The Great Commandments

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Jesus answered: “‘The first is this: 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Mark 12: 29-30

There is, perhaps, nothing more difficult for human beings than navigating relationships. When we feel troubled or sad or anxious, much of the time it is due to some sense of disappointment or failure or disorder in our relational lives. We long, above all else, to love and be loved, and yet, as simple as this might seem, it is, in fact, uniquely complex in how we experience and live it out in relationship to others.

What makes our life of relationship so complicated are the ways we have been formed in life and in love. Most often, what I mean by love as I attempt to love or be loved by another is not what other person means by it. Throughout our lives, each of us experiences being loved and not loved in very different ways. For example, a person raised as an only child might find her or himself always creating or imagining triangles in relationships. It may be, whether true or not, that this person is always sensing comparison and competition in relating, constantly experiencing the need to make choices between others. There is also the experience of the person who suffered neglect in early life and therefore feels a need for attention and being cared for that never seems satisfied. Another may have been formed to understand love as taking care of others, while perhaps having suppressed their own need to receive care.

There are as many different meanings to love as there are human experiences of it. This is why, perhaps, the first great commandment is indeed first. We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and, in this light, our neighbor as ourselves. A part of our love of others, always, is our seeking from them the affirmation of our “loveability” and value. We look into the eyes of others that we might see there the reflection of our significance. The truth, however, is that others can confirm our value and significance, but affirmation in the deepest sense can come only from within. It is this lack from others of the affirmation we need that is the root cause of most of our relational difficulties. The other is never all of what we need them to be for us. Because of this, there inevitably creeps into our relationships an often hidden resentment that blocks our flow of love for each other.

To love God with all our heart is to realize and live in God’s love for us. It is to know our true home in the life of the Trinity and to realize ourselves as “the apple of God’s eye.” It is this that enables us to love our neighbor as we ourselves are loved, without condition and in full recognition of their value and “loveability” even in their weakness and failure.

The third stream, which enflames the will in love

By means of this joy and the fullness of grace, together with God’s faithfulness, the third stream rises and flows forth in the same unity of the spirit. Like a fire, this stream enkindles the will and devours and consumes all things, reducing them to a unity. It flows over and through all the powers of the soul with rich gifts and with a special nobility, and it produces in the will an exceedingly fine and spiritual love which excludes all effort.

By means of this burning stream Christ speaks interiorly within the spirit: “Go out, through exercises which are in accordance with the manner of these gifts and this coming.” Now through the first stream, which is a simple light, the memory is raised above sense impressions and is made firm and steadfast in the unity of the spirit. Through the second stream, which is an infused resplendence, the reason and understanding are enlightened so as to be able to know in a distinct way the various kinds of virtues and exercises and the mysteries of Scripture. Through the third stream, which is a burning heat breathed into the spirit, the exalted will is set aflame in a quiet love and is endowed with great riches. In this way a person becomes spiritually enlightened, for the grace of God abides like a spring in the unity of the spirit, its streams produce in the powers an outflux of all the virtues, and the spring of grace constantly calls for a reflux into the same source from which the outflux arose.

Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, I, ii, B

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