While my last post was about sexuality, today I’d like to change the subject to l-o-v-e love. I’m not talking about the love you feel for your favorite ice cream, your cat or dog, or even your significant other or spouse. My topic is the true greatest love of all, something that the ancient Greeks called agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay.)
Agape is a love that’s distinctly different from erotic love or romantic love, as it exists on a higher, more spiritual plane. It’s the unselfish love you give to everyone and everything around you, while expecting nothing in return. It’s love simply for the sake of loving.
In our society, love often includes an implied “if I love you, you have to love me back” pre-condition, that comes from a need for security or completion. In Writing in the Sand, Thomas Moore describes it as “a banker’s idea of love. If you don’t get as much out as you put in, you are being cheated.” But agape is different, as it has nothing to with the actions of someone else.
Agape is often associated with the unconditional love of Jesus, but it’s said to originate with the Greeks who identified it as coming from a divine source. This source, aka God, offers an endless supply of agape to all of us, all the time. As John Templeton points out in his book Pure Unlimited Love:
Agape is the holy, unconditional love that God gives us regardless of what we look like, how much money we have, how smart we are, and even regardless of how unloving our actions may sometimes be.
So no matter how unworthy or unlovable we may feel, God offers us a consistent outpouring of love (best accessed through meditation and prayer). Of course, the most difficult part of agape is the reciprocal side—taking the love we receive from the divine and turning around and putting it out into the universe. As Templeton points out:
The great challenge is not in getting love but in giving it. Agape demands that we give others the freedom to return or not to return our love. And because it is unlimited, it keeps on giving even when love is not returned.
Templeton actually advises trying to be like God by “radiating unlimited love”, which to me means reflecting the love you receive like a mirror (albeit a mirror that’s deep inside you). You then set up a feedback loop, by which the more you extend love outwards to the world “the more you become flooded by waves of love from others and from God”.
As you can imagine the benefits of this endless loop of love are many. As Templeton puts it, “When we practice agape, it becomes easier to love our enemies, to tolerate those who annoy us, and to find something we appreciate in every person we meet”. He also points out that this unlimited love “encourages strength and freedom and empowers a person rather than fosters dependency or weakness”.
Thomas Moore goes a step further by advising that agape can even lead to romantic love, though he does add a few words of caution: “This doesn’t mean you should suffer abuse at the hands you love. As Jesus says more than once, you always have to love yourself in equal measure.”
No matter how you use agape, there’s no downside. Even the briefest of encounters with another person become an opportunity to share this unlimited love. It’s an amazing power that we all hold within our hearts and that can be used at any time. Why not start right now?