Love thy neighbor ... is it possible?
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
One of the messages I found in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermons from the late 1950s related to what Jesus called the greatest of all commandments, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" and the second, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
Dr. King conveyed the message that the congregation was responsible for using these commandments in their lives. He attributed the world's poverty and unemployment, the poor living conditions of millions of people, and the crimes of hate worldwide to those who were aware of this commandment but didn't heed it. He got me thinking deeply about these commandments and the power behind them.
These commandments give us special duties. The first is to love God actively. Doing this acknowledges our continuous relationship with God. The second is to please God by continuously loving and expressing justice toward one another. Implied in this, I believe, is the command to treat ourselves with the same love, justice, and respect.
King's messages about these commandments and the special duties they require remind me of what Mary Baker Eddy wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Ignorance of God is no longer the stepping-stone to faith." To me this means that ignorance of my duties to God is no longer acceptable. The world cries out for faith to be put into action.
My grandaunt Mary, who lived in Birmingham, Ala., was an example of a life that put faith into practice. Every day for her was filled with joy and inspiration. She expressed this inspiration by making quilts. In the 16 years that I knew her she never said an unkind word about anything or anybody.
When a Greek family moved in on the corner of her street, their presence in this black neighborhood in the early '60s was not welcome. My mother and other relatives encouraged my grandaunt to move from the area because of the troubles on the corner. But she would smile and say, "I can love the Lord right here." Then she would give them something. It could be a slice of pie or a cold drink, or a story about the quilt she was working on. People always left her house smiling.
One day my mother received a call alerting her that "those Greek people" were in my aunt Mary's house. My mother was alarmed because the caller threatened that if they didn't come out, he would go in and get them. My mother panicked and drove across town at breakneck speed. When we arrived, angry people were standing on my aunt's neighbors' porches and the sidewalk. But when we went into the house, we found a different scene.
Inside there was peace, calm, and love. My aunt was showing the Greek family her quilts. When they started to leave, my aunt asked that we join hands and bow our heads in prayer. She said the Lord would show us the way. When they left, we went with them. My aunt was smiling as she introduced them to the people waiting outside.
One of those waiting was my aunt's pastor. He had come to try to calm things down. He smiled and shook their hands, and as he walked them home, he introduced them to more neighbors. That was the end of their troubles with their black neighbors. Later, another Greek family moved in, and they were welcomed.
My grandaunt Mary's fulfilling her duty to love God and to love herself and her neighbors reversed the condition of hate in her world and let love reign. I see her devotion as one example of how to live the message of the first two commandments. She didn't let hatred or tension rule her life.
Since that time, I've wondered if it was merely my aunt's kind personality that enabled her to do what she did. I've concluded it's bigger than that. The law of Love protects and saves from hatred. This law overrules resentment, revenge, and impatience, despite whatever differences we're facing.
That's why overcoming hate is not a matter of trying hard to love; Love's supreme reign is what enables everyone to love. Anyone in any circumstance can appeal to the law of Love. As one prayer asks, "[L]et the reign of divine Truth, Life, and Love be established" in our hearts (see Mary Baker Eddy, "Manual of The Mother Church," page 41). We each have what it takes to be blessed by Jesus' teachings.