“All About Love” with Rev. Melanie Eyre

“All About Love” with Rev. Melanie Eyre

What is Agape love? Rev. Melanie Eyre discusses how the concepts of love and duty shape our lives to create meaning and purpose.

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A revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the Deaf and hard of hearing, including prayers, readings and songs.

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Service Transcript

Opening Prayer

A Prayer for the Dawn, by Diane Berke

May this be for you a day of blessing and peace.
May it be a day of safety and well-being.
May the rising sun infuse you with inspiration and hope.  May your mind be filled with light.
May you give and receive only kindness.
May you accept and offer only healing.
May you come to know a deeper level of happiness, and may you move nearer today to true awakening.
May this be for all beings a day of blessing and peace.
May it be a day of safety and well-being.
May the rising sun infuse us all with inspiration and hope.  May every mind be filled with light.
May we give and receive only kindness.
May we accept and offer only healing.
May all beings come to know a deeper level of happiness, and may we all move nearer today to true awakening.

Community Prayer

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for you own individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful, good, and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.   

John O’Donohue

Talk Transcript

“All About Love” with Rev. Melanie Eyre

On February 3, 1943, 78 years ago this week, the troop transport SS Dorchester was traveling in a convoy of three ships from New York to Greenland, carrying 904 men. The ship’s captain had been alerted that Coast Guard sonar had detected a submarine, and the ship’s crew was on a state of high alert. However, many of the men were not wearing their lifejackets because they were sleeping deep in the ship’s hold near the engine, and life jackets were hot and uncomfortable.

At 12:55 AM, a German UBoat torpedoed the Dorchester off Newfoundland in the north Atlantic. The torpedo knocked out the ship’s electrical system leaving the ship dark and without power, making it impossible to send out distress signals. Panic set in among the men, many of whom were trapped below decks. There were four chaplains on board George Fox (Methodist); Alexander Goode (Reform Rabbi); Clark Poling (Reformed Church in America), and John Washington, a Catholic priest.

In the midst of panic and chaos, the chaplains sought to calm the men, help the wounded, and organize an orderly evacuation of the ship.

The supply of life jackets ran out. Although each of the chaplains was wearing his own, each chaplain took off his life jacket and gave it to one of the men. They helped load as many men as they could into lifeboats. Out of a contingent of 904 men on board, 229 survived. It was the worst single loss of life in any American convoy during World War 2.

One survivor, Pvt. William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies and debris. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” Bednar recalls. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

The chaplains remained on the ship, continuing to encourage the men getting into the boats.  With their arms around each other, they prayed and sang hymns as the Dorchester sank. As the men in the water watched, they could hear songs and prayers in Hebrew, English, and Latin.

Wednesday, Feb 3, was Four Chaplains Day, created by a unanimous act of Congress in 1988.  Theirs was an amazing story of courage, selfless love and sacrifice.

The US Post Office issued a commemorative stamp honoring the four chaplains in 1948. It contained a picture of the four men and the inscription “These immortal chaplains – interfaith in action.”

I’ve spoken about the four chaplains – some of you may recall that I’m a Navy veteran, and I guess I’m still a sailor at heart. However, it’s part of our history and it’s a day we should remember. This story resonates with all of us – such powerful love that inspires and strengthens people from ordinary walks of life to do extraordinary and selfless things.  

Notice I don’t call it a feeling. Love can be a feeling – every February we are awash with movies, cards, books describing love as an emotion.  However, the love exemplified by the Four Chaplains, and so many other heroes we know, and others we may never hear about, is not love that is targeted at a beloved other, like romantic love. It’s not Eros, but agape. It’s the love that does not discriminate, that goes out everywhere and to all of life. It’s the power of the divine, acting through and as us, to change our world, our lives and the lives of others in sometimes small and sometimes amazing ways.

Wisdom writings give us four different types of love, if you will. They are romantic love, love of family, brotherly love, such as love of a friend, and what is seen as the highest form, agape love. The model of this love is God’s unconditional love for us.

Agape love, said Swedish theologian Anders Nygren, is “unmotivated in the sense that it is not contingent on any value or worth in the object of love.” It is unconditional love, heedless of self; loving others as a reflection and channel of the universal love that created and sustains us all.

It’s the power of spirit, channeled through you, through me, through the heroes we read about, meet, or become.

The story of the four chaplains illustrates the power of this agape love to take us from ordinary moments to extraordinary action. What were those men thinking? Did they even think, or regret, or did they just take action, knowing it was theirs to do? They had much to live for– one, George Fox, had a son who had just enlisted in the Marines.

I don’t think they debated this choice in their own hearts or among themselves, even though they surely wanted to live. I also don’t think they acted out of loyalty to a certain theology or an expectation they were supposed to act in a certain way. An act like theirs arises from a power that permeates your being, that leaves you no alternative, even in the face of certain death. A power that replaces fear with knowing, purpose, and even peace. As the scripture says, perfect love casts out fear.

Love like theirs is also not limited to combat, and it’s not limited to adults. Another hero we should remember as we celebrate unconditional love is Ruby Bridges, the little African-American six-year-old who in 1960, in the middle of overwhelming national tension over integration, was the first to integrate the William Frantz elementary school in New Orleans.  The hostility in the city at that time toward integration was palpable. The city and state police refused to take any steps to protect her.   

She had to be escorted to school every day that year by federal marshals.

Once inside, she sat in an empty room, as all but three white families had joined the protest and refused to send their children to the school. Those three white children sat in another room. Barbara Henry, another hero, was a white teacher from Boston and was the only one willing to teach Ruby, and so Ruby was a class of one. She ate lunch alone, played alone, or with Mrs. Henry. She didn’t miss a day of school that year.

Her family suffered. Her father lost his job, her grandparents were evicted from the farm they had sharecropped for over twenty years. They persisted.

One morning, Mrs. Henry saw Ruby on the way in turn and talk to the crowd. She couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she saw Ruby moving her lips. The crowd remained angry and hostile, and the marshals were trying to hurry Ruby along.

When Ruby got to the classroom, Mrs. Henry asked her what she had been saying. Ruby said she didn’t talk to the crowd. Mrs. Henry said that she saw her lips moving, and Ruby told her that she had been praying for them.

She stopped on the way home and prayed for them as well, asking God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. This child was six, in the face of angry, screaming and hostile adults, but her courage changed the course of integration of public schools in New Orleans and throughout the country. The white children eventually came back, and Ruby graduated and went on with her education.

Our children can be such examples of this unconditional love in action.  Time and again they show us it can be done, in large and small ways. How many stories have we heard  during this pandemic, surely a universal call to unconditional love, of the selfless giving of children? The 13 year old who made a device making it more comfortable for health care workers, and others, to wear masks all day, the 12 year old who made and sold yard signs to raise money for ventilators, the eleven year old who has made and donated hundreds of masks to health care workers. I’m sure you have your own examples.

They saw a need and just acted to fill it, using their imagination, creativity and sheer persistence. 

Our world is transformed by these acts of love and service done for no reason other than to help another.  You’ve all seen it, or done it. You reach out to help an elderly neighbor who can’t get her prescriptions, or who can’t make an online appointment for a vaccine. You call a friend who just lost a family member or you bring food to a patient just back from the hospital. You can think back and remember yourself what you have done, or what you have received. These acts don’t get on the news, but each one makes such a difference.

We help because Agape love is who we are, in our very essence. It is the love of spirit manifesting in our world through us. We love and we give because it’s in our deepest nature to do so. This is why Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that “ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”

This unconditional love moves its focus off ourselves, and onto others, just as the Four Chaplains did on that tragic night and which so many heroes do every day.

When we love each other unconditionally, we reflect the love of Spirit surrounding all of us. We are acting in accordance with our very essence.

One of our beliefs here at One World, actually the first one, is that “we believe in one divine spirit, manifest in all creation.” Another way of saying that? It’s all God, whatever you call that entity – it, her, him.  The Christian scripture teaches that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike – the love of Spirit is given to all of us, regardless of how we show up, how much we accomplish or don’t.  I don’t know about you, but that’s great news for me because so often I fall short.  I don’t act in accordance with who I came here to be, in accordance with my divine essence. It doesn’t matter – the rain, the blessings, continue to fall on me anyway, and they continue to fall on you. We are called to be this unconditional blessing, just as we so freely receive it.

How do we do this? I think we remember that we do receive it freely

We have to give it the same way.

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan in the Christian scriptures, in which a traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was robbed, beaten and left half dead by the side of the road. A priest and a Levite crossed to the other side and passed him by, but a Samaritan, shunned as an outsider by the Jews, stopped, picked him up, bandaged his wounds and took him to a place where he would be cared for.

Discussing this story, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

That’s the question that love asks. That is being in the flow of universal love.   

Charles Fillmore wrote in Dynamics for Living that love, in Divine Mind, is the idea of universal unity. He writes “love is the power that joins and binds in divine harmony0 the universe and everything in it.” He uses the image of the heart, which is the physical representative of love in the body, as the heart keeps the blood flowing through the body.

He says in the same way love keeps divine energy flowing through the universe. When we expand our experience of love beyond the ties of family or friendship to encompass all things and all people, we set free what he calls “a natural, equalizing, harmonizing force that in most persons has been dammed up by human limitations.”  We limit love by limiting it to the known, and we are called on to be bigger.

We all have the capacity to live in love as deeply as any person we’ve discussed here. We too have the opportunity, every day, to live from a place of love, not just to feel love targeted at particular people. It’s a paradigm shift. It is through this energy that the Divine comes into expression and lives as us, as we act in the world. By our actions, we manifest, we bring into our world all aspects of spirit – love, compassion, charity, hope, gratitude.  Agape love comes alive in our acts towards others.

Mother Theresa said,

“Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” 

Love comes alive when we take action, when we live it. Action powered by love is joyful, fulfilling, explosive. It transforms us.

In his book “Awakening” Mark Nepo tells the story of Wu Feng, a Manchurian diplomat of the 1700’s. Wu Feng was posted to an aboriginal tribe on the outskirts of Taiwan. Feng apparently befriended the aboriginal chief and lived with this tribe for 25 years.

One of the practices of this tribe was to behead a member of the tribe every year as a form of sacrifice. This greatly troubled Wu Feng, who was moved with compassion and pain every time this happened. Every year Wu Feng would plead with the aboriginal chief to feel compassion and not to behead a member of the tribe. The chief would listen respectfully and when Wu feng had finished pleading the chief would then walk away and then behead a member of the tribe.

Finally, after living with the tribe for 25 years, the time came for the annual sacrifice. Instead of begging with the chief as he had every year, Wu Feng pushed the man to be sacrificed aside, stood in his place, and said to the chief,  “If you are going to behead anyone you must behead me.” The chief looked at him, and because he had come to love Wu Feng, he did not behead him and the custom stopped.

Mark Nepo writes, “In the end, it is not enough to think what we know. We must live it. For only by living it can Love show itself as the greatest principle.” In our very being, in our DNA, we are this principle, this truth. When we live from that truth, we will transform our lives and our world.

About Rev. Melanie

Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.

For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.


“Open the Eyes of My Heart” written by Paul Baloche
“Make Me More Like You” written by Stephen Butler

This service originally aired on February 07, 2021.

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