“All you need is love” sang the Beatles, as they once again topped the charts.
I confess I sang along with the Fab Four as heartily as the next Beatle fan – although perhaps not always in tune!
So when a card dropped on the doormat recently, bearing those words, it not only took me back a few decades but also prompted a thought-provoking question: “What kind of love is it that meets all our needs?”
After all, there are many varieties to choose from, according to the promotional blurb from a highly colourful Festival of Love – currently running at London’s Southbank Centre.
“The Ancient Greeks had around 30 words to describe Love in all its shades and complexities,” it says.
This love-fest focuses on seven of the 30, including the two that probably get the most airplay in popular culture: Eros (romantic and erotic love) and Ludus (flirting, playful affection). The others are: Agape (the love of humanity); Storge (family love); Pragma (love which endures); Philautia (self-respect) and Philia (shared experience).
Yet one type of love is conspicuous by its absence – the divine Love which has brought both solace and healing for millennia, and which still rescues many from grief, from broken hearts, and even from physical and mental illness.
Indeed, so magnanimous have some seen this spiritual Love to be, that an early follower of Jesus once said (emphasis added): “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is novariableness, neither shadow of turning.”
But if there’s such a consistently generous benefactor surely everyone must be beating down its door to get their share of this free-flowing affection.
And if not, why not?
In my experience it’s because there is something else we need besides love – an awareness of the thoughts that would separate us from it. Sufi poet Rumi put it this way: ‘Your task is
not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built against it.’
So what are those barriers? Procrastination? Impatience? Anxiety? Vanity? Low esteem? Jealousy? Anger? All of the above?
Over the years I’ve prayed to overcome these and other obstacles that would prevent me from feeling loved and loving others. I’ve increasingly found the best way to do so is to “agree to disagree” with the temptation to identify with them. Of course, that siren call can seem very persuasive, so admittedly it’s not always that simple! But I have got better at noticing the unwelcome presence of such traits and insisting: “You are not my thinking.”
What grounds are there for that claim? Well, whenever I’ve become conscious of that divine Love I’ve glimpsed how we’re made in its “image and likeness”, as the Bible says. That is, our underlying spiritual nature is sourced from, and defined by, that Love. And when it comes to those negative traits, divine Love is clearly “none of the above”, because none of them can possibly be described as loving.
Since adopting this approach to overcoming such internal opposition to love I’ve found that doing so can heal body as well as mind.
For instance, a black South African friend of mine who lived through the apartheid era still bitterly resented whites years after the regime had ended.
At a point when she was laid low by a severe, recurring pain this woman read Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and suddenly found herself able to get out of bed.
“After reading this book everything just went quiet in my body,” she recalled.
So what had actually happened?
Science and Health advises: “Arise from your false consciousness into the true sense of Love…”. And this woman found herself doing just that.
“I regretted all those years of suffering, because I was suffering. Because you didn’t know I hate you, and then the next white didn’t know I hate him. So I was the one who was suffering. And a couple of days after reading the book, everything just went,” she later told me.
Some time after that burst of inner transformation, she was still “walking on air”.
She said: “I used to take pills like I was in hospital. That’s how I lived. But I haven’t had a pill since I read that book. I haven’t had pain…I’m normal; I’m energetic…”
So, is love all we need? Love, actually – to borrow the movie title – is more than a need. It is our very essence.
This essence is poetically portrayed in the Apostle Paul’s beautiful Bible missive on love, where (to paraphrase one of his lines) he speaks of knowing ourselves “even as also we are known”.
When we reach that depth of recognition of who we truly are, perhaps we will see that love is all there is.
This was first published on Huffington Post UK blog, as: Is Love Actually All We need?