In-Sight: Where Life Hinges

The future of life as we believe God intends it to be hinges on the extent to which we live into the truth of the two great commandments, loving God and loving others.  But often, we do not take into account that the second commandment  has a two-word ending: “as yourself.”  Why did Jesus include them, and what difference do they make? 

There is a common response to the questions, and a contemplative one.  Both responses are insightful and important.

The common response is based in psychology.  We can only love others well if we first love ourselves well.  It means that we tend to project onto others the feelings we have about ourselves.  If the lens of self-love is distorted, we will never see others clearly.  It is what Richard Rohr means when he says, “Hurt people hurt people.”

Frederick Buechner captures it in his entry for the word “Me” in his book ‘Beyond Words.’  He says our first task is “being my own friend.”  Once we get that mix right, we will move on to seek it in our relationships with others.  This is not selfishness, it’s health.  Jesus understood this, so a common sense interpretation is in keeping with what he had in mind.

The second response is the contemplative one.  It is based in metaphysics, and some non-Christians (Buddhists especially) have been better at recognizing it than many Christians are.  It is the principle called interbeing. [1]  It means that we see the interrelatedness of all things, and with that vision, we love others as ourselves because they actually ARE us!  We are ONE in molecular content; we are all made of stardust, all made in the image of God.

People who hold the contemplative view usually recognize that Jesus was a middle-eastern sage, and both from Jewish wisdom literature and eastern religious teachings, he knew and believed in interbeing, and wanted his followers to do the same. [2]  It is a level of kinship we hardly recognize in our highly individualized and segmented-self world.  But it existed (and still exists), and it is a valid way of interpreting the words “as yourself.”

Thomas Merton pointed to interbeing in his poem ‘Hagia Sophia’ writing that there is “a hidden wholeness” in all things.  Frances & Clare, Julian of Norwich, George MacDonald, E. Stanley Jones, Parker Palmer, Jean Vanier, Cynthia, Borgeault, Ilia Delio, and Richard Rohr all refer to the idea in some way–to name a few. It is a wonderful and sacred way to view the second commandment–to hear Jesus saying, “Love everyone else as if they were you–because they are!”

Henri Nouwen wrote about the transforming effect of seeing ourselves in relation to all things, “When we relate to all that surrounds us as created by the same God who created us and as the place where God appears to us and calls us to worship and adoration, then we are able to recognise the sacred quality of all God’s handiwork.” [3]

The direction life goes depends on the extent to which we experience and express the interbeing of oneness that Jesus taught by including “as yourself” in the second great commandment.  Right now, we are living in the polar opposite–in forms of life where the words separation, dissolution, division, schism, and partisanship define and direct our attitudes and actions toward each other.  We are living at odds with the second great commandment, and paying a high price for it.  By grace, we must and can do better.

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ’ (Riverhead Books, 2007), 28-29, 183-185. He writes about interbeing in most of his books.  Another one is ‘The Heart of Understanding’ Revised Edition (Parallax Press, 2009), 3-5.

[2]. For the past couple of years, I have been noting (underlining in blue) the biblical passages where words like “all”…” every”… “the whole earth”…” the peoples”… “the nations.”  It is clear that a sense of interrelatedness pervades the Bible.  The vision culminates in the new creation, described by Paul in passages like Galatians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 1:9-10, and Colossians 1:15-20.  John saw it in his vision in Revelation 7:9.

[3] Henri Nouwen, ‘Bread for the Journey’ (Harper Collins, 1997), September 23.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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