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May 21, 2017

Love has more than 50 ways …

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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At 73 I am not the person I used to be - physically, mentally, or spiritually.

The first two are not under my control, so all I can do is try my best to manage the inevitable human declines in physical and mental health that we all face as we age.

But my spiritual condition is very different. It is one element of my being that remains fully under my control and I feel I am making progress; I am becoming spiritually fitter and love it.

Let me explain.

These days it’s easy to become depressed; easy to feel afraid, easy to fear that the whole world has gone mad. It’s easy to feel your dreams fading away, easy to give into hatred and despair about everyone and everything, including oneself.

But the continual barrage of news about people and things we fear or hate should never, ever blind us to the many kind human beings around us and to the splendors we can see and experience every moment of every day.

When I listen to Paul Simon’s 1975 hit, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” I think; yes Paul, I can agree up to a point, but there are also 50 (and more!) ways to express love.

That Paul Simon song is, of course, a classic; it spoke deeply to an entire generation and beyond. Its poignant lyrics and memorable tune are at the top of my personal favorites.  It tells a love story, or more truthfully, a love-lost story. 

To authentically express love is, in many ways, far more difficult than setting it aside – but also far more rewarding.  Love is a complex range of emotions that humans can (if they choose) embrace, taste, explore, embody and practice. The effort is sometimes hard, but when undertaken it can enhance life in manifold ways.

Biologically, we are the most highly-developed life form on planet Earth. During the Renaissance, creation was often described as a great “Chain of Being” and the human link in that chain was just below that of the angels.

Today, science has long proven what Renaissance philosophers and theologians could only guess at: our big brains possess some 100 billion neurons, while the lowly fruit fly at the bottom of the scale has to make do with about 100,000. 

So it should follow that we humans, more self-aware than any other creature that ever existed, should be easily capable of firing up more neurons to fully taste the sweetness of that thing called love.

Human mothers, for example, love their children perhaps as much as elephant mothers love theirs. But most human mothers can demonstrate love to their offspring in many more sensory and nuanced ways than other animals.

Although the deepest mysteries of love as both emotion and chemistry are still beyond our understanding, we can deploy every day to live our lives more fully, for ourselves and those around us.

Love is the most potent key to spiritual fitness. Despite the challenges of disappointment, disillusion, injury and despair, we can still find ways to love God, humanity, nature, family and friends; in fact, everything that is good and beautiful.

Why? Because love takes us above and beyond survival mode. So the more we work on it, the more we seek its perfect expression, the more liberated we become.

It is always challenging and difficult to love someone who does not reciprocate. But God does it all the time; when humans disappoint us, we can always imitate God.

Whenever I give a Friday sermon on the topic of love, I can tell by their knowing smiles that some of the younger people are expecting me to talk only about love of the opposite sex. But love is an infinite continuum that includes myriad thoughts, feelings and beings.

After all, the universal aspects of spirituality are love, humility and charity.

You can show your love through selfless service to others, and in the process that same love becomes a spiritual prerequisite for knowing yourself, God, nature and all of humanity.

From personal experience and long years of effort, I have learned that the most enduring way to achieve happiness is by loving everyone and everything as a dear friend.  

As many books of wisdom have said, the only way to have a friend is to be one; friendship improves happiness and abates misery by doubling our joy and dividing our grief.

My Christian friends often turn to St. Paul for some of the most eloquent words ever written about love in any faith.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, he says:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

To test myself as to whether I am still on the path of love, or may have taken a wrong turn, from time to time I ask myself some searching questions:

Do I care enough to introduce myself to the stranger sitting next seat to me on a short flight? Do I take good care of the roses blooming in my living room? Am I charitable enough with my money, my knowledge, my experience, my time … and above all, my love?

Do I use my writings to make a difference? Do I feel closer to the poor, the sick, the young, and to those who are elderly even beyond my own years?

Do I do my part to promote social justice in Canada and around the world? Do I stand up against war, violence, exploitation, occupation, discrimination, oppression and extremism?

No matter how many (or few) of these questions result in satisfying answers, they are still worth asking.

Today, I know that I would rather move forward with love, not leave it behind – even though I still like Paul Simon’s classic song. But it’s incomplete without a contrasting companion from a few years earlier, the iconic Lennon/McCartney hit of 1967, “All You Need is Love.”

Whenever I hear its unforgettable tune and lyrics, I think to myself, “Amen.”

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