On Love

On Love


This month our Touchstone Ministry theme is “Love.”  To begin our exploration I invite you to consider the words of my colleague, Sam Trumbore, whose words are included in the Touchstone Theme materials this month.

…Erich Fromm contrasts infantile love with mature love. “Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.'”

 …So what is mature love for Fromm? “[Mature] Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism.”

Fromm sees mature love as an art having four characteristics: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. The love of a mother for her child mirrors the first characteristic of care. This “love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.” The key word here is active. Care is evident in the doing. Care is closely allied with responsibility. This voluntary, freely chosen readiness to respond is an act of will that is not compelled. A mother can care for an infant irresponsibly by not giving the right care at the right moment. She can offer the bottle when the infant isn’t hungry but rather wet, cold or tired. Responsibility implies attentiveness to the needs of the other.

Fromm notes that responsibility is not enough since “it can easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for a third component of love, respect.” Respect honors the integrity of the other and the boundaries of the other. It sees the recipient of love as a whole person and not a thing to be controlled and manipulated. It honors the inherent worth and dignity of the other.

 That respect of the other is conditional on the knowing of the other. Unless I am open to knowing who you are at your most essential, what your needs are, your passions are, your joys, fears and sorrows, I cannot fully respect you, be responsive to you, or even care for you. To fully love you, I must know you, respect you, respond to you, and THEN care for you. (Source: http://www.uumin.org/sam/sermons/Path-to-Love.pdf)

Such wisdom reminds me of an old Hasidic story my father used in a sermon once.

The Hasidic Rabbi, Levi Yitzhak of the Ukraine, said that he had discovered the true meaning of love and humility from a pair of drunken friends in a country tavern. While chatting with the owner of the tavern, the rabbi saw the men embracing and declaring their love for one another. Suddenly Ivan said to his companion, “Peter, tell me what hurts me!” Sobered by such a startling remark, Peter replied, “How do I know what hurts you?” Ivan’s answer was immediate, “If you don’t know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?” Through their interchange, the two companions underscored the fact that the true humility which issues forth in love is not fostered by navel-gazing but by bending down to look up into the eyes of another . From that humble position, the hopes and needs, the hurts and fears of the other are readily perceived; from that position of humility, love can be offered and service can be rendered, not with an air of condescension but with the warmth of compassion. (Source: http://www.berdichev.org/the_true_meaning_of_love_and_humility.htm)

As we come to another Valentine’s Day and an opportunity this month to reflect on the theme that gives such a day (and our lives) meaning, might we consider the ways we embody care, responsibility, respect, knowledge and humility.Rev. Aaron Payson, Minister