Some years ago I read a book that suggested that there are five different languages of love: five different ways of expressing love. It named the five as:
1] touch: ranging from a light touch on the arm through to sexual intercourse;.
2] words of affirmation, affection & encouragement;
3] practical actions of service: men of my parents generation with memories of the Depression often did paid work that they hated because it paid for a roof over their family’s heads, clothes on their backs and food on the table. Women of the same generation saw it as their loving duty to stay at home, do the domestic chores, care for the children, and make sure the house was ready for the return of their husbands after work, often at the neglect of themselves. Both were offering practical acts of service as a language of their love.
4] giving of gifts; from tiny gestures upwards
5] time together: presence, quality time together; just being there for each other.
The suggestion was that different people tend to favour one or two languages to the exclusion of the others, either not valuing other languages of love for what they are, or dismissing them entirely. The result is that people who speak languages other than the ones we favour ourselves are seen as not loving us, when the reality is that they are simply offering that love in a language we haven’t learnt to value. Whereas, the more languages we are open to, the more we will be aware that we are much more loved than we imagined, which would be a plus!. And the more languages we can learn to speak, the more loving we will become for each other. Simple when put like that, and it opened my eyes no end!
Now this seems to be transferable wisdom to our relationship with God, Whom we address in a cacophony of different languages, Babel like! This was brought home to me when I served for a time in a well to do parish with a large churchyard, it employed David from a nearby council estate to come and look after the churchyard on a couple of days each week. David, to my knowledge never entered the church itself but he took meticulous and loving care, well beyond the call of duty, of the church yard. Watching him week by week I came to realise that this was the language in which he offered worship to God, [although he would have never put it like that]. Moreover the language we used for worship in church could not have been more alien to him: it involved words [he was a man of few words], books [and I doubt he read books], singing [which I never witnessed him doing], sitting in rows facing the front as if in school [of which I doubt he had happy memories] and dressing up [which was not his style at all]. David and the church congregation were using different languages of love in addressing God, without much mutual awareness or appreciation of each other.
I used to say that the door of the church should be wide enough to allow any to enter who wished to do so. I realised that it also needed to be wide enough for the folks inside to see those outside worshipping God in a multitude of different languages of love.
God of course addresses us in an astonishing range of languages, but most of us only hear a few of them. Let me list some of the more obvious:
1] ‘the God Who takes care of me and mine’. This may serve us well until tragedy strikes, when this language of God’s love either no longer speaks or, may seem to have disappeared altogether.
2] ‘the God Who touches us through the love languages of :
other people & animals
all of creation; its beauty
through the story of Jesus
through holy books, worship and prayer;
through the arts: music, poetry, literature, painting and sculpture
direct religious experience
3] the God Who provides a planet that can meet all our needs & enable us to flourish
4] the God Who bestows the gift of life, our senses, and a variety of other creative gifts that nourish us
We need not be dependent on just one of God’s love languages and we are not well served if we do so, because there will likely be times when it will seem to fail us. Better by far to be open to the God Who speaks in many languages, and Who’s love reaches out to us in so many different and varied ways. Both our vision of God and of love will be that much the greater.
If God speaks many languages then there cant be one ‘Word of God’ can there? Unless of course, its a word that appears in all of them, like love. So the Word of God is love. God is love, and wherever love is God is. The problem is that just as our vision of God is always too small, [how can it be otherwise?] so our vision of love is always too small. Yet life is constantly challenging us to leave our comfort zones and embrace a love strange beyond our current knowing.
Another thought occurs to me. Jesus commanded His followers to love one another: indeed He said that people should be able to recognise His followers by the way that they love one another. Of course He exemplified this teaching Himself: no word of condemnation for Judas or Peter or the others who abandoned Him, just acceptance, tolerance and words of forgiveness.
He never commanded His followers to believe particular things or to hold particular points of view. Indeed, He was often frustrated by their failure to understand Him and by their constant misunderstanding of Him. But He seems to have embraced, accepted and loved them nevertheless. Love was more important to Him.
Jesus’ community was based on a love that rose above intellectual conformity, that accepted and transcended all manner of human differences. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches were like this, and to be fair some are. But I am still appalled by the recent meeting of Anglican Archbishops from around the world who seemed to place greater importance on doctrinal agreement, than a truly Christian spirit of loving acceptance of differing opinions and practices.
Why can we not see that the Spirit is calling us to accept that Churches in different parts of the world will take different positions on certain matters and that that is OK? We can live with our many differences if we fulfil Jesus’ call to place primacy on loving one another. Why is this so difficult? We manage it with Christians from the past: they took views on a whole range of matters with which we would strongly disagree, but we accept them as fellow Christians. Why can we do this backwards through history but not in the here and now? Indeed why can we not see that this is of the essence of our calling as Christians?