Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What's Love About?

I seem to write most often about the use of words in inappropriate or confusing ways. Early on in this blog I coined the term “word fuzz” to depict the practice of using words in ways not consistent with their normal or common meaning. Sometimes the limits of English vocabulary provide a sort of inherent “fuzzyness” in the use of certain words. Perhaps my favorite example is the English word “love”. The dictionary accessible from my computer (Encarta) lists five verb meaning and eleven noun meaning for “love.”

Many of the philosophical and religious concepts we are familiar with had their original written expression in the languages of the Middle East. Greek, Arabic, Hebrew and Persian are common examples. In Greek several different words are available to designate different meanings all of which are commonly translated as “love” in English. The loss of precision plagues our communications every day.

Since the Christian Scriptures, which were written in Greek, call for love of God and love of fellow humans it is important to know what meaning of “love” was used in the original writing. ( Matthew 22:37, “Love God….. “ and 39, “Love neighbor….” ) The love that Christians believe they are called to is “agape”, self giving or sacrificial love for the beloved. The antonym (opposite) of such a meaning is to take or use another for one’s self gratification, lust.

I have been reading a book of poetry by the Islamic mystic and poet, Rumi. Here are a few verses on lust translated into English by Kamir and Camille Helminski . (The Rumi Collection, Boston, Shambhala,1998, pg 20)


People are distracted by objects of desire,
and afterword repent the lust they’ve indulged,
because they have indulged with a phantom
and are left even further from Reality than before.
Your desire for the illusory could be a wing,
by means of which a seeker might ascend to Reality.
When you have indulged a lust, your wing drops off;
You become lame, abandoned by a fantasy.
Preserve the wing and don’t indulge such lust,
so that the wing of desire may bear you to Paradise.
People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
But they are really tearing out their wings for the sake of an illusion.
(Mathnawi III 2133-2138)

This little book is an excellent addition to one's spiritual library.

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