I was at a conference a few years ago when I overheard a Hindu scholar laughingly ask a group of Christian theologians; “You know what the problem with Christianity is? And then after a pregnant pause, he answered his own question, “Christian laauve.” Everyone of course laughed heartily.
Well the truth is Christian love is a problem for a lot of people, including Christians. It is a problem in part because of language. Love is the same word an adoring husband might whisper to his beloved wife on a twenty fifth wedding anniversary and is the same word a child might whisper to her puppy. Love is used on the streets for hello, goodbye and in common endearments like “Lov ya man.” You can’t help but wonder if the word has lost its meaning by abuse and overuse?
Another challenge is the word commandment. While the commandments to love your God and to love your neighbor are often considered the foundation of modern Christianity, most people today have a hard time understanding how one can “command” another person to love someone, no matter how good or disciplined one might want to be. We do call this the “great commandment” but as the saying goes, you may be able to get a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink. It becomes progressively more difficult when you realize that Christians are instructed not only love our neighbors, but our enemies as well. For a lot of people including Christians, this just does not make sense.
How many of us chose to practice that kind of unconditional love? The truth of the matter is that far too many of us live out our own brand of the television program, Survivor. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out who is on our side, how are we going to improve our situation, our status or power and even rejoicing, at times, in the fall of another who we believe was against us.
Of course the true meaning of the love passages may be lost in translation. The Greek language, for example, has at least four root words for love; philos, etheleo, agapao and eros. Hebrew has two but Aramaic is an even more basic language. If and when Jesus spoke these words, he may have been speaking in Hebrew but more than likely he was speaking and thinking in Aramaic. Unfortunately we are usually working off texts that were originally spoken in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, translated into Greek, and then translated into English. Western languages have a very different construct than ancient Hebrew or Aramaic.
There seems to be consensus among scholars today, that when Jesus was speaking of something referred to as love in our modern text, in most cases, a better translation would have been compassion.
Marcus Borg referring, to the love commandments, writes in his book Meeting Jesus Again, that in Hebrew as well as Aramaic, the word love would normally be translated as compassion. He continues, “…compassion is the plural of a noun that in its singular form means ‘womb’ In the Hebrew Bible, compassion is both a feeling and a way of being that flows out of that feeling.
Neil Douglas-Klotz writes of the so called “Great Commandment” “The Aramaic word translated here as ‘love’ is rehem, meaning a love or compassion that can pour from the depths of oneself, as from an inner womb…” Likewise, Matthew Fox suggests that the appropriate translation of love in most cases should be compassion. He poetically writes, “Compassion is not about pity or feeling sorry for the other. It is born of a shared interdependence, an intuition of a sense of awe for the wondrous fact that we all live and swim in one primordial divine womb, we live in fetal waters of cosmic grace.”
Now, what a beautiful concept. “We all live in one primordial divine womb.” We are children of one God, One Creator, all of us sharing the plasma, the cells and the energy of the Creator, Creation and each other.
Today scientists explain that we are formed from the same stuff as the stars, that we are a piece-not separate-from this grand, entangled cosmos and that we share cells and genes from a smaller gene pool than anyone could have imagined a few years ago. We have learned over the last couple of decades that all humans come from a single, very small group of ancestors. As disturbing as this might be for some people it gives a whole new meaning to the idea that we are all brothers and sisters.
The point here is that they are us. When we actually experience this kind of interconnectedness, it is like waking up and discovering, as the descendents of Thomas Jefferson did, that your family is bigger than you ever imagined. We really are “living and swimming in one primordial divine womb.” It is not too difficult to imagine that this existential awareness is related to the Realm of God that Jesus described to his followers with so many positive metaphors. It not only discovering the interconnectedness of all life that is so exciting but it is seeing and hearing from a whole new perspective that can fundamentally change our understanding of reality.
Every spiritual path is designed to help us get past our myopic and egocentric perspectives, to help us discover our false perceptions about self and others, and to help us shed debilitating fears of living and dying. And most spiritual paths lead to an experience of oneness or dare I use the word “wombness” here? It is ultimately about getting in touch with the deepest places in our hearts and souls, as we discover who and what we are.
For followers of Jesus’ path, the goal is not to talk about the word love or compassion, but it is about being more compassionate. The reason for this is not because the Bible tells us we should, but because it is the path, it is the way to an extraordinary experience of a different reality…a reality of belonging, of connectedness; of wholeness. It is something we should want to do.
Christian “laauve” is not the sweet or syrupy thing we refer to on Valentine’s Day. It is both a challenge and an opportunity to experience something that every person has the chance to experience but apparently few do fully. But when they discover it, they want to run and tell their friends; they want to share it with their enemies; they want to treat like a treasure.
The nice thing is that we do not have to go buy something to get it or send for flowers to share it. We begin by just living and being it.
Happy Valentine’s Day