Monday, October 30, 2023


Matthew 22:34-46

Proper 25 / Year A

Somehow I hold to the belief beneath all that is dark and dreary and damaged in this world a fundamental goodness holds sway.  I suppose this is why I am so moved by something the Irish priest and poet John O’Donohue wrote in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us:

There is a kindness that dwells deep down in the structure of things; it presides everywhere, often in places we least expect.  The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself.  Something deep in the human soul seems to depend on the presence of kindness; something instinctive in us expects it, and once we sense it we are able to trust and open ourselves.

I hear O’Donohue’s words as being a faint echo of Jesus’s thundering proclamation the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

I have always imagined the idea of loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and (as Luke records it) strength as being akin to spiritual weightlifting; in other words, if I can bench press 200 spiritual pounds today, then tomorrow I should try to press 205.  The day after I need to go for 210.  The process is never ending because the ultimate goal of perfect love toward God and neighbor can never be achieved.  All – as in all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.  All is a very daunting word, isn’t it.  It suggests observing this commandment involves effort and rigor and determination and dedication and… failure.

I began to wonder what if fulfilling the command to love involves not trying harder and harder, but rather letting go and listening and allowing yourself to be carried in God’s goodness which undergirds all things.  O’Donohue begins his book with this:

There is a quiet light that shines in every heart.  It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there.  It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.  Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken longing.  Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life.  This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize our very presence here as blessing.

Something in his words resonates with me and it hints that loving God heart, soul, mind, and strength has more to do with the shy inner light than it does with spiritual weightlifting.  If the creation is God’s work, and if God called it good, and if God is omnipresent (found in all times, places, and things), then being attentive to our quiet, inner light – the part of our hearts which allows us to connect with the richness of life – is at the heart of what it means to love God.  It suggests reveling in the beauty of a gorgeous fall day is an act of loving God more significant than something like, say, memorizing the books of the bible in order.

And it suggests loving our neighbors as ourselves is not so much an act of effort on our part, but something more akin to becoming open to the possibilities of kindness which exist all around us.  In a passage reminiscent of how Paul describes the gift of love, O’Donohue writes about the nature of kindness:

[It] has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself.  Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability, though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather it has become an occasion for dignity and empathy.  Kindness casts a different light, that has the depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.

Just like the notion of pay it forward, kindness begets kindness and the blessing we off to another has a way of returning back to us as blessing.

We use the word ‘kind’ to signify two very different things.  It can mean “to do good rather than harm” or it can mean “a class, sort, or variety,” as in “my kind of people.”  It is closely related to the word ‘kin’ and ‘kindness’ itself is derived from the word ‘kinship.’  To be kind is to see another as kin and to show kindness is to treat a person like family.  When Jesus commands us to love our neighbor he is asking us to do far more than to be our kind.  He is, as O’Donohue puts it, directing us to “illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.”

So let’s start here.  Let’s start with the belief there is something inside us, something O’Donohue describes as a quiet inner light which is always responding to something God is doing in this world.  It responds to beauty, to desire, and to possibility.  It offers kindness and blessing.  Nurture this light and you will be well on your way to living into love for God and love for your neighbor.