Thursday, September 1, 2011

Can you sever Love from Charity?

I love quotes. Why try and say something succinct when someone far more famous then I'll ever be has already said it perfectly?

In “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” I wanted to use quotes as a road map for my readers. Each chapter has a quote from Shakespeare as a sub-heading. All of these quotes, except for the last chapter’s quote, come from Shakespeare’s tragedies. 

I also needed a quote to place the novel in a general context.

Years ago, before I started this novel, there was one quote that, to me, encapsulated the main theme of the story: what is love? 

My first choice of an opening quote for "Dancing in the Shadows of Love" was the famous definition of love found in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 13:13 which, in the traditional King James Bible, reads:  

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest of these is charity. 

But take a look at this same verse from the New American Standard Bible (NASB):

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Isn’t it interesting that modern versions of the Bible have substituted the word “love” for the word “charity”?  

Foreign translations are also ambivalent in which word to use. The Louis Segond French translation is:

Maintenant donc ces trois choses demeurent: la foi, l'espérance, la charité; 
mais la plus grande de ces choses, c'est la charité

But La Bible du Semeur  (as well as Italian and Spanish versions) specifically uses the word "love":

En somme, trois choses demeurent: la foi, l'espérance et l'amour,
mais la plus grande d'entre elles, c'est l'amour.

Aah! How romantic that word l'amour sounds!

Left: I was brought up on the King James Bible, which uses the word "charity" in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Our family bible, which has the date 1st  June, 1895 inscribed on the inside front cover, is the King James Bible. This was read to me with my mother's milk: my Dad is of the old school, he still reads his Bible out loud morning and evening, as did his dad, and his dad.

Why have modern translations (from 19th century on, particularly late 19th century) started using the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13:13?

From what I can gather this was to move away from the concept of charity as "almsgiving.” I’m not a theologian and, unable to read either Hebrew or Ancient Greek (which is on my bucket list!), I can’t go into the scholarly debate on the veracity of the KJV text and the source transcripts used (the original translators ignored the Latin Vulgate in use and went to Greek and Hebrew texts as their sources.)  

But the way I understand Paul's true meaning in this verse is based on the archaic meaning of the word “charity.” Not as “almsgiving,” but as agape: compassion, a kindly and lenient attitude towards people or love of one’s fellow men.  In other words, Divine Love.

In “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” Lulu, Jamila and Zahra constantly search for love. They explore various forms of love: eros (erotic or romantic love), storge (family affection), phileo (friendship) and, finally, they each reach a point where they can, if they so choose, explore the highest form of love: charity, or agape.  

Do the three women choose to embrace the Divine Love offered to them at their moment of truth or do they reject the ultimate form of love that exists? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

And, despite its profound influence on the story, when you do read “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” you won’t find 1 Corinthians 13:13 quoted anywhere in the book (although you may find it tattooed somewhere!) As the characters grew and the story took shape into a more universal view of love, I found a more appropriate opening quote to contextualize the story:

There is only one language, the language of the Heart.
There is only one religion, the religion of Love.
Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Mystic, 1926-2011)

In this multi-cultural world where good people, compassionate people, are defined more by what’s in their hearts than by the organised religion they subscribe too, the idea of agape – Divine Love – as a spiritual, rather than a religious, concept appeals to me. After all, isn’t that what Paul was saying when he said that charity, or love, is greater even than faith or hope?

In the final chapters of “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” Lulu, Jamila and Zahra have to choose between faith, hope and charity knowing that making choices can sometimes lead to tragic consequences: the risks and challenges these three women must face in their search for love are veiled in the quotes from Shakespeare’s tragedies which begin each chapter…except for the quote from one of Shakespeare comedies, which introduces the final chapter:

“Charity itself fulfils the law,
And who can sever love from charity?”
Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Sc iii, Line 363


Yes, indeed. In a world where wars are fought in the name of religions, perhaps the answer lies in reminding ourselves that love and charity are synonymous with Divine Love, irrespective of the shape or form the Divine Being we may choose to worship assumes.  


How would you define the relationship between love and charity?