The Quest for Agape

  • Thoughts   •   June 15, 2020

My quest in life is to understand, internalize, and become a being that lives in a state of Love. I read about it. I ponder it.

T he Japanese proverb, Fall down seven times, get up eight is my motto. I rise and brush the dust from my face and give thanks for a new day of striving. My quest began early in life. As a seeker of spiritual enlightenment, for me, it manifests in my desire to live as Christ lived. A lofty goal for sure, but by small and simple things, great things come to pass.

My brushes with death have been too many to recount all. The drug overdose at the age of two, the amount of which should have killed ten grown men: the intense physical and sexual abuse in foster care that left my three-year-old body battered and bruised. A comforting voice in my head told me that not all men were this evil, that there was goodness out there waiting. Those words of comfort kept my heart and mind open to heal and love. My house in flames as I huddled beneath the bed, watching my world burn. Me, flying through a car windshield, my face cut beyond recognition. The rape by a trusted friend. The sheet metal the size of a truck that flew off a flat-bed trailer straight to my windshield. No time to swerve. I prayed for my children and braced for death. The metal sheet was eye level, inches from striking. It raised suddenly and sheered the top portion of my car off. I could list more. Miraculously spared time and again, I believe there is purpose in everything. My goal is to understand this Love and mercy from the heavens and share it.

The ancient Greeks classified Love into four different types.

STORGE is familial Love. It is natural and ever-present, like the Love of parents for children and that between siblings.

PHILIA is the Love between friends and freely given.

EROS is a sensual or romantic love that has the power to elicit good or evil behavior in its name.

AGAPE is unconditional, God-like, or spiritual Love. It exists regardless of circumstances or behavior. This type of Love is our life goal. To experience it and exhibit it. This type of Love is not a feeling, but a state of being.

Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, born around 600BC, is credited with being the father of Taoism. He sought spiritual enlightenment on a higher level. He said that ” Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage” How true is that? Knowing we are loved gives us the strength to endure, and loving others gives us the courage to do what is right in the face of any opposition. Lao Tzu added, ” Do not think you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light.” Time and practice are essential — a lifetime endeavor.

Marcus Aurelius lived almost 1,000 years after Lao Tzu and became Rome’s Emperor in 161AD. He sought enlightenment through the study of the Greek philosophers. Even though his philosophies at times were in direct opposition to the laws of the land he enforced as king, he aspired to a higher ideal. Simply that, “If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.” He kept a journal; reflections on life meant to remind him to live virtuously. He wrote, ” The god within is supposed to be the guardian of the real man.” Somehow, knowing that seeking after and listening to the divine within us would save us from the outer natural man. He reminded himself to” Practice even things which ye despair of achieving”

Yet another philosopher/poet who lived over a 1000 yrs after Marcus Aurelius had similar musings. Kahlil Gibran was born in Lebanon in 1883. He wrote, “No man can reveal to you, aught but that which lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge” ” Great and sublime truths pass not from one human creature to another by way of speech; rather do they choose silence as a road between souls.” We know what is right when we hear it. Three very different men living different lives, yet each sought after the very same thing. The quest for a higher way of living and loving has been encoded into our DNA as well. We all seek for light and truth in our way. We all came from the same place; all of us are children of the universe. They knew as we know that by listening to the god within, the still small voice, we will and can live a more virtuous, a more loving Christ-like life. Because as Marcus Aurelius also said, ” That which has sprung from heavenly seed, back to heavenly realms returns.” Thus if we wish to achieve Agape, that state of Godly unconditional Love, then we must practice at attaining that Love. So how do we learn to love more?

Like anything, it comes in the doing. Aristotle said,” We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions, and I would add, loving as we perform loving actions. Agape Love is not a feeling; it is a state of being and doing.

Etienne de Grellet said, “I shall pass through this life but once, any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness I can show, let me do it now; let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall never pass this way again.” Love is in the doing! If we serve our families, if we help each other and do all with Love, then our capacity to love grows. Step by step, precept on precept, we come to know our God, your God, better, we become a little more than we were the day before. However small our progress may be, it is eternal progress none-the-less.

Kahlil Gibran wrote: “The air bears every smile and every sigh arising from our hearts, and stores away the voice of every kiss: Whose source and spring is Love. And angels make account of every tear dropped by sadness from our eyes, and fill the ears of wandering spirits with song created by our hidden joys. Yonder in the hereafter, we shall see the beating of our hearts, and comprehend the meaning of our God-like state, that in this day we hold as naught. The erring that today we call a weakness shall appear on the morrow, a link in man’s existence. The fret and toil that requite us not shall abide with us to tell our glory!” Our service and our strivings to love more fully do not go unnoticed.

Christ did nothing in his earthly ministry with the hope or expectation of temporal reward or recognition. True Love, Godly Love, Agape Love, has NO expectations.

Christ did nothing in his earthly ministry with the hope or expectation of temporal reward or recognition. True Love, Godly Love, Agape Love, has NO expectations.

Loving is giving, with no strings attached, and no concern for reciprocity. Love has NO expectations. This is Agape. Have you ever given a gift or performed a service without receiving a thank you and felt the person ungrateful? Or done a favor for someone expecting a favor in return at some point? I’m sure we all have. But the doing, the loving, is or should be your reward.

Of course, as parents, it is our responsibility to teach good manners to our children. Teaching when to say please and thank you, and more importantly, teaching them to express gratitude daily for all they have is vital. When I give my children or family a gift or perform a service for my friends, I genuinely do not expect a thank you. I have done it out of Love for them and the joy that comes from that act. If, in return, I do get an expression of gratitude, then it warms my heart. If our children see us expressing gratitude to them and others, they will learn by example, and they will automatically learn to express thanks and appreciation at appropriate times. Unconditional God-like Love, Agape love, is not predicated on receiving anything in return.

Another aspect of Love is allowing others to love us. A person who is not willing to receive deprives others of giving. Real Love is the same in all human relationships, regardless of gender or affiliation. It involves caring, respecting, responding, empathizing, giving, receiving, sharing, and forgiving. Notice again that all these words are verbs. Real loving is in the doing. Love is how we treat another person, not a feeling we have toward them. This distinction, between feeling versus treating, is the difference between all other forms of Love and AGAPE.

For those that do not believe in a higher power, consider the words of Eric Fromm from his classic book, The Art of Loving. ” The first step is to become aware that love is an art, just as life is an art; if we want to learn to love, we must proceed in the same way that we should proceed if we want to learn any other art, such as music, painting, carpentry or the art of medicine or engineering.” To achieve a state of Agape, Fromm said, ” We are obliged to work actively on our personality and our personal growth. In this way, we will satisfy self-love first. This must be accomplished before true selfless Love can become our way of being. Love is not only a relationship with a specific person; it is an attitude, a guiding of our character that determines the type of relationship a person has with the world as a whole.”

Thomas Monson said, “What if a person says to another, I don’t love you anymore; you have killed all the Love I ever felt for you. This person does not understand the art of Love. Nothing can kill Love. If it dies, it commits suicide, because Love is not a measure of the one being loved, but of the one doing the loving.” Our loving should not be determined by the nature and behavior of another person; it is not a feeling! It is a way of treating others; it is a way of being. Shakespeare understood this when he wrote his 116th Sonnet, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove. O NO! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.” Indeed, true Love, Christ-like Love, Agape Love is unchanging. Yet when felt has the power to change hearts.

Thomas Monson said, “Love is the catalyst that causes change. Love is the balm that brings healing to the soul.” In our self-absorbed world, unconditional Love is the key to our salvation as a species. Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity.” Are we not all, every one of us connected to the other? We are spiritual beings living a temporary human existence.

May we recognize this in each other, and may we strive to live Agape, “the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love” the Love with the power to heal humanity. I hope that it may permeate our very souls and find expression in all our thoughts and actions.

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