THOU shalt love thy God. There must be for me a deep sense of relatedness to God. This relatedness is the way by which there shall open for me more and more springs of energy and power, which will enable me to thread life’s mysteries with life’s clue. It is this, and this alone, that will make it possible for me to stand anything that life can or may do to me. I shall not waste any effort in trying to reduce God to my particular logic. Here in the quietness, I shall give myself in love to God. Thou shalt love thy neighbor. How I must seek ever the maintenance of the kind of relatedness to others that will feed the springs of kindness and sympathy in me! I shall study how I may be tender without being soft; gracious without being ingratiating; kind without being sentimental; and understanding without being judgmental. Here in the quietness, I shall give myself in love to my neighbors. Thou shalt love Thyself. I must learn to love myself with detachment. I must have no attitude toward myself that contributes to my own delinquency. I shall study how so to love myself that, in my attitude toward myself, I shall be pleasing to God and face with confidence what He requires of me. Here in the quietness, I give myself over to the kind of self-regard that would make me whole and clean in my own sight and in the sight of God.
Thou shalt love
- Howard Thurman
- Matthew 22:36-40
|Richard Legner/Getty Images
The greatest commandments Jesus gives is nicely pictured by the breath. There are two aspects of our breath, isn’t there? There is the breathing in and the breathing out. Inhalation. Exhalation.
Well, the commandment to love God amounts to breathing-in.
To understand what I mean we must first understand what Matthew 22:36 is really saying.
What is the greatest commandment? Jesus answered, the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul.
What kind of love is Jesus wanting us to have for God? Some kind of sentimental or touchy-feely kind of love? Some kind of God is my best buddy kind of love? No. The kind of love Jesus calls us to have for God is Agape love, the love of God, godlike love. Jesus in essence is saying in his greatest commandment this: love God with a godlike love. Love God with the love of God.
What’s more, we recall the two verses in I John that declare God is love. So with godlike love, with Agape love, love God who is love. Love God who is Love with the love of God.
Love is the common denominator, the common thread, the common unity.
But what naturally happens after we breathe-in?
Well, there is that space in time when our breathing-in reaches its apex and it leads to our breathing-out. That moment in time, that moment between taking-in the love of God and giving back the love of God amounts to our loving ourselves. When the love of God is in us, and we see it, and acknowledge it, we cannot help but to love ourselves.
What naturally comes after this? What do we have to do if we want to continue breathing? We breathe-out.
We breathe-out what we breathed-in. Now, what we breathe-out is not exactly like what we breathe-in. We breathe-in pure, unadulterated oxygen. We breathe-out Carbon Dioxide. The pure Oxygen that is God is mixed with the human side of us. It is mixed with our love for ourselves. So we breathe-out Oxgyen in part, but it is mixed with our own kind of Oxygen, and with Carbon.
God’s love, God’s love in us, and self-love result in our loving others.
What we breathe-out is love in action, our loving of others.
This is the process of compassion. Compassion begins inside as we take-in and are transformed by the love and compassion of God. But even at its inception, our taking in of compassion, it is moving from the inside out.
Loving God is the first step. It is the first step because it protects against selfishness. See, God is not just inside me alone. To say God is inside my heart alone is blasphemy, after all. God is inside and outside and everywhere.
So we must move outward, out from ourself, to love all of God. We must see the love of God in others, in other beings, in the universe all around to love all of God.
Compassion means to feel pain with. The implication is that we feel the pain with another. The “with” there is important. We cannot feel someone’s pain if we are not with them in some sense. With-ness is crucial. But compassion in the religious sense goes beyond just feeling the pain of another. It is being present with another in both painful times and well-times and all the in between times. Being present with another is the basis of compassion.
So Jesus second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself makes complete sense. To show compassion, to feel the feeling of another means being next to them, means being their neighbor even if temporarily.
Certainly, Jesus modelled this. Some 14 times in the 4 gospels, Jesus when encountering his many neighbors, is said in one way or another to have been moved with compassion. Look it up. It is a common refrain. Moved with compassion, Jesus healed or fed or forgave. This is Jesus moved by an outward moving force . This is Jesus present with real, needful people, feeling those needs, and applying the medicine of love.
All of this, as Howard Thurman would remind us, requires a practice of stillness where we just-breathe.
Stillness is a precious commodity these days. People not only want a sense of stillness, they need it in our ever moving world.
To be honest, I think this is where many of our Christian communities have some lack. Because unlike other traditions like Buddhism or even Islam which mandates 5 times daily prayer there is no biblical mandate to practice stillness as a community, it is often left to practice solitarily as individuals at home. But stillness, mindfulness, silent prayer, call it what you will, is something we need.
Remember the wonderful verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know I am God.” The stillness comes first. This makes perfect sense.
What’s more it is something that Jesus certainly practiced. Frequently in the gospels, Jesus is described as withdrawing to a deserted place or to a mountain to pray, sometimes all night long. In fact, the author of the Gospel of Luke says out right that “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Now, I don’t think Jesus for whole nights was doing as some often do, asking for things he wanted or requesting special things or loftily offering a lot of words. Lengthy sittings of prayer like this necessitate simply stilling the mind and listening to God and not just talking at God. But even if we are talking to God, speaking mindfully, with our minds stilled in the presence of God, that is the manner we should take on. So stillness is present regardless. And Jesus, who is described as stilling the stormy seas and the troubled minds of his disciples, certainly was adept at the practice of stillness.
As we come to a close, I wonder how this relates to the frequently discussed topic of salvation. Is it related?
Yes. We are saved by love. We are saved by the love of God which we take into our hearts. We are saved by our taking this love into our hearts. But not only that. We are saved by the love we give. Breathing-in love without breathing-out love into the world is not breathing, is not the life of the love of God. Because the love of God is moving in the world, is alive in the world, is all around us. We either are breathing that love in and out or we are not breathing at all. What is breathed-in, must be breathed-out or our breath stops.
So let us this week take out some time to be still, and mindfully breathe-in the love of God and mindfully breathe-out that love by loving others. This is the life we are called to. This is the life that saves us and keeps us going.