Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything. Jesus commands us to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” and he connects the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, saying they are “like” one another (Matthew 22:39). So often, we think this means to love our neighbor with the same amount of love—as much as we love ourselves—when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! That is unfortunately not the way most people understand love, compassion, and forgiveness—yet it is the only way they ever work. How you love is how you have accessed Love.
We cannot sincerely love another or forgive offenses inside of dualistic consciousness. Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. Many pastors and priests have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, “cut off from the vine, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The “vine and the branches” offer one of the greatest Christian mystical images of the non-duality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, my willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many folks try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. It usually does not work long-term, and there is no one more cynical about love than a disillusioned idealist. (This was my own youthful generation of the 1960s.)
Finally, of course, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price of self-extension will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.
Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds; but afterward a Larger Source opens up within us and we “think” and feel quite differently: “until knowing the Love, which is beyond all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Thus, Jesus would naturally say something like, “This is my commandment: you must love one another!” (John 13:34). Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open for mind, body, and will to enter. I suspect for most of us that is the work of a lifetime.
For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life? . . .
.. For centuries, Christians have presented God as a Supreme Being who showers blessings upon insiders who share certain beliefs and proper institutional affiliation, but who punishes outsiders with eternal conscious torment. Yet Jesus revealed God as one who “eats with sinners,” welcomes outsiders in, and forgives even while being rejected, tortured, and killed. Jesus associated God more with gracious parental tenderness than strict authoritarian toughness. He preached that God was to be found in self-giving service rather than self-asserting domination.
.. For centuries, Christianity has presented itself as an “organized religion”—a change-averse institution or set of institutions that protects and promotes a timeless system of beliefs that were handed down fully formed in the past. Yet Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time [for example, the Second Vatican Council within Catholicism]. What might happen if we understood the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) [as Jesus did] to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation? . . .
.. If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer.
Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was the most radical of all. Love was the greatest commandment . . . his prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled. The new commandment of love [John 13:34] meant that neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered everything else; love relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else—everything.
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. —Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader
.. The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” . . . [I believe we’ve got to get our own who right before we can begin to address the question of what am I to do.]
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
.. Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question “Who am I?” leads inevitably to the equally important question “Whose am I”—for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. . . .
.. As I learn more about the seed of true self that was planted when I was born, I also learn more about the ecosystem in which I was planted—the network of communal relations in which I am called to live responsively, accountably, and joyfully with beings of every sort. Only when I know both seed and system, self and community, can I embody the great commandment to love both my neighbor and myself. . . .
The goal must be kept simple and clear—love of God and neighbor, union with God and neighbor. Our common word for this state of union is heaven.
.. Prayer is not a transaction that somehow pleases God but a transformation of the consciousness of the one doing the praying. Prayer is the awakening of an inner dialogue that, from God’s side, has never ceased.
.. Prayer is not changing God’s mind about us or about anything else, but allowing God to change our mind about the reality right in front of us (which we usually avoid or distort).