Monday 12 September 2011

Can you sever Love from Charity?

I love quotes. Why try and say something succinct when someone far more famous than 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? 


Damaria Senne said...

In the context you're talking about, charity is a kind and lenient love. But until you explained here, my gut response would have seen charity as a distant caring love for my fellowman; like caring for socity generally.

Frances Garrood said...

Originally they are/were presumably the same; the word "charity" now seems to have taken on a different meaning from the original. I think that "love" is now more general than "charity", the latter having more of loving kindness in it. After all, we can "love" chocolate, but presumbaly that has little to do with charity (unless you give the chocolate away!).

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

DAMARIA: It's when researching words like this that I wish I could read/speak ancient Hebrew or Greek - the nuances that must have got lost in 2000 years of translation of the original texts must be very subtle.

FRANCES: Ahaha! I guarantee I'll feel *very* loving towards anyone who gives away their chocolate to me!! (I'll feel pretty charitable towards them too!!)

Damaria Senne said...

Judy- When I translate Setswana/English text, I also struggle. Sometimes the English word does not quite cover the subtle mean imbued in the Setswana word and vice versa and something gets lost. I can imagine that happening over and over the generations until no one even remembers the subtle concepts originally intended. Add the fact that language is alive and continuously changing and it's a wonder the Bible still retained as much of the orginally intended messages... Damaria

Judith Mercado said...

Oh my, you didn't really mean to send me into biblical exegesis, did you? Probably not. But it takes very little to send a preacher’s kid into such a state. Anyway, you might want to check out 1John 4.8-10 for context as to the meaning intended, viz, love as in selfless love ... which of course could be termed charity, the model of which, in the Christian tradition, was God who so loved humanity that he gave the most precious thing he knew to give, his beloved son ... and so on and so on and so on. Theses have been written about this very question.

And you probably just wanted to get a secular take on love versus charity, but honestly, as estranged as I am from my parents’ religion, it obviously takes very little to send me back there exploring.

Bish Denham said...

Oh Judy, you are so eloquent. One would indeed have to go to the original Greek and Hebrew texts to find out what word was used, but I believe your interpretation of charity equaling compassion, agape, is correct.

There is similar "conflict" with one of the Commandments. The King James version says "Thou shalt not kill." Other versions say, "You must not murder." Very different interpretations. I wish I could read the original texts and form my own opinion!

CA Heaven said...

The Sri Sathya Sai Baba quote is a good one, very suitable for our time >:)

Cold As Heaven

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. I need to read this - and haven't got there yet - but wanted to come by and say it's waiting for me.

I need time to absorb and inwardly digest as best I can .. you're teaching me so much about things I have no idea about .. which is good: my eyes need to be opened .. just sometimes the brain takes its time.

Cheers for now - and my thoughts and big hugs for you and the family .. and have your rains come?

All the best - Hilary

Claire Robyns said...

Aah, I remember having this conversation before :)
If you consider that charity (as we think of it today) wouldn't exist without a love for your fellow mankind (and animals), then it makes sense that love and charity are synonymous.

Claire Robyns said...

And, I'd like to present you with a Versatile Blogger Award. Please stop by to check out the post

The Writing Well said...

Hi Judy, enjoyed this post so much, I became a follower.
I agree that Love=Charity. But above all thing we should strive to have agape love which =unconditional love. I hopped over from Robyn's blog to pay you a visit. Congrats on this award.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

DAMARIA: Exactly! Because of the very problem you have when translating Setswana/English, I have to question how much of what we read in modern Bibles is the “original truth,” and that’s why it’s so important to read any religious text with the awareness that millennia of translations into the language of the day may have affected what we read as gospel.M

JUDITH: Haha! No, I didn’t want to set your pulses racing in the excitement of a biblical exegesis! Just looked at 1 John 4.8-10. Lovely (“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love”) What I find interesting of course is that it says “God is love” without specifying the form, religion or shape of God. Oh dear! I’ll stop there, otherwise we’ll talk for hours!

BISH: A veeery interesting nuance in the difference between “thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not murder”…!! I’d also love to be able to form my own opinion by reading the original texts!

COLD: The Sri Sathya Sai Bab quote is one of my favourites. As I was finalising the eBook edition of my novel he died, so I had to quickly send in a correction with his date of death as well.

HILARY: No rains yet although some days it looks promising. For a change I’m hoping the rains will be a few weeks late – just long enough for my renovations to be complete! Hope your Mum is doing well and is keeping comfortable.

CLAIRE: We’ve definitely had this conversation before!! It was that email which formed the basis of this post!! :) AND I got a blogger award!! Thanks, Claire!! (Versatile sounds much better than the blog is unfocused!!)

WRITING WELL: Welcome to the conversation!! So glad you’ve joined us. And, yes, agape is a subtly higher form of Love – unconditional or Divine Love.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. very interesting to read and not coming from an erudite background I struggle along - and earlier this year the King James version came to the fore in various programmes and radio series .. in which I was very interested and made some notes ... I must get them out and do the post otherwise the year will have gone and the 401st year will be here ..

I love reading these discussions .. and the idea of using the quotes as a road map is something I'd never really thought about before ..

Thanks so much - Hilary

PS I hope all is well with you and your father ...

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Hilary: The KJV is celebrating it's 400 yr anniversary this year. Amazing to think people have been reading it since 1611! Sending positive thoughts to you and your Mum xoxox

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Very interesting post. I had written a nice reply that disappeared, so let me just add, you got me thinking. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Joylene: Ugh! I hate when a long post disappears - mien or some one else's - now I'll never know what you said! But thanks for reading anyway! :)