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A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud. And the Art of Loving

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Love thy neighbor, even when he plays the trombone. Jewish saying.

I love whodunnits. Law and Order is my favorite television show (thank goodness NBC renewed it for 2023 - it’s 23rd season. I am watching old episodes).

Recently, the show opened with detectives Briscoe and Curtis standing over the dead body of a married woman. Right away the husband is suspected.

“But what’s the motive?” Detective Curtis asks.

Briscoe sardonically replies, “They were married, weren’t they?”

Those of us who are married may smile. We may recall perhaps times when we have felt less than loving toward our spouse.

And that’s where love school comes in. But where does one really learn how to love? I’ll start the ball rolling.

My lessons come from a class I took online offered by Stanford. I was shocked by the books they chose – no heavy tomes (like the Pitirim Sorokin book I am afraid to open).

Rather there were two little books. One, The Art and Practice of Love by Frank Andrews (which you can get for free online), the other, Agape Love by Sir John Templeton.

The whole subject comes up for me today because John is studiously preparing for a talk he is going to give about his trip to India. It’s called “India: A Pilgrimage.” It’s about seeing people from different cultures and different circumstances (poor, maimed, various skin colors, different religions, and languages) through the “lens of love.” We will have to wait to see exactly what he’s going to say.

All I know is it is a subject John is passionate about. The whole love thing.

How he will define or conceive of love and how one “sees through the lens of love” from his perspective is hard to guess. But if I looked to the Stanford stuff, I’d guess that love is an experience in which one positively approaches a subject (a person or thing) …with a warm attitude.

This warm attitude could involve any of these approaches and more: affection, appreciation, awe, caring, concern, tenderness, interest, connectedness, respect, sensitivity, curiosity, enthusiasm, joy, intimacy….

There are lots of myths about love according to Andrews. That it’s always romantic. That you must wait for something or someone worthy of loving to experience love.

The big idea is that the lovable is NOT scarce; it is everywhere. Our job is to see it. The authors of the books I read might say that we are seeing through the lens of love whenever we open ourselves, warm our hearts, and engage positively with the world, the whole world.

The very first passage in the Forward to The Art and Practice of Loving begins with what I think is one of the more amazing passages I have ever read on the topic of love. It’s an excerpt from a story in a book written by Southern writer, Carson McCullers. The excerpt is rather long. I have broken it up for easier reading. An older man is giving a lesson on love to a younger man …:

I’m talking about love,” the man said. With me it is a science…. I meditated on love and reasoned it out. I realized what is wrong with us.

Men fall in love for the first time. And what do they fall in love with? A woman…. Without science, with nothing to go by, they undertake the most dangerous and sacred experience in God’s earth. They fall in love with a woman…. They start at the wrong end of love. They begin at the climax. Can you wonder it is so miserable?

Do you know how men should love? Son, do you know how love should begin? A tree. A rock. A cloud….

I meditated and I started very cautious. I would pick up something from the street and take it home with me.

I bought a goldfish, and I concentrated on the goldfish, and I loved it. I graduated from one thing to another. Day by day I was getting this technique….

For six years now I have gone around by myself and built up my science. And now I am a master, Son. I can love anything.

No longer do I have to think about it even. I see a street full of people and a beautiful light comes in me. I watch a bird in the sky. Or I meet a traveler on the road.

Everything, Son. And anybody. All strangers and all loved!

Do you realize what a science like mine can mean?

(If you’d like to find the passage, it’s from A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud.)

My husband, John, DOES envision what a science like that could mean. John believes a science which helps us love deeply, widely, and consistently would mean nothing less than…world peace...and also a bunch of happiness, awe, and wonder. And John does work at seeing others with a warm-hearted positivity, with curiosity, connectedness, interest, tenderness…whatever he can muster up at the time.

And…what heartens me about learning this science of love is that is works for anyone. You can be single, married, old, young, losing your job, moving into a nursing home, surrounded by loads of folks, experiencing a terminal illness, walking in nature, or sitting alone on a park bench, drinking a cup of tea, or just noticing with interest your breath. We can be curious about all the raw material life offers up - a tree, a rock, a cloud.

Andrews writes about just imagining living our current lives, but only adding the practice of loving deeply and widely and continually…delighting in the warmth of our morning shower, relishing the smell of breakfast cooking, enjoying driving the highway, feeling bonds of cooperation with co-workers…just deeply appreciating whatever is at hand. He goes further encouraging us to visualize our lives, doing our activities with warmth, wonder, and sensitivity.

Then, Andrews exhorts us to give up the idea I mentioned earlier that we can only love in reaction to something desirable that happens to us or when we have an encounter with something particularly worthy of our love.

We are not likely to find the good life in the pursuit of finding more lovable objects. Rather the work for us to do is with ourselves. It is our skill and our will that creates more love. The lovable is not scarce; it’s everywhere. Our job is to see it that way.

Now I’m not saying this is easy. It takes lots of practice, I imagine. Starting with goldfish and trees, rocks, and clouds. Andrews reminds us that becoming an expert at loving is like becoming an expert at any other complex skill. It takes practice and commitment.

One way that John and I have taken baby steps toward this with each other is to start most days by facing each other, looking at each other in the eyes, and repeating, “I see the good in you. You bless me. I love you.” We switch it up a bit sometimes, but that’s the basic idea.

One time we were doing this while some of our grandchildren were around. The youngest one came over to us with his thumb and forefinger encircling each of his eyes (like he was holding binoculars). It looked something like this photo.

“Sometimes you have to look really close to see the good in people,” he said. So true.

Later that day, the kids and we too were having trouble getting along. I looked at them in true consternation. “What should we do?”

One of them said, “Let’s look for the good in each other.” We all took turns facing each other individually, locking eyes, and saying, “I see the good in you.” It kinda worked. We cooled down and gave our irritation a back seat anyway.

Okay. A big job. Complex work. Sometimes it may take imagining that we can see through the lens of love. It’s worth a try. Today. Right now. Let the learning begin. I’m giving up Law and Order for a while and looking at trees, rocks, and clouds. Speaking of clouds...this is my view tonight. I only had to look.

How might we learn how to love and journey together up to The Good Life?


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