Storge, noun: Parental affection; the instinctive affection which animals have for their young.
Some of you will recall when I wrote about attending my wife as her nurse while she recuperated from surgery this past summer. Well, I just completed a remotely similar familial duty with my daughter and her husband the past two weeks.
We’ve all been anticipating the arrival of their fourth child and Grandpa is the on call childcare provider of choice. Well, Grandma is actually first choice . . . but since she’s a teacher, that’s not feasible. (She’ll be down here for a week to help out soon, while her husband is home recuperating from two exhausting but wonderful weeks with our inexhaustible grandchildren!)
A few days ago, our newest granddaughter breathed her first breath. I contemplated writing “entered the world,” but far less accurate. She’s beautiful, of course. And we’ll continue to pray that her inner and spiritual beauty, rather than her external appearance, will define her life.
This has gotten me thinking about C.S. Lewis’ wonderful book, The Four Loves. The following passage describes humanity’s natural love for family.
I begin with the humblest and most widely diffused of loves, the love in which our experience seems to differ least from that of the animals. Let me add at once that I do not on that account give it a lower value. Nothing in Man is either worse or better for being shared with the beasts. When we blame a man for being ‘a mere animal’, we mean not that he displays animal characteristics (we all do) but that he displays these, and only these, on occasions where the specifically human was demanded. (When we call him ‘brutal’ we usually mean that he commits cruelties impossible to most real brutes; they’re not clever enough.)
The Greeks called this love storge (two syllables and the g is ‘hard’). I shall here call it simply Affection. My Greek Lexicon defines storge as ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring’; but also of offspring to parents. And that, I have no doubt, is the original form of the thing as well as the central meaning of the word. The image we must start with is that of a mother nursing a baby, a [dog] or a cat with a basketful of puppies or kittens; all in a squeaking, nuzzling heap together; purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.
The importance of this image is that it presents us at the very outset with a certain paradox. The Need and Need-love of the young is obvious; so is the Gift-love of the mother. She gives birth, gives suck, gives protection. On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.
As Lewis says, this storge love is a natural affection, instilled within the entire animal kingdom. That is what makes reports of people’s crimes against their own children so terribly shocking. These barbaric acts go against natural law itself. They are inhuman in the absolute sense. And witnessing them among humanity and various animal species reminds us of just how far we have fallen.
By God’s grace, such outrageous acts are the rare exception. Storge is so deeply engrained in nature’s order that we see it in nearly every direction we look. No family is perfect, but most of us are blessed with parents, siblings or other relatives who love us by virtue of our innate bonds.
However, if you are one of the unfortunates who were not loved by your father or mother . . . if you were rejected by your family, I am praying for you. Praying that you will come to know storge in its wonderful fullness through surrogate parents and siblings. After all, it’s not blood that forges these bonds—it is love. Storge is something we readily share with our spouses and our intimate friends. It is a sort of “kinship by choice.”
As I thank God for the most recent addition to our family’s number, I encourage you to thank the Lord as well for the storge love he allows you to give, and receive.
The painting above was created by Samuel De Wilde (1751-1832). And for you cat lovers who were disappointed by my selection of an image of puppies, enjoy this fine portrait of feline storge.