I am moved by these lines from Matthew’s Gospel:
You shall love God with all your heart,
all your soul and all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.
The second commandment is like it:
You shall love your neighbor
On these two commandments
depend the whole Law
and the Prophets.
An equivalence is established here: loving God and loving one another are not functionally separate. You cannot meaningfully have one without the other.
How shall we think about this? How shall we bring it forth in our living?
Often we are tempted to go into the question of what is God and is there actually a God and so on. Are the gospels objectively true? Is A Course in Miracles really the work of the historical Jesus?
These are fun and interesting questions, and have their place accordingly, but if our goal is inner peace and the joyful extension of love in community, then analysis that has as its goal being right or wrong about deities and their scriptures is mostly a distraction.
Really what I am saying here is that practicing the second commandment (love your neighbor) makes analyzing the first one (love God) superfluous, save as an academic exercise. Because while you might be unclear about what or where God is, or how to be in communication with God, you are not unclear about what or where your brother or sister is, or how to be in communication with them.
And, if you are honest in your inquiry, you are not unclear about what it means to love them.
So one can understand these lines from Matthew’s Gospel as a gentle suggestion to move beyond the merely intellectual or ideal and into the messy domain of consensually loving one another other.
Of course we will disagree with one another. Of course there will be relationships or situations from which we must distance ourselves. But disagreement and distance are not opposite to love.
For example, loving my racist brother does not require me to go to a white supremacy rally with him. Indeed, loving that brother requires me not to attend that rally and, within the context of our shared space of dialogue, to try to persuade him not to go.
This is love because it sees my brother not as a lesser being because of his racism but as a confused being who can become clear and loving in his own right, and has as its goal facilitating that clarity and lovingkindness.
It is a truly a fine line but it is manifestly possible to walk it, both alone and with others. If you are curious what this walking looks like, consult Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
In a similar way, loving an abusive husband or father does not require that one remain in the physical space where the abuse happens. Indeed, it requires removing oneself and others from that situation. And it requires holding the one who is violent accountable – civilly, criminally, spiritually – for their actions.
If I am aware of abuse or violence, then my first priority in love is to help those who directly suffer the violence find safety and otherwise facilitate accountability. My second priority is to help the one enacting the violence. But note that “help” in that context means making unambiguously clear (in the shared space of dialogue) that violence cannot be an effective or sustainable solution to any problem. There is another, better, way.
So we make amends, learn the better way and then bring it forth in our own living. If you are curious what this sort of forgiveness (of those who are violent and oppressive) resembles in practice, consult any decent biography of Nelson Mandela.
As these examples make clear, love is hard. It is not for the faint of heart. In application it is often frustrated, blocked, and otherwise attacked. But also, to be loving in this way is very much in our nature. It is in that sense given. And, as A Course in Miracles points out, a true gift must include the means by which to bring it to fruition. God, as such, does not just hand out seeds but also soil and water and sunlight.
In “Perception of the Future and the Future of Perception,” Heinz von Foerster pointed out that “A is better off when B is better off.” If there is one pie between the two of us, we are better off when we share it. This is true in our families, friendships, and larger communities. It always applies.
We can observe this principle in any aspect of our life – our family, our classroom, our work space, our zendo, our town, our country. Its natural corollary – or foundation, perhaps – is the Golden Rule which is isomorphic to all human cultures and practices. Treat others as you would like to be treated. I cannot lift you without lifting myself, and vice-versa.
We are very much together and not separate.
So if we are curious what it means to love, it means to ensure the mutual well-being of all of us. And “all of us” should not exclude maples trees and salamanders and blue whales and oceans. We are very much together. We are not separate.
This may not be difficult conceptually. But it is quite difficult to bring into application, and so sometimes we invent conceptual difficulties as a distraction.
For example, it is easier to get into a debate about the existence of God than to love someone whose actions – separating children from their parents at the border, for example – grievously offends us and necessitates in our living a loving response. It is always easier to condemn and let the condemnation be the sum total of our response, than to condemn and go on loving.
Loving people who appear unlovable is not easy, especially because love is a process not a discrete event. It’s “hiking” not “the hike.” So all the time in all our living we have to figure out how to engage in this process of love which – in addition to being natural, wonderful, inspiring, et cetera – is messy, confusing, discouraging, et cetera.
This is what it means to be student of A Course in Miracles specifically, or a Christian more generally, because this is what it means to be a human observer in the world. Loving notwithstanding is what it means to live. We commit to bringing forth love in our living, and doing so in ways that extend love to everyone and everything without qualification or conditions. It is natural but not easy.
Thank you for helping me understand this material in a way that allows me to be less distant from it (less disembodied with it, perhaps), and for not leaving me when I stumble (as I so often do) trying to bring it all into practice.