Love is Like a Box of Chocolates

A rich assortment of chocolates

This sermon refers to, and includes, the emerging ritual of a "chocolate communion." If you're seeking to incorporate our Unitarian Universalist values into such a ritual, we recommend providing an organic fair-trade product like the one offered by Equal Exchange.

Love: it can be such a confusing word in our language. I can say, “I love my children” and I can say, “I love watching Downtown Abbey.” Both of these statements are true, but I assure you that my feelings for watching the adventures of the Crawley family pale in comparison to the connection I have with my children. Love means a lot of different things. People experience love differently, even love that might look the same on the outside.

The ancient Greeks had something that helped: different words for different kinds of love. One is Eros. Eros is the passion that young lovers feel for each other. It’s the romantic head-over-heels love that’s also often connected with physical attraction. Many of us think of romantic love as adorable or even enviable, and it can be. Eros love is what most of the songs on the radio are about. But the ancient Greeks often considered it dangerous because of the out-of-control nature and the way these feelings can get you into trouble. Eros is a very powerful force.

There’s also Pragma, or long-standing love. Those of us who have been married for a long time know that the crazy new-crush feeling does not last until the golden wedding anniversary. It is something else; it’s a different love. Pragma is based in compromise, in mutual regard and respect, in tolerance. I have heard that when we start a relationship that we Fall in Love; over time we instead Stand in Love. That is Pragma. It makes me sad when I hear that folks think that if the crazy Eros feeling fades it means the relationship is over and you need to move on to a new Eros. But the love of Pragma, which sounds a lot like “pragmatic” to me, is a fine love that will see you through the hills and valleys that life offers up to us. It’s a comforting and warm love, even if it is not so thrilling all the time.

Another word supplied to us by ancient Greek is Philia, the love of deep friendship. We have Philia for a comrade who we fought side by side with on the battlefield or in the trenches of a social movement. These are those old high school or college friends that we still feel so close to, or the poker group that has met every month for a decade. Philia is more constant than Eros…more reliable and lasting.

There is Ludus, or playful love. Ludus can range from a flirtatious dance to the joshing that happens at Mardi Gras. Most of us have had the experience of flirting with or suggestive kidding with someone just because it was fun—it didn’t mean anything like a deep connection; it was a kind of mutual game. Ludus is only problematic when it is confused for something different that it is.

Then there’s Agape love: the selfless love for other human beings; we often refer to that love as compassion or empathy. Agape is what keeps nurses warm and friendly as they care for the demented patient, and what urged the firefighters to run toward the twin towers. The Buddhists call if Loving-kindness. If you were to read the Christian Bible in its original Koine Greek, this is the word that you would see over and over: agape. In fact, the reading from First Corinthians that we so often hear—the one about faith, hope and love—isn’t about the love between honeymooners; it’s about Agape.

Here’s part of that famous passage, with the word “compassion” inserted as a better translation than “love:”

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but do not have compassion, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and knowledge and if I have faith so as to move mountains but do not have compassion, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have compassion, I gain nothing. Compassion is patient; compassion is kind; compassion is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doings but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Compassion never ends. Prophecies will come to and end. Tongues will cease. Knowledge will come to an end… Now faith, hope and compassion abide these three, and the greatest of these is compassion.

Last on the list of words for different kinds of love is Philautia, or the way you love yourself. This kind of love needs to be balanced: there’s self-love that is positive self-esteem and a happy self-confidence. That’s good: we need to love ourselves and treat ourselves as valuable people, because doing so helps us take good care of ourselves and provides a base from which we can love others. Then there’s arrogant and narcissistic self-love that can be destructive; it can overshadow the compassionate Agape love and keep a person focused on themselves alone. That’s not so good.

In the movie by the same name, Forrest Gump says, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.” Is that true of love as well: that you never know what you’re going to get? Well, life is full of surprises, and love can be as well.

Like love, chocolate comes in many forms. The confection we usually think of as chocolate is made of processed cocoa beans mixed with some kind of fat and some kind of sugar. How much fat and sugar, and whatever else they add, determines a lot about what it tastes like.

Have you ever tasted unsweetened baking chocolate? Blech! It’s really bitter. Eating it isn’t a pleasant experience. Bittersweet chocolate, on the other hand, is made just of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and sugar. The cocoa content is often about 70%, and the flavor is kind of complicated: it has the pleasant sweetness of fine chocolate, but it’s not very sweet. You can’t eat too much of it because after too much, the bitter starts to show through.

Milk chocolate has more sugar and less cocoa than the bittersweet. There’s no bitter aftertaste so it’s easy to eat, but after a while can start to get cloying in its sweetness.

Chocolate can disappoint. Think about the mass-produced, inexpensive chocolate in coins or Easter bunnies: you see them and say, “WOW, Chocolate.” They look like chocolate and they are brown like chocolate, but when you bite down there are so many additives, so much partially hydrogenated soybean oil, that the taste of the chocolate is just not there. Sometimes we keep eating it, thinking that it must be good because it is, after all, chocolate. But it never works.

I think love can be like this. Not everyone has the same needs in terms of love. Just as some of us like a 70% cocoa content while others like a 35%, and there are even those who like white chocolate, there’s a wide variety of tastes in what we look for in a loving relationship. Some folks want excitement while others want comfort. Sometimes we don’t get what we want.

In terms of Eros and excitement, is it love or is it just a good time? The key to living in compassion and respect is to know what you seek and, if you enter a relationship, make sure you know what the other person seeks.

In a moment, we will take part in a Chocolate Communion by passing dishes down the aisles, filled with Organic Fair Trade dark chocolate mini bars]. But we honor diversity in taste, so there are also a few good old Hershey Kisses for those who would rather have those. Please take a piece of chocolate as the dish passes by, but wait before you unwrap or eat your candy. We are going to do a chocolate mediation together.

Does everyone who wants one have a chocolate? Okay, now: all together, unwrap your chocolate and hold it in your hand. Look at the color. Smell the aroma. Is it melting in your hand? Is your mouth watering? Now, take your chocolate and rather than put the whole thing in your mouth, just bit off a tiny bit and let it dissolve slowly, without chewing. Notice the taste… the sweetness, notice any other flavors present in your chocolate. How do you feel when you eat the chocolate? Is this flavor associated with any memories? When you are ready, go ahead and finish your candy in any way you want to. You can continue to nibble at the edges or you can pop the whole thing in your mouth or something in-between. Which did you choose? When your chocolate is gone, how do you feel?

Yes, Love is like a box of chocolates. Both can involve some choice and some risk. Love and chocolate can bring you joy but can also be kind of messy. Different people have different tastes and different desires. But know that your love and your life is honored here, as we grow in compassionate community.