The Anatomy of Love

Contributing Writer
Rev. Luke F. Fodor

Saint Luke’s Church

It is interesting how ideas pass down through history and shape our understanding and experience of the world. And sometimes while our knowledge grows and adapts—our practices don’t. For instance, the ancient Romans believed that there was a vein extending from the fourth finger of the left hand directly to the heart called the vena amoris. Even though this idea was based upon faulty knowledge of the human anatomy, it has persisted. In medieval England, the church added a ceremony to the marriage liturgy, instructing the groom to place a ring on the bride’s fourth finger because of it.

Humans have always pondered where emotions come from and reside in the body. In the earliest civilizations in that emerged from the Mesopotamia valley, they believed the liver to be the emotional center. In the Hebrews Scriptures, the words for compassion and sympathetic emotions find their linguistic roots in the stomach or womb.

As far back as the 7th Century BCE, the Ancient Greeks imaged the heart to be physical home of our emotions. With its ubiquitous cartoon renderings of the heart, Valentine’s Day is proof of this enduring prevalence of this notion even though modern science has long shown it is primarily the brain that turns the sense data into emotions. Of course, these notions are begin complicated by newer scientific research the calls attention to the role of the vagal nerve, which is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system that snakes through the body from the brain to the gut and oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate.

While we may never be able to detail precisely where love emerges from in our bodies, it is important to note the love is an embodied practice and requires all of us. Love is born in the body and while Valentine’s Day invites us to think about romance, child rearing might be the loves first expression.

For the Hebrew Psalms declare this again and again, especially Psalm 103, as a parent has compassion for a child, so God has compassion toward us (Psalm 103:13), “For God knows how we were made; God remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 10:13-14). As a mother cares for the new life growing in her womb, so, too, God reaches out with compassion toward us.

This year with the synchronicity of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, you are invited to experience a love the moves the whole body to an abundant gratitude and compassionate care of our neighbors.

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