflect on and express what love and relationship is beyond the typical? The Greeks gave us four words for love:
Eros – derived from the Greek God “Eros” meaning physical gratification, physical love and sexual desire. It is, incidentally, inferred in the Biblical scriptures as the only kind of love that God restricts to a “one-man, one-woman relationship within the bounds of marriage” – ahem… however the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato argue that eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty. It contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth that leads humans to feel erotic desire. It suggests that even that sensually-based love aspires to the spiritual plane of existence; finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence.
Storge – very simply, meaning the love for family members or children. It also expresses love as a practice of acceptance or tolerance such as “Love thine enemy.”
Philia – friendship or affectionate love. Aristotle conceived it as a dispassionate and virtuous love. It requires virtue, familiarity, and equality. It can also mean love of an activity such as “I love watching Downton Abbey” or, more appropriately, “I love learning about love.”
Agape – a deeper and truer sense of love than “eros.” It’s considered the highest and greatest expression of love. Biblically, it would be the love one feels for God. It’s the word used for “true love” rather than the experience one has of “eros.” It’s that rich feeling of content, and holding one in the highest regard.
If you had a special someone to spend Valentine’s Day with, then you probably had an experience of some eros love. If you have children, I bet you participated in some storge. Did you wish a friend Happy Valentine’s Day? Philia happened. Finally, did you spend a moment feeling happy and content for the love you had in your life – regardless of its form? You experienced agape.
Sometimes I get a feeling we miss out on the expansive experience of love – which is likely the single most and most simple way to express “ordinary” spirituality with one another. It’s the driving force that compels us to connect with one another, reach out, do good and be good.
What if we stop for a minute and unpack the experience of agape? Agape sometimes doesn’t just involve seeing the rich beauty of the happy seamlessness of our current and/or past relationships. At times it involves the act of appreciating the parts that are not beautiful or seamless. It’s a leap, and a far reach at times, to appreciate the imperfection of our current love relationships, much less appreciate the previous relationships we’ve had that didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. However when we do experience agape love, the pictures we have about the way a relationship (or situation) was supposed to be, how long it was supposed to last, what we had hoped to achieve or gain from it or give to it, dissolves into an experience of acceptance (which, I want to point out, is not the same as tolerance.)
Author, filmmaker and “spiritualist” Jeff Brown tells us:
“We must be under no illusion that all soul mates are meant to last a lifetime. Some are only meant to last a moment. That brief soul gaze with a ‘stranger’ at the grocery store that reminded you of your own essence was just right. That unexpected weekend encounter that set your spirit to soar is perfect. That great love that walked away after cracking your heart open was just what the soul doctor ordered. Whatever you need to smooth the rough diamond of the soul. No matter how long they last, profound connections paint pictures of possibility in the sky, expanding our lens for all eternity.”
“Whatever you need to smooth the rough diamond of the soul.” To me, that’s agape love. It’s “whatever we need to smooth the rough diamond of the soul.” I’m not suggesting (and I don’t think Jeff Brown is either) that we are required to experience rejection, or even worse, betrayal or abuse, drug addicted children, war and poverty to smooth the rough diamond of the soul – but we just might need to love these kind of situations for how they can help us to flex our muscles of forgiveness, how they can teach us where we’re coming up short on loving and taking care of ourselves, and what we need to do to affect change in our own relationships, lives and society at large.
Agape love is also not determined by circumstances or an object of desire. It’s a “rich feeling of content, and holding someone/something in the highest regard.” It’s an experience that we cultivate within ourselves, and sometimes, we find ourselves taking action on it. It’s the sort of love that doesn’t require an experience or person outside ourselves to make it happen. It’s all our personal doing, and cultivating it can be easier than you think.
If you think I’m nuts for suggesting that the experience of love starts within you, have a look at the studies done by the Institute of HeartMath. The Institute of HeartMath has done extensive studies on the impact that this sort of “thinking” can have on “experiencing heightened levels of psychophysiological coherence.” The way you feel in your heart really can reach the brain of another person.
So next time you want to experience more love, take a moment to be still and imagine something you appreciate. Imagining our appreciation of pets is one of the most effective ways of putting ourselves in the experience of feeling content. (And don’t we lesbians love our cats and dogs?) Maybe you had a good time last night being out with friends. What about an experience at work when you felt accomplished and successful? When we try this exercise, we’re affecting our own moods, and our own ability to share in loving others.
And if we choose to see it that way, there really is a rich world filled with love for each of us to experience. If it’s enjoying an episode of Downton Abbey, having an unexpected weekend encounter, offering a dollar to the homeless man on the street corner, treating ourselves with the utmost care when we’ve been betrayed, signing a Valentine to give to our four year old, or a retreat to the warm bed on a rainy weekend with our beloved of many years, love is an act of spirituality that everyone shares, and it really does make the world go round.
Joni McClain is a chaplain, actor, director, and photographer in Austin TX. Whether it’s chaplain-ing, acting, directing or taking photographs, the heart of Joni’s ideal work is to wholeheartedly explore herself, others, the world and the human condition. Joni believes through inspiration and encouragement, we can experience the truth of who we are, our connections, joy, love, vulnerability, and delight. She is committed to supporting others in cultivating their own authenticity in the world.