One year, the Valentine’s Day card my wife gave to me had quite a unique inscription. The exterior was a generic Hallmark-like card. But inside, in her own handwriting, she wrote: “I love you with all my intestines.” Thinking about that too literally might make you wretch a little. But she and I had been talking about the words for “love” and “compassion” in ancient cultures. For example, the biblical Greeks located love and compassion in the gut, not the heart. There’s a great word in their language called “splagchnizomai” (“splag-neats-oh-my-ee”)
Say that three times fast.
“Splagchnizomai” denotes a kind of love and compassion that far outstrips romantic love. It means something like: to be moved, as in the bowels. It denotes a deep-seated feeling and emotion — a visceral reaction to love, compassion and empathy. We like to say that we have a “gut feeling” about something. Turns out, many ancient cultures agreed.
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 moments 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 rest of our body and spirit feels centered and safe, too.
When Jesus feeds the 5,000 in the Gospel stories, 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 …” That’s that word, “splagchnizomai,” right there. Jesus has compassion on them, this faceless, teaming hoard of humanity. Even though they were interrupting his alone time. He did not react in anger, bitterness or resentment. He showed compassion and love for people he didn’t even know.
God has this same kind of deep-level compassion and love for the world.
During a month littered with overly sentimental chocolates and roses, we throw down the phrase, “I love you with all my heart,” with wild abandon.
But far too often, the heart-love of our day feels like it’s a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s schmaltzy, romantic love, and it’s forgotten the moment the rose wilts and the chocolate wrappers go in the trash.
But there’s a deeper love. A love you feel in your gut. A love that moves you to your core. Maybe it starts with how you feel about your children and family. We can learn that same compassion for others, too — even our enemies. Having love and compassion for others is always challenging.
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. 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 a card that says: “I love you with all my intestines.” That’s the love that can save our world.