Nine Kinds of Love

In classical Greek, there are a variety of words to describe love. It is a mistake to try to rank them. Only one falls into the unhealthy category.

  1. Mania: Obsession, infatuation, insanity, a sister to rage, the stuff of stalkers and schoolboys. This is the bad one.
  2. Ludus: Love as playfulness, as a game, flirtations without any commitment, which can be innocent or damaging.
  3. Éros: Sexual attraction, but not necessarily animalistic lust. Éros includes appreciation of beauty in all its manifestations. It’s where we begin loving God, others, nature and ourselves.
  4. Pragma: Sensible, committed love; the opposite of romanticism; the stuff of most long-term marriages.
  5. Storgē: Familial bonds, “blood is thicker than water;” care and concern for parents and children and siblings.
  6. Xenia: Hospitality, welcoming guests into our homes, guest-love
  7. Philía: Deep lasting friendship and loyalty
  8. Philautia: Self-love – either negatively, as in selfishness and narcissism, or positively, as in compassion for oneself
  9. Agápe: Unconditional, self-sacrificial, cruciform, selfless, altruistic love. God is Agápe. “By this shall all know you are my followers, that you agápe one another.”

Setting aside mania, which needs to be treated with medication, psychotherapy, repentance, and perhaps a dosage of exorcism, living as God intended us to live, embracing our full humanness and flourishing life, requires that we cultivate healthy ludus, éros, pragma, storgē, xenia, philía, philautia, and agápe.

I am not suggesting office flirtations, but genuine love between friends and lovers needs an element of playfulness. Hopefully, the relationship is not based on having fun; but, equally hopefully, friends and lovers have fun together, laugh together, and playfully celebrate together. Ludus

We are not rutting elk, but learning to appreciate the beauty in nature, in others, in ourselves, and in the creator God behind it all, will carry us a long way towards peace and wholeness. Take the time to observe and consciously note the beauty, especially (with regard to others) the beauty behind the pain. Éros 

Every lasting marriage and enduring friendship settles at some point into pragmatic, sensible commitment. We become comfortable with each other, feeling no need to impress or play-act. Many in our contemporary culture chase after everlasting romanticism, which is always a dead end. Being content and relaxed with a friend or spouse is nice. Pragma

In many of the African-American, Afro-Asian, and Appalachian families I’ve been around, storgē is strong. Grandma will be cared for in the home no matter how demented she gets. The ne’er-do-well alcoholic uncle now dying of lung cancer will likewise be taken in. The bonds of family and clan are strong, intergenerational, and forgiving. Grown kids call their aging parents daily.

Likewise, we in North America could learn much from Asian, Middle Eastern, and African cultures about xenia. In biblical times hospitality was paramount. Think of Abraham finding three visitors by the Oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18, or Jesus sending out his apprentices knowing they would be taken into local homes (Mark 6:7-13), or God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah for their lack of hospitality. (Ezekiel 16:49) The art of welcoming guests and making people feel at home is a vital part of truly becoming the beloved community.

We live in a transient society. The majority of Gen X (currently in their mid 40s to early 60s), millennials (late 20s to mid-40s), and centennials (late teens and 20s) change jobs every three years and live in a variety of cities around the world during their careers. Philía is hard to come by because deep friendships take time and effort to cultivate. It can happen long-distance, interspersed with regular visits, but more often friendships are left behind and new ones acquired that never have time to mature. To have a meaningful spiritual inner life, we need three things: (a) contemplation, prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, scripture study, times of praise and worship, (b) involvement in promoting social justice, joining God in making the world gentler and more loving, and (c) friendships, koinonia, relationships that guard against anger and despair, that keep us on course. 

The negative side of philautia is all too obvious in the public arena – greed, pride, arrogance, selfishness, egotism, narcissism, and self-promotion are not only off-putting, but also destructive to cultures, nations, and individuals. That kind of philautia calls for repentance and transformation, a new heart, and a right spirit. Philautia, self-care, has a positive side, however. Learning to accept oneself as broken, to forgive oneself for failures and sins, to rest in our true identity as beloved children of God, and knowing God loves us and will never give up on us, allows us to find the beauty in and around us, and respond with kindness.

Unless we shift the biblical definition of agápe that is clearly demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus and the poetry of the apostles, agápe is impossible apart from the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Agápe is God in us. Agápe is us living and acting like Jesus – forgiving our enemies, turning the other cheek, denying self, going the second mile, laying down our lives, responding to violence with nonviolence, serving others, washing feet – this love looks like Jesus on the cross. It is cruciform. God will shed this agápe abundantly into our hearts if we seek to know, love, and serve God. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on June 22, 2020, in anabaptist, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, Peace Shalom Hesed, Poetry, Prayer, Spirituality, The Cross, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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