“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.” These words commonly known as the Shema (hear) are at the heart of Jewish piety. Elegant in their simplicity and powerful in their wisdom they direct the believer to a proper relationship with God. Jesus preserves this commandment and adds love of neighbor and self to it.
We spend a lot of mental activity on God either trying to “figure him out,” finding the “right prayer” prescription that works or becoming too obsessed with doctrine. What does it really mean “to love?” Understanding the true essence and meaning of love is essential to loving. If our understanding of love is distorted, then our loving will be distorted as well.
The other day I saw a powerful picture of a mother nurturing and cuddling her newborn baby. The obvious tenderness of the touch, the expressions on their faces, the look in their eyes and the overall demeanor of the picture spoke of an intense moment and connection of love. No words were needed. The bond between this mother and child, the delight in the intense moment of presence and the unconditional devotion were sufficient communicators. It was almost a portrait of one person getting lost in another. You could feel the security, peacefulness and playfulness of being found and embraced. Mother and child are encircled in a sense of rightness and joined in the discovery of ultimate purpose and place. All of these were truths jumping in and out, up and around this “I love you” moment in time. How much and what one being knew about the other matter little in this blest opportunity of being-with.
God loses himself in us so that we can be transformed more completely into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Through the eyes of contemplation we begin to see as God sees and love as God loves. Because of this loving embrace we can freely and willingly choose to place our own needs aside. We can then allow God to increase and bring to perfection the divine gifts he gives us at our creation: faith, hope and love.
“You shall love the Lord, your God,” your neighbor and your very self. Sometimes we water our understanding of love down to “things we do” for another person. Taking out the garbage, cleaning the car, buying a bouquet of flowers, leading a devotional life are all “things we do” as statements of our love. Yet, love is much more than these kind and noble gestures. There is a condition of being that precedes all of this, a genuine “I want to be with you, I need to be with you” sense that permeates from the core of one’s being.
So many have a difficult time understanding that they have been loved into existence. I guess it is easier to conclude that we just evolved here as simple products of a growing planet. Distinguished from animals and plants by the presence of reason, we are simply one among the other inhabitants of this planet. If that’s all there is, then what’s the point really? Life then becomes all about self-fulfillment and survival of the fittest. Whoever wins then wins and loses then loses. We all turn to dust at day’s end. It’s a limited vision that uses love as something I need than something that brings me to a deeper place and fulfillment when I give.
Faith is leap. Primarily it is leap from the unintentional to the intended, the accidental to the purposeful. Faith tells us that we are NOT accidents or random occurrences. Rather, we are intentional persons who are loved and intricately designed children of a God who wants nothing more to do than to gaze into our eyes and receive our gaze back in return! He wants us to have many “I love you” moments in time, when we are embraced and loved, where one Being is lost in another being; moments of security, peacefulness and even playfulness. “I love you God” the child says. “I love you even more” says God in return.
To love is to be wholly devoted to the other. It requires that I give my entire essence or soul to the truth of who I am, to my intended being in God and purpose in God’s kingdom. To love is to understand wholly and completely that I cannot “be” without God and that it is God’s own love-presence that flows through me, sustains me and flows out of me.
That is why it is so important to love our neighbor. It has to be. This does not mean that I just do nice things for them but that I really and truly see myself lovingly connected to all of my brothers and sisters. This is why we must protect life at all costs. When someone is hurt, we are hurt. We cannot allow ourselves to become numb to the pain and suffering of others. We are all connected.
If we look into the eyes of someone we only know as a fellow journey-person, brother or sister in faith, what do we see, who do we see? There is a profound story beneath those eyes and in their soul. It is a story of embrace and love and of wounds that caused pain. Their eyes speak of successes and failures, sin and grace, the deep and often soul wrenching need for love, a desire for faith and much more besides. It is all there beneath those eyes and in that soul. Companions on a journey to and with and in God.
We love to complicate things. Jesus kept it all very simple. In a moment of quiet, allow your soul (your inner eyes) to contemplatively (lovingly) gaze upon and seek God. Allow yourself to get lost in the gentle darkness and reach inwardly for the Other, your Creator. Allow God to find you and enjoy a quiet moment, if only for a quick moment, between two best and inseparable friends. This is where contemplation begins and we begin to see and feel differently.
Spend some time quietly reflecting on parts of Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have probed me and you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know the whole of it. Behind me and before, you hem me in and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence where can I flee? If I go up to the heavens, you are present there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall guide me, and your right hand hold me fast…..Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.”