C. S. Lewis: The Four Loves

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

What is love? I have posed this question to many people this month in preparation for my upcoming storytelling performance on Fri Aug 25, 2017, entitled, “Legacy of Love.” The answers vary widely, and most people stare at me dumbly with a few false starts and sometimes a cliche. The English word “love” goes to the height of St. John’s words, “God is Love.” And also drifts to the common usage of “I love strawberries.” There is perhaps no other English word so used and abused, and yet so special.

The most thought-provoking and emotion-provoking answer for me so far:
“LOVE is a connection in which you keep your heart open, no matter what.”

“That’s scary,” I thought.  As C.S. Lewis says in the opening quote, “to love is to be vulnerable,” but the other choice “not to love” is perhaps also scary.

The Four Loves

In his book, The Four Loves, the Christian philosopher and author,  C. S. Lewis, turns to the wisdom of the Greeks who had more than one word for what we would call “love.” He adopts four of those Greek words to describe the bond of love in his own words.

  1. Storge (empathy bond): Affection, “the most basic form.” This is the love of a mother for her child and child for the mother. This is the love of family and familiarity.
  2. Philia (friend bond): Friendship, “the rarest and perhaps most insightful.” This is the brotherly love that forms between soldiers in war. This is the love of two children who “grew up like sisters.” This is a bond of companionship.
  3. Eros (erotic bond): Eros, passionate love. Romantic love and sexual attraction.
  4. Agape (unconditional “God” love): Charity, the love of God.

What is Love?

Recognizing how much is packed into this four letter word called “love” helps to understand why so many are confused by the question: “What is Love?”

I’ve asked many people to complete the sentence: “Love is …” (Feel free to leave your own response in the comment section below.)

One person said the sentence is already complete: “LOVE IS.”

Perhaps “Love just is,” but insight into our unconscious beliefs often comes from the words we chose to start defining love. You don’t have to marry your definition, but I do think you should at least learn from it… because the other universal truth is the paradox that love evolves, love changes, love grows up … and at the same time it stays the same.

Dr. Joel Ying, MD

Physician, Educator, Storyteller. He hosts this website for "Living the Present Moment" as a conscious journey of Body, Mind & Spirit. Holistic and integrative, his practice includes Tai Chi and Yoga, Craniosacral Therapy, Healing From the Core, Meditation. Always exploring his edges, he shares them in the blog, newsletter, courses, and online study group.

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