“‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.’” Leviticus 19:18
“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 12:28-34
“Since the character of people's good determines the different ways in which each person is the neighbor, love is the determining factor in those differences. For no form of good is possible which is not the good of some love; every form of good springs from love and derives its character from it.” Arcana Coelestia n.6709
My soul hangs in the balance. I am asking myself very basic questions: do I really love the Lord and my neighbor, or am I fooling myself? Am I in actuality far from the kingdom of God? So I analyze it. First, there is the action I took. Then there is the result. Then there are my reasons for doing it. Then there is the intention hidden within, perhaps hidden even from me. How do I rebuke my neighbor so that I avoid sinning? Are not the “burnt offerings”–the actions I take–necessary and fundamental in conjunction with my intention? And there are the degrees of the neighbor, and the qualifiers to neighborliness. It boggles the mind. And my eternal welfare hangs in the balance!
At the recent Western Regional Clergy meetings I attended, several times someone use the expression “where the rubber meets the road,” to take the conversation into concrete practicalities. I love analyzing the Lord’s commandments as much as any other theologian. But when I am in a “dark night of the soul,” such analysis does me no good. I need to know that I am being good. I need to feel that I am okay. And, interestingly, here is here the Writings for the New Church (as abstract as they can be so often), are very helpful.
We read above: “no form of good is possible which is not the good of some love.” Sometimes it takes me a lot of effort to identify how I am feeling (the “form of good”). Other times it is easy. As I respond to coaching about identifying feelings, and practice naming the feeling, I am getting quicker at seeing the “form of good” being produced by what I am loving. The feeling I am experiencing is a window (or maybe a mirror) to my love.
So here is a suggestion to ponder, and perhaps experiment with: stop what you are thinking and pay attention to what you are feeling. Then notice what is being revealed about what you love in the feelings you are having. Surely some feelings are fleeting (for instance anger at another driver, or sadness at a far away tragedy) and can only vaguely indicate what the love within is and whether you need to cultivate it or shun it.
However, if you catch yourself with the same feeling regularly (for instance, anger at the way you spouse treats you or debilitating waves of grief from the death of a loved one five years ago), it is important that you assess the love that is driving that emotion.
In toto, I would offer that it is easy to know what loving the neighbor is, and we can describe what it looks like in action. The hard part is remembering to do so; remembering to stop and think about our feelings at any one moment, and then assess what love is behind it, so that then we can act in accord with true love for the Lord and the neighbor. I believe we will even see more clearly the teachings about who our neighbor is and how we can support them with genuine acts of charity in accordance with their goodness.
I guess there are states of life that threaten my eternal welfare, but for me, hating my neighbor is not one of them. I reach this conclusion because I always feel good when I am doing a good deed for a neighbor! Now, if I can just remember that I can do it with increasing frequency!
Precursor February 2008