Monday, February 1, 2010

The Heart and Mind of Love

This is the month when we celebrate the feast of Saint Valentine, who undoubtedly was the reason for our custom of exchanging love letters and gifts on February 14. Last year, writing about the origin of Valentine’s Day, I tried to define love but, not surprisingly, was unsuccessful since it is really indefinable.

Let’s look, then, at love from other angles:

According to studies, at last count, there are 665 songs with ‘love’ in the title. How many songs are about love, God only knows..

Famous quotes about love are endless, but here’s a sample:

For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” ….(from “My Love Is Lost “ by Judy Garland, who wrote beautiful poetry )

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”…..Frederick Nietzsche

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” ….Mother Teresa

That eclectic group shows how universal the emotion of love really is. Ah, it’s an emotion, isn’t it? It has always fascinated me that love is associated with the heart, yet, as an emotion, it is a brain activity. Now there’s an angle worth investigating.

Some people, by the way, have difficulty believing that our individual, tangible brain controls emotions that many consider to be intangible, such as being in love. However, studies have shown that in the case of love, brain does equal behavior.

In the interesting report, “ Neurobiology of Falling in Love”, the author wrote, “Researchers think that falling in love is a basic emotion like anxiety or fear. When falling in love, the same brain structures as in anxiety are stimulated: the amygdala and related circuits and neuro transmitters. Human beings are anxious until the bond with the loved one is accomplished. Anxiety is than replaced by positive feelings of stability and pleasure. The euphoria and focused attention when falling in love is explained by involvement of the reward and motivation systems in the human brain.”. ( )

OK. Is love, then, just a function of our brains? Hard to say, but probably so. Although this does not rule out other areas that many believe play a role in love, the brain does play a vital, if not ultimate role in all aspects of love.

So much for romantic love.

This is also the month when we observe Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the prayerful and penitential journey that ends with the greatest act of another kind of love. Christ suffered and died so that our sins would be forgiven.
(“No greater love hath man than he lay down his life for his friends”- John 15:13) That’s love above and beyond romantic love.

As I wrote last year, Christ chose love as the mark to identify His disciples. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 31-35)How wonderful that loving one another is the mark of a Christian.

As we celebrate these feasts this month, perhaps some will find that person of their dreams, their soul mates, their special romantic love while others may share love already found. But, all of us need not look anywhere but within ourselves to find the love that Christ has already given us and commanded us to share.

So, here’s to love of every kind. As the song says, “All you need is love….love is all you need…”