Love yourself as you love your neighbor

Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In my tradition of faith, I memorized these verses as a child from the Gospel of Matthew 22: 37-39. Jesus responds to a lawyer's question: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

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I have often heard the phrase, "It's about God and not about us." That phrase seems odd to me. When I hold it up next to the timeless words of Matthew's Gospel, it just doesn't seem to jive. So, I've decided to discard, "not about." That helps. "It's about God and us." I do not believe that God is sitting up on some distant star leaving the world to fate.

It seems to me a God of love and wisdom in us and among us streams through the human experience in spite of the human condition. That may be all wrong but it's where I'll hang my hat for now. Where some human beings seem to be bent on creating religious factions that fight, shed blood and divide, there's also a segment of humanity that is deeply committed to a common spiritual quest; "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Those committed to such a spiritual quest reside both within institutional churches and outside of them. As near as I can tell, Jesus left "neighbors" in very general terms. He often hung out with those who did not fit into the status quo and those who were labeled "enemies" by the social order, political and religious systems of the day.

Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth, reminds us that good people are quite capable of dysfunctional thinking. Dysfunctional thoughts can easily be followed by heinous, retaliating, murderous acts. When a person in solitude sits down in silence and hears a thought sweeping through the mind, such as, "I'd just like to murder so and so," this is awareness! In being aware of that thought, it is possible to let go of it, forgive it, and redirect the thought to greater spiritual discernment without taking another person's life. This is loving others as you love your own life with awareness, deeper intention and true freedom. The two commandments offer healthy boundaries. Everyone can benefit from awakening to the interior life of one's own thoughts. All human beings can learn alternatives to destructive patterns of relating. God welcomes all. God also challenges and invites all of us to be transformed by the renewing of our own minds. (Romans 12:2)

I like the reminder that we are all loved by the same God and the rule to love all of creation as we love our own life. For all the divisiveness and the cruelty of which humanity is capable, the boundaries set forth in these commandments challenge every rigid religious structure human beings have put into place, which have instilled many forms of hatred, greed, and violence for thousands of years.

Do I go to church? Yes. Do I think mine is the only right one that exists "forever, and ever, Amen?" I don't.

I have received and shared spiritual mentoring with those in my church and those outside of it. God's infinite wisdom freely appears in whatever dimension, form and time line God chooses, while human beings and all existence struggles with the issues of suffering, peace, justice and love.

Do you believe it's still possible for humankind to grow in compassion, consciousness, humility, peace and a higher love where glimpses of a new heaven and new Earth can be experienced right in this moment? I do.

• Sharon K. Cooper is a member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

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