ARE YOU LOOKING FOR ME?
On the radio yesterday I heard the phrase “non-bedsharers” to describe those of us who are single and alone on this Valentine’s Day. The culture has reached a new low with its impoverished language and perception of love. Non-bedsharers. This phrase suggests that love is not a psychological experience but a physiological act. People who share a bed may share only that, not a heart or a life of love. And what a stigma is forced on those who are–by choice or fate–alone. Non-bedsharers! A wretched life is easily projected onto single people. It’s enough to make one drop off the radar completely. But we all need the social as well as the spiritual world. At least most of us do. They are usually connected.
The Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson pointed out that Hindi has 80 words for love, whereas English has only one. Between Greek and Latin there are three: agape, eros, and caritas. Of these it is caritas–love of humanity–that is in short supply today. I suppose there has never been enough of this sort of love, otherwise history would not be haunted by poverty, starvation, oppression, war, and suffering of every variety. We seem to have little use for caritas. When persons of great caritas come along, like Gandhi and Mother Teresa, we call them saints as a way of distancing them from the rest of humanity, and we go on our way, blithely ignorant at best, cruelly indifferent or hardhearted at worst.
Why hasn’t the caritas message of the Gospels sunk in or taken greater hold in so thoroughly Christian a culture as ours? Is it because technology, which is rampant in and nearly indistinguishable from western civilization, makes religion so easily a telemarketing business? Some people claim there are more charities now than ever before. That may be true, but there are more people in need of charity than ever before. Witness the human disaster in many parts of Africa alone. The destitute feel forgotten by the world, abandoned, left to suffer and die in silence while the richest, most powerful country on earth obsesses over roses, chocolates, and lingerie for bedsharers (or is it bedwetters?) this day.
Romantic projections fall away. We don’t need a holiday that reminds us of this while at the same time ignoring it through “falling in love” gimmicks. Of course we fall in love. But after the fall, what then? How do you find human love, that is, love based on the person who is really there?
One way to practice caritas is to begin learning a willing surrender of preconceived ideas and affirm reality as it is. If we all clearly saw “what is” we could begin to do something about it, something that doesn’t involve “I” but “we.” One feels love for someone or something because it is somehow attached to oneself, or rather one’s ego. But relatedness means far more than what is within the ego’s grasp. The native peoples of the world once knew that they were part of all creation. They were earthsharers. We can be in that kind of relationship with each other again if we free ourselves from (in Johnson’s phrase) “the prison of separateness.” If God motivates you to love, great. But the fifteenth-century Indian poet Kabir reminds us that God is not to be found in stadiums, auditoriums, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, stupas, or shrines if he is not found in the person standing or sitting next to you. God is “breath inside the breath.”
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