A Prayerful Understanding of the Great Commandment Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Our readings for the last three weeks have focused on divine omnipresence. On Oct 12th we heard Daisy Baum’s words: “Since Omnipresence is all-inclusive as Life…the individual must help to make up that all-inclusive Life…” Last week we heard Malinda Cramer’s words: “Simultaneous with […]
A Prayerful Understanding of the Great Commandment
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Our readings for the last three weeks have focused on divine omnipresence.
On Oct 12th we heard Daisy Baum’s words: “Since Omnipresence is all-inclusive as Life…the individual must help to make up that all-inclusive Life…”
Last week we heard Malinda Cramer’s words: “Simultaneous with finding myself in God, I experienced the in-drawing of all things; that is, that all are embraced within it…”
And today, we heard these words by Fannie James, “Since we have learned to know God as spirit, as love…it is easy to understand how Love may be everywhere at the same time, for it is not a person or a shape, but a Presence that fills every place – a very great God indeed!”
Understanding Love as the one ultimate Reality, or divine Presence, and further understanding It as an omnipresence, that is, as being everywhere fully, completely present, naturally reduces anxiety. If nothing else, omnipresence means that we are never alone, so we never have to face anything alone.
There is always a presence, which is pure Love, enfolding, flowing through, and expressing as us. This concept can provide the courage and comfort needed when facing a challenge or uncertainty.
Therefore, Fannie James, relying on the understanding of God as omnipresent Love, suggests that an optimistic attitude is one we can always choose; not that we can control every outcome, but that we don’t need to control every outcome to have a sense of peace. We can always hope that things will improve, because improvement is always possible if perfect, eternal, all-inclusive, unconditional Love is omnipresent. And until things do improve, there is the comfort of knowing that God will never, can never abandon us.
And so Fannie James says, “Unless [we] give…negative beliefs a place in our thoughts, [they have] none. Such thoughts cannot touch us except we forget God’s presence and power.”
Can we move through the agony of grief?
Can we face a medical procedure with hope and courage?
Can we recover from financial hardship?
Can we go back to school, forgive ourselves for a past mistake, love again after being hurt, begin a new career, or learn to manage a phobia?
If we believe we can’t, then we’ve limited our chances for improvement, but if we believe that God is Love and is always with us, then we can believe we can experience more good in our lives. And if we believe, then we’ve improved our chances for having a better experience.
Beliefs are just well rehearsed opinions, and we can always change our opinions! Once the new opinion becomes a habitual thought, it solidifies into a belief. And beliefs influence our experiences…either by giving us the wherewithal to pursue our good desires or by giving us a new way of seeing what we had previously judged to be bad or hopeless.
As Johnnie Colemon has so often said, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing.”
We could restate that as, “I choose the thoughts that become the beliefs that influence how I experience life.”
The optimism that comes from understanding God as all-inclusive, unconditional, everywhere present, eternal Love is actually echoed in the gospel reading.
The greatest commandments are love God and love people; put more simply, the greatest commandment is simply to love. This commandment, which Jesus lifts right out of the Torah, is sometimes called the Great Commandment. In fact, we learned recently, that all commandments properly understood are really just suggestions on how to express love.
Love is religion at its best, spirituality at its simplest.
And when we are focused on Love…on the Love that God is and the Love that we have to share, then our thoughts are on what is good, what is life-giving, what is joyful. We can’t be afraid and peaceful at the same time; we can’t be pessimistic and optimistic simultaneously. We can’t be defeated and confident in the same moment. So, when we are focused on God as love and allowing God to be expressed through us by our loving thoughts and actions, then in that moment fear, regret, self-loathing, or desperation just can’t be experienced.
The bible says, “Love never fails.” 1 Cor 13.8
“Whatever is [good], think about these things.” Phil 4.8
“…God is love.” 1 John 4.8
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear…” 1 John 4.18
Thinking of God as omnipresent, unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting Love and focusing on that understanding until anxiety is reduced, comfort and strength are renewed, and peace and gratitude are experienced is actually what we mean by prayer. Bishop John Spong has said this about prayer:
“Prayer is being present, sharing love, opening life to transcendence. It is not necessarily words addressed heavenward… All I know is that it is natural to reach out, to love, and to care…and inevitably we feel compelled to give verbal expressions to those aspects of our lives.”
We could say more simply that a life filled with hope, love, compassion, and kindness is a life of prayer. Those profound and even holy emotions can be expressed in words or actions, in rituals or in visualizations, but the life of love, the life of hope, the life of gratitude is a life prayerfully lived and such a life is bound to have more peace and joy, and such a life is bound to make a difference in our world.
So, by focusing on the omnipresence of divine Love, and knowing that for God to be Love and for God to be omnipresent means that God’s Love is always with us, we can’t be separate from it, we cannot be alone and therefore we can face all challenges, and we will overcome many of them.
Formal prayer involves focusing our attention, calming our minds, recognizing our unity with the divine Presence, affirming possibilities, being grateful for all the good we’ve known and all the good that is still to come, and trusting that divine Life in, through, and as us is always at work to bring about more joy; but even when we don’t work the steps of formal prayer, whenever we are optimistic, whenever we are generous, whenever we are kind, whenever we look for the good, whenever we affirm possibilities, whenever we are grateful, whenever we know ourselves to be loving and we remember that our love is actually God in action, then we are praying, and the results of such prayer can be amazing. If the only benefit was a moment of peace, a moment of thankfulness, a moment of daring to imagine possibilities, then that would be benefit enough; and the good news is that the benefit is often very much more.
Whatever you are facing today, whatever difficulty you have known, whatever disappointment you have experienced, whatever uncertainty still lies ahead of you, enfold that situation in prayer; not necessarily words of petition, but rather a knowing that God is with you come what may, that God’s love enfolds you in this moment and throughout eternity, and that every day that you draw breath, there are blessings for you to discover, embrace, experience, and share.
Focus on the love that God is; focus on the eternal nearness of that Love. It is right where you are; it will never let you go. That’s what it means to love God with all your heart; and when you feel one with the love that God is, you will love others, and that love is your prayer for them.
We could boil it down to this: God is love; when we love we are praying, and prayer, as love in action, as God in motion, brings peace, comfort, and joy. Love God and love neighbor isn’t just a platitude encouraging piety and civility; it is a way of understanding prayer, and opening us up to prayers deep reserves of power.
Jesus’ brother said, “The passionate prayer of a faithful person avails much” (James 5.16).
The prayer that avails much is the prayer that knows that we are one with God, that God is Love, and that divine Love will never let us go. For someone today, this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I am one with God.
God is Love.
Divine Love will never let me go.
Thank you, God!