Just to recap briefly where we've come from:
B. We then moved on to a very general overview of Christian spirituality in terms of hearing and responding to God's call. At this point, we introduced Lectio Divina and a few basic practices.
C. Next, we spent five sessions reflecting on wounded human nature and our resistance to God. In this context, we discussed the false self system, the fallen world, and the devil.
D. Now we are returning to the issue of spiritual practice, going much deeper into the matter than we did in B. We began by reviewing the activities of consciousness session 13, and now will reflect on how Christian spirituality is about bringing these activities into the governance of the Holy Spirit. The next 8 sessions will address this.
The First Great Commandment
You've doubtlessly heard this passage hundreds of times, but it's so rich and significant that we can always benefit from considering its message.
First, it tells us what is the most important value of all values: the love of God. This is good to know! ;-) What I mean is that the issue of one's priorities is of critical importance, as what we consider to be of greatest value shapes all our decisions. Is that not your experience? Think of the person who values wealth most of all, or progressing in their career. "Where your treasure is, there is your heart," the Lord told us, and we could go on to say that where the heart is, there is our primary commitment. So the first great commandment gives us proper orientation concerning what our priority ought to be as Christians -- namely, making our entire lives an expression of the love of God, which we value above all else.
Second, it tells us that God is a Being who values our love. Such a God is not an inanimate force, or impersonal field of reality, but a personal being in possession of intelligence and intentionality, a being with whom we can experience relationship most profoundly.
Above, with and through -- that about sums up all the possibilities for encounter, does it not? That is how God is with us, loving us, and inviting us to love in return.
Third, it notes that our love of God entails the full engagement of our human nature. God doesn't want just a surrender of the will, or the mind; using the approach we have taken thus far, we can say that this love calls for a a response in all the activities of our consciousness. That is what the spiritual living skills and disciplines are about.
Fourth, the commandment presumes that we are able to do what it requires -- that we really are able to love God in this manner. After all, Christ would not ask us to do the impossible. That is why he has shared with us his own love-bond with the Father: the Holy Spirit.
This first commandment of Christ is very much like the first of the Ten Commandments:
God wants to be first in our lives, our greatest priority, our primary relationship and our deepest source of meaning. All this might suggest a narcissistic and demanding deity, but such a notion would be incongruent with what revelation discloses about God's great love for us. Instead, we need to consider the first great commandment as pointing the way to what it truly means to be an authentic human being . . . one who lives life to the full as God intended human beings to live. That is the invitation (Jn. 10: 10) and, indeed, the witness of those many Saints and holy people through the millennia who have put God first in their lives. Loving God above all is our greatest happiness and joy.
1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?
2. How do you feel about putting God first? What practices enable you to do so?
Phil, There is something comforting about seeing this written as a significant part of the process of choosing our priorities.
Loving God seems like a given, but in my later years, I am aware of the great changes and even the cost of truly choosing to make this a priority in my life.
We go through a period of needing and longing to be loved by others and trying to believe that God could love us when we know how imperfect we are. I seemed to move to a different perspective when I started to draw on that promise almost in faith alone in order to love God. A number of things happened in my life that seemed to break my heart, which actually helped to open it. Through my prayer and longing, I became consciously aware of a great love coming through me that was guiding me to love God in a much fuller and larger way than I ever could have done alone. I try to find a way to describe it, but words cannot capture such a transformation. I can only witness to the truth and power of the invitation and the call of the greatest commandment. As the love moves through us, it begins to overflow and encircle our neighbor.
Then I know the beauty of the line from the psalm, "my cup runneth over." I am in awe.
Isn't it amazing that as Naomi describes her life the picture I see is one of God's love flowing down and surrounding her and permeating her life, capturing her, and then returning back to its source... God's Self. A circular, generative, sustaining, and all-together amazing freedom to love God, self, and others. A gift like no other!
I second Danny's appreciation for your generous sharing, Naomi. I've experienced similar -- this process of being broken open and discovering that it "made way" for the emergence of a fuller expression of love and life.
I've received the picture you sent me and will see if I can find a way to share it with the group. I think I'll have to upload it to a web server and link to it. It does beautifully symbolize what you have shared.
Danny and Phil, I am so touched by your responses. It is a risk for me to share such a personal process, and your sensitive response let me know that you heard and understood and appreciated what I shared. It is so rare for that to happen in my life on a deeper level. It helps me understand something about moments the disciples might have shared. Thank you.
If you are interested and want to check this website, I wanted to share this image with you. This is a painting by an artist named Rassouli, called "Vibrations of Joy" that expresses something of what I feel in loving God.
It makes me think of the scripture describing how God turns our mourning into dancing. Danny's description made me think of it.
That's beautiful, as are many of the other images on the site. Thank you.
I started to address this to Naomi but I think its fair to ask everyone... when it comes to the "most important value of all, the love of God" as Phil mentions, why is it that so many of us feel as Naomi does that there is so little "hearing, understanding and appreciation" about one's deeper experiences of the love of God? Are there only a few forums or groups that will foster and honest discussion about this experience? Is there a fear of talking about it because "people could think I'm strange?" Or maybe my experience isn't like theirs? I guess I'm wondering how many of us participate in any other spiritual formation groups on some sort of a regular basis? Don't mean to pry but this seems important to the overall learning curve and transformation to who we are in Christ.
That is such a good question, Danny. I do hope our group will respond. I struggle with the same concern and pray about it. Those that I work with very often seem to find God elusive and too great for their understanding. Jesus walked on earth and suffered, so they can be moved by his sacrifice. The concept of the Trinity is obscure to most. Loving God seems
distant and foreign to many.
I write and write and find images and share and try to bring some reality to the invitation to relationship and the commandment to Love God.
I have decided that perhaps only God can move each person to Love at the right moment in each person's life. We seem to make the journey alone. The Holy Spirit waits for the opening.
True Love of God doesn't separate us from others, but draws them in to that wonderful circle of Love in one way or another. Each of us may experience this differently enough that we aren't able to hear and relate to another's experience on a deeper level. Having said that, I think we humanly long for it at times....to Love God together. It makes it larger. I know that in my heart I do.
Danny, I don't want this to be a two way conversation, but I was thinking early this morning about what you wrote and about the dual aspects of ourselves that we struggle with while we are in the world.
I have my grandchildren visiting right now.
I still awaken early to watch the sunrise and the dawn, but my place is littered with the
things necessary to raise children, and my back and feet ache from lifting and carrying.
Words somehow don't seem as important in the ordinary everyday acts of living sometimes.
My little three year old Lily loves her hands on Grandma, who plays with her, swims with her, and who finds joy in her presence, and celebrates every new thing she learns and does. We are always seeking balance.
We do need to hold each other up...how ever we do it!!
I belong to a lay contemplative community within our parish. We meet monthly. It is easier to share experiences with a group like this, but even among this group,I have found only one person that I really share my deepest thoughts with and still not all. Phil could tell us more about the stages in our spiritual journey more than I, but I find it easier to be open to someone who has been there. In studying some of the mystics, we are encouraged to find a spiritual director to confide in. This is not an easy task today. This journey is really a very personal one as Namomi stated. I came across Phil's site in search of this. I had become impatient with the slow transformation process and wanted to know what was keeping me back, but I am learning to be content as to where He has me today. After all, we are the clay, he is the potter. As long as my will is to be conformed to His will, I trust He will complete the desire He has placed within my heart.
Ann, we'll have a session on stages of spiritual growth later on, so I'll have more to say on the topic at that time.
Danny raises some good questions -- right to the heart of the matter. No easy answers to them . . . It would be good to hear what others have to say. Working as I do in the Church, it's a little easier to "talk spirituality" among my co-workers and spiritual directees. Outside of such a context, however, it is difficult to open discussion on these matters, hence the importance of a group like Ann described or a discussion forum on the Internet.
Naomi, I guess there's a reason why we have children when we're younger, no? But, yes, they help us to claim the child part of our own nature, and to see the world anew through their own sense of wonder. No grandkids here, but lots of great-nieces and great-nephews.
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