- . . . love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence . . . [Erich Fromm]
- The love that flowed between them was such as no young lovers in the heat and impatience of their passion could know; it was a love enriched by time, by a great crowding host of memories, by the small daily sacrifices of self that made a larger self and a deeper love. [Page Smith, John Adams, Volume II 1784-1826 (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962), chapter LXXI.]
Love is the great Creative Force in the emotions in our sacred relations with living beings. I define it as the emotion that mirrors the welfare of the loved one(s): if you are happy when another person is happy and sad when that person is sad, then you love that person.
Love consists of two elements; passion and the particular kind of harmony we call solicitude or concern for the other’s welfare. Thus, we could call Love a passionate harmony with the loved one(s). Passion gives Love its strength; harmony gives Love its character.
Love drives us to act in ways and with an energy that we might not be able to display under any other circumstances. People have been known to lift amounts of weight off a loved one’s body that they could not lift under normal circumstances. In those cases, a rush of adrenaline has given the lover strength that may seem super-human. It is our intense passion for our loved ones that impels us to devote our energies toward them. Romantic love, often called amore, places an emphasis on passion, and requires repeated infusions of harmony all the more for it.
Harmony is the stabilizing force that makes Love endure and that ensures that our energies are not only directed toward the loved one but devoted to their welfare. Agape, or universal Love, emphasizes this harmony. When coupled with an intense passion, harmonic Love can be life-changing.
Some people say the opposite of Love is hatred, others say it is indifference and still others say it is fear. Sometimes they will argue about who is right. Each of them is right, but if they are arguing about it, them each of them is also wrong because they fail to recognize that they are referring to three separate things. The person who says that Love’s opposite is hatred is focused on Love’s harmonic component: hatred is a passionate disharmony with the object of emotion, incorrectly called Love in such a case. The person who identifies Love’s opposite as indifference is focused on passion: indifference is an absence of passion. The person who identifies Love’s opposite as fear is focused on Love as experience of the lover: fear blocks Love. There is no need for you ever to have that argument again, and if anyone takes one side or the other in it, you can correct them.
In many cultures, including the consumer cultures of the West in which I live, the emphasis is mainly on the passion: a young man experiences a rush of hormones at the sight of a pretty girl and confuses it with Love. That is only passion and, as experience shows, that kind of “love” almost always is short-lived.
In fact, false love can easily turn ugly. A man who has strong passionate feelings for a woman may only be experiencing a biological imperative to reproduce. If his expectations are not met, passion can turn to violence, as we have often seen.
If you are following this liturgical calender and are in the Northern hemisphere, summer is about to pass into autumn. Soon harvest time will begin. Perhaps nothing will prepare you for the spiritual harvest better than Love.
I had my season of joy and thanksgiving. It was the first time since my childhood that I had experienced any real happiness. I heard of the old doctor's threats, but they no longer had the same power to trouble me. The darkest cloud that hung over my life had rolled away. Whatever slavery might do to me, it could not shackle my children. If I fell a sacrifice, my little ones were saved. It was well for me that my simple heart believed all that had been promised for their welfare. It is always better to trust than to doubt. [Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Chapter XIX, The Children Sold.]
- John Bowe, Us: Americans Talk About Love (Farber & Farber, 2010)
- Michael Hastings, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story (Scribner, 2008).
- Sarah Sentilles, Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours (Random House, 2021): “A Foster Parent Looks Back”.
Here are some narratives illustrating various dark sides of what people call love.
- Hilary Black, The Secret Currency of Love: The Unabashed Truth about Women, Money, and Relationships (William Morrow, 2009).
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Gary Chapman, Love as a Way of Life: Seven Keys to Transforming Every Aspect of Your Life (Doubleday Religion, 2008).
- Lisa Appignanesi, All About Love: Anatomy of an unruly emotion (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011): a dissection of “the Many-Splendored Emotion”; much of the book is about sex and is in part autobiographical.
- Jonah Lehrer, A Book About Love (Simon & Schuster, 2016): “For Lehrer, love is more flannel pajamas than sexy lingerie; it is a steady attachment, not a divine fire. For Lehrer, attachment theory is the model that explains all kinds of love.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love (Parallax Press, 1997).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Cultivating the Mind of Love (Parallax Press, 2008).
Love's opposites and antagonists:
- Willard Gaylin, Hatred: The Psychological Descent Into Violence (Public Affairs, 2003): hatred “differs from anger, rage, bigotry, paranoia, jealousy and envy, although it has something in common with each of them. He makes such distinctions carefully and with the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime of psychiatric practice.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Fred Rogers tread so lightly that his core message was almost imperceptible.
On the following morning, at daybreak, Jean Valjean was still by Cosette's bedside; he watched there motionless, waiting for her to wake. Some new thing had come into his soul. Jean Valjean had never loved anything; for twenty-five years he had been alone in the world. He had never been father, lover, husband, friend. In the prison he had been vicious, gloomy, chaste, ignorant, and shy. The heart of that ex-convict was full of virginity. His sister and his sister's children had left him only a vague and far-off memory which had finally almost completely vanished; he had made every effort to find them, and not having been able to find them, he had forgotten them. Human nature is made thus; the other tender emotions of his youth, if he had ever had any, had fallen into an abyss. When he saw Cosette, when he had taken possession of her, carried her off, and delivered her, he felt his heart moved within him. All the passion and affection within him awoke, and rushed towards that child. He approached the bed, where she lay sleeping, and trembled with joy. He suffered all the pangs of a mother, and he knew not what it meant; for that great and singular movement of a heart which begins to love is a very obscure and a very sweet thing. Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart! Only, as he was five and fifty, and Cosette eight years of age, all that might have been love in the whole course of his life flowed together into a sort of ineffable light. It was the second white apparition which he had encountered. The Bishop had caused the dawn of virtue to rise on his horizon; Cosette caused the dawn of love to rise. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book Fourth – The Gorbeau Hovel, Chapter III, Two Misfortunes Make One Piece of Good Fortune.]
I do not believe that there is anything sweeter in the world than the ideas which awake in a mother’s heart at the sight of her child’s tiny shoe; especially if it is a shoe for festivals, for Sunday, for baptism, the shoe embroidered to the very sole, a shoe in which the infant has not yet taken a step. That shoe has so much grace and daintiness, it is so impossible for it to walk, that it seems to the mother as though she saw her child. She smiles upon it, she kisses it, she talks to it; she asks herself whether there can actually be a foot so tiny; and if the child be absent, the pretty shoe suffices to place the sweet and fragile creature before her eyes. She thinks she sees it, she does see it, complete, living, joyous, with its delicate hands, its round head, its pure lips, its serene eyes whose white is blue. If it is in winter, it is yonder, crawling on the carpet, it is laboriously climbing upon an ottoman, and the mother trembles lest it should approach the fire. If it is summer time, it crawls about the yard, in the garden, plucks up the grass between the paving-stones, gazes innocently at the big dogs, the big horses, without fear, plays with the shells, with the flowers, and makes the gardener grumble because he finds sand in the flower-beds and earth in the paths. Everything laughs, and shines and plays around it, like it, even the breath of air and the ray of sun which vie with each other in disporting among the silky ringlets of its hair. The shoe shows all this to the mother, and makes her heart melt as fire melts wax.
But when the child is lost, these thousand images of joy, of charms, of tenderness, which throng around the little shoe, become so many horrible things. The pretty broidered shoe is no longer anything but an instrument of torture which eternally crushes the heart of the mother. It is always the same fibre which vibrates, the tenderest and most sensitive; but instead of an angel caressing it, it is a demon who is wrenching at it. [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume II, Book Eighth, Chapter V, “The Mother”.]
Novels and stories:
- Walter Dean Myers, What They Found: Love on 145th Street (Walter Lamb Books, 2007).
- Eileen Chang, Love in a Fallen City (NYRB Classics, 2006).
- Susan Palwick, The Necessary Beggar (Tor Books, 2005).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Novice: A Story of True Love (HarperOne, 2011): a young woman follows her calling by secretly becoming a monk, which is forbidden to women, but then is challenged when another woman accuses her of fathering a child.
- Adam Levin, Hot Pink (McSweeney’s Rectangulars, 2012): nine stories “about how love – family love, romantic love, love between friends – turns us into people we never thought we’d become.”
- Kate Walbert, She Was Like That: New and Selected Stories (Simon & Schuster, 2019): “Here is a map of a land of mothers: mothers before the babies come; mothers in the throes of infant love; mothers minding children; mothers losing children; mothers losing themselves.”
- Claire Lombardo, The Most Fun We Ever Had: A Novel (Doubleday, 2019): “ . . . the novel’s central mystery: How do you ?”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Handel, Largo, from the opera Xerxes, orchestral transcription: Hear an autumn afternoon, a winter day by the fire, a spring morning, a summer evening, the day your children were born - any dream you ever had that was connected to someone else.
- Alison Krauss, "I Will"
- The Beatles, "I Will"
- Paul Simon, "Father and Daughter"
- Nawang Khechog, "Universal Love"
- Nawang Khechog, "Loving Even One’s Enemy"
- Nawang Khechog, "Infinite Love"
Film and Stage
- Lili: the gentle, asexual, non-possessive love of a teenager helps a puppeteer break through the obstacles to Love
- Love Affair: what begins in passion ends in commitment and sacrifice
- Warrior: “. . . for all its mayhem, it is a movie about love”
- Beauty and the Beast (2017 version): on Love’s creative power
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot (completed 1926) a princess was killed by a suitor, leading a royal family to cruel practices for suitors of other princesses. A hero appears, and pursues his beloved princess despite the risks. His name remains a secret until the end: it is Love. The opera is about Love as a creative force, and how Love opens the way to trust and Faith. Here are links to complete performances conducted by Chailly, Mehta and Maazel. Top recorded performances are by: Cigna, Merli, Olivero and Neroni, conducted by Ghione in 1938; Borkh, del Monaco, Tebaldi and Zaccaria, conducted by Erede in 1955; Callas, Schwarzkopf, Nessi and Zaccaria, conducted by Serafin in 1957; Nilsson, Tebaldi, Bjorling and Tozzi, conducted by Leinsdorf in 1959; Nilsson, Corelli, Moffo and Giaiotti, conducted by Stokowski in 1961; Nilsson, Corelli, Scotto and Giaiotti, conducted by Molinari-Pradelli in 1965; and Sutherland, Caballé, Pavarotti and Ghiaurov, conducted by Mehta in 1972.
Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), Op. 65, TrV 234 (1915), is about a woman who forgoes her shadow existence to marry. The spiritual transformation, and true marriage are complete when she regains her shadow form (video-recorded performance conducted by Gergiev). Top audio-recorded performances are conducted by Kempe in 1954, Böhm in 1955, Böhm in 1977, Sawallisch in 1987, Solti in 1989-1991, Sinopoli in 1996, and Thielemann in 2020.
Claudio Monteverdi, L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppaea), SV 308 (1643), is an opera about the power of Love to overcome fate; in the opera, it is also more powerful than virtue (performances conducted by Christie, Minkowski and Vartolo). Garrido conducts a top recording.
Other major works:
- Schubert, String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major, Op. 125/1, D 87
- Schubert, String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 29, D 804, “Rosamunde”
- Fauré, Dolly, Op. 56 (1896)
Beethoven’s nine symphonies represent many spiritual qualities but under George Szell’s direction, with the Cleveland Orchestra of the late 1950s, they sound like Love. He brings a tenderness to the performances not heard under any other conductor.
- Symphony 1 in C major, Op. 21 (1800)
- Symphony 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1802)
- Symphony 3 in E Flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica" (1804)
- Symphony 4 in B Flat major, Op. 60 (1808)
- Symphony 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (1808)
- Symphony 6 in F major, Op. 68, "Pastoral" (1808)
- Symphony 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1812)
- Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 (1812)
- Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, "Choral" (1824)
Chamber works by Léon Boëllmann:
- Trio for Viola, Violoncello and Piano in G Major, Op. 19
- Quartet for Viola, Alto, Violoncello and Piano in F Minor, Op. 10
- 2 Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 31
- 2 Piano Trios from "Heures Mystiques"
- Raag Hindol is a Hindustani classical raag for early morning. It is associated with spring, and embodies Kama, the god of love, or Krishna (performances by Amonkar, Joshi and Amonkar)
- Raag Jhinjhoti is a Hindustani classical raag, usually performed in late evening, and commonly heard at Hindu weddings (performances by Vilayat Khan, Sharma/Chaurasia and Amonkar)
- Gibbons, Hymnes & Songs of the Church: Songs of Love
Albums and tracks:
- David Murray, “Lovers”
- Imee Ooi, The Divine Mantra of Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara
- Arild Andersen, “Hyperborean”
- Shivkumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia, “The Valley Recalls” album: “Love”
- Alabaster dePlume, “Gold: Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love”: “. . . he applies self-love like an exfoliant, scraping off the old skin of cynicism and exposing the clean and vulnerable surface below.”
- Dave Stryker, “As We Were”: a guitarist and a string quartet, backed by piano, bass and drums, create sounds of love and thoughts of loved ones. Stryker explains: “I always wanted to do something where strings would really be integrated into the music, not a coloring or sweetening that comes later.”
From the shadow side:
- Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”