I opened my Valentine’s Day card from The Judge a while ago. The cover had the generic Hallmark-like greeting.
But, inside, in her own hand, she wrote this: “I love you with all my intestines.”
Now, thinking of that literally might make you wretch a bit, or wonder about the two of us. But me? It made me smile.
See, earlier this week, I was preparing to lead the Second Monday Series. This year, the series is focusing on Compassion. So, I’ve been doing some study on the Biblical words for compassion.
What I found is that, like many other ancient cultures, Greek and Bible culture located love and compassion in the gut, not the heart.
And there’s a specific word I learned this week that I absolutely….um…”love.” It’s a word used for compassion in the Bible:
Say that three-times fast.
“Splagchnizomai” denotes a kind of deep-level love and compassion that far outstrips romantic love.
“Splagchnizomai” means something like: To be moved, as in the bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, to moved with compassion, to feel compassion. It denotes a deep seated “feeling” and “emotion,” a visceral reaction of love, compassion and empathy.
We like to say that we “have a gut feeling” about something. Turns out, many ancient cultures agreed. The Greeks believe our emotions literally lived in our gut, and were not just created in them. Ancient Vedic and Chinese culture (and many others) also locate love and other emotions not in the heart, but in the gut. Civilization as far back as you can look locate “emotion” and “love” what we’d call “the core,” or the “gut.”
And even though we’ve lost some of this, we still understand how our emotions can be connected to our gut. Unacknowledged emotion can literally make us sick. That feeling of butterflies, that excitement of the stomach leaping and turning, can signify the most wonderful moment of our lives.
When our emotions get the best of us, when stress, worry, and anxiety are all we feel, it’s stomach-churning. When we are filled with love, if our gut feels love and compassion, often the entire rest of our body and spirit feels centered and safe too.
The Bible locates love/compassion in the gut, at some crucial moments, and in some of the most famous stories you know.
For example, in the “feeding stories” of Jesus, when he feeds the “five thousand” (or the four).
Jesus is trying to get away for some desperately needed prayer time. But when he arrives at his destination, he finds thousands of people —a smelly, dirty, hungry, needy, hoard of humanity who have hunted him down like paparazzi hunting Brad and Angie. Only they don’t just want a picture. They want a piece of him.
But instead of reacting in anger or petulance, the Bible says this:
“As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
This same word, “Splagchnizomai,” appears in every Gospel version of the feeding stories.
Jesus has compassion on them. This faceless teaming hoard of humanity. Not anger, bitterness, or resentment. Compassion and love. For a teaming hoard he didn’t even know.
Another place the word occurs is in the story of “The Good Samaritan.” That story –which should convict the heart of every minister/clergy in any denomination– casts the professionally religious as uncaring and fearful of the truly injured and sick.
Instead, it’s a Samaritan –reviled as inbred infidels by the “religiously pure” of Jesus’ day– who plays the role of the good guy. When the professionally religious walk right past the injured man, it’s the hated Samaritan who stops and renders aid:
“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
In this, Jesus says, the Samaritan is the one who understood what it means to “love your neighbor.” Loving your neighbor means loving-compassion for your enemy; not saccharine, romantic love.
Finally, the word “Splagchnizomai” appears in the story of the Prodigal Son. That ungrateful slob who turns his back on his father and asks to be considered dead to his family. When he finally comes to his “right mind,” and goes home to see if there’s any place at all for him there, the Bible says this:
“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”
It’s widely believed that the Father in this story is something of a stand-in for God. If so, and taken with all the examples listed here, you get a powerful overall message about God.
God has this same kind of deep-level compassion and love for the world…
…For teaming, smelly, hoards of humanity.
…For idiots who travel down bandit-filled roads by themselves.
…For ungrateful sons who act like bastards to their families.
That’s how deep God’s compassion and love runs.
Sure, there certainly are scriptures that talk about loving God, self, neighbor “with all your heart.” But, “heart” is considered the center of life itself. The heart, the Bible indicates, gives life to all the body.
Heart = Center of our life.
Gut= Center of our love.
On this special day of chocolates and roses, we throw down the phrase “I love you with all my heart,” with wild abandon. Frankly, we throw it down a lot of other times too.
But far too often, the heart-love of this day, or of the world in general, feels like it’s a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s schmaltzy, romantic love, forgotten the moment the rose wilts and the chocolate wrappers are in the trash.
But there’s a deeper love. A love you feel in your gut. A love that moves you to your gut. Maybe it starts with how you feel about your children and your individual family. Maybe this is the place we notice it most. We think of them and our gut literally moves. The butterflies flutter.
Here’s a song I wrote about that.
True faith is a bedrock trust in a love that rests in the gut, not just some intellectual propositions in our head.
It’s knowing that you are loved by God, like a father loves an errant son.
It’s knowing we’re called to love teaming masses of people we may deeply resent. Again, not with platitudes and wooden handshakes…but with bedrock gut-love. Exactly as we love our families.
We’re called to love Democrats and Republicans.
Gays and Lesbians, and those who hate them.
Immigrants, and those who would deport them.
Our own families, and the families of folks we resent-the-hell out of.
That’s the love and compassion God calls us to.
So, while I’ve never yet seen the Valentine’s Day card with this greeting, I’d love to. I’d pay good money for one.
Because the card God wishes we’d send each other every day is:
“I love you with all my intestines.”
That’s the love that can save our world.
(As always, if you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too…)