The crib becomes an altar: therefore dies
No ox nor sheep; for in their fodder lies
The Prince of Peace, who, thankful for his bed,
Destroys those rites in which their blood was shed.
~Sir John Beaumont, from Of The Epiphany
We say that religion is a matter of mood: we must wait until the mood strikes us. And then we often wait for years—perhaps until the end of our life—until we are once again in the mood to be religious. This idea is based on a great illusion. It is all well and good to let religion be a matter of mood but God is not a matter of mood. He is still present even when we are not in the mood to meet with him.… In religion, as in art and science, there are—in addition to times of great excitement—times of sober work and practice. Interaction with God must be practiced; otherwise we will not find the right tone, the right word, the right language, when he surprises us. We must learn God’s language, laboriously learn it. And we must work at it, so that we will be able to talk with him.
How many relationship break-up because someone says “I just don’t love you anymore”? What does that mean? It can only mean that feelings of affection have died because the person no longer meets the other person’s needs. Those needs might be physical, or emotional, or social or even spiritual, but regardless of their validity, the point of view is entirely self-centered.
How fortunate that God does not love us that way.
God’s love is sacrificial and unconditional. He loves us because we are His and that love can neither be earned or lost. The only thing that can end it is us if we choose to walk away. What He desires from us is the same wholehearted adoration, irrespective of circumstances. How instantly our lives would change if we really loved Him the way He loves us, and if we in turn loved each other exactly the same.
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Art: The Lovers by René Magritte (1898–1967). Frustrated desires are a common theme in René Magritte’s work. Here, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted this work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions.
Liturgy: The Great Commandment, or “Summary of the Law,” as it is sometimes referred to in Western Christian liturgies, is found in the renewal document of the Torah, Deut. 6:4–5. It reads: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD; and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” The Shema, as it is called in Jewish liturgy, is above all a call of the chosen to obedience: shama conveys the sense of the imperative “obey” (cf. Num. 27:20; Josh. 1:17; 1 Kings 2:42); hence the call to “hear” this commandment and obey it implies obedience to the whole of the Law.
Recited each morning and evening as a call to prayer, on a pattern ascribed to the angels themselves (Tan. Ber. 4.144-45; Liqqutim 4.70a–70b; Bera. 5a), the Shema is uttered also on joyous occasions. Talmudic midrashic sources regard it rather than the Ten Commandments as containing the substance of the entire Torah (e.g., Bera. 1.3c).
In the NT, when Jesus is asked “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” he quotes the Deuteronomy passage, intensifying the last phrase by adding “with all thy mind,” and linking the Shema to a “second” commandment in Lev. 19:18: “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–34; cf. Luke 10:25–37).
The Great Commandment thus becomes foundational to Christian ethical life since, according to St. Augustine, it is clearly a summary of both law and prophets as well as of Christian wisdom (De sermone Domini in Monte, 2.22.74-75; cf. De consensu Evangelistarum, 2.73.141-42). St. Thomas Aquinas refers to this “Law of Love” as the basis of “perfection in the Christian life,” observing in a famous passage that “Christian perfection lies directly and essentially in charity, primarily in the love of God, secondarily in the love of our neighbour.” He continues: “No measure is demanded in our loving, the reason being that ‘the end of the commandment is charity’“ (1 Tim. 1:5), so that “while nobody in this life may fully achieve this perfection” it is perfectly appropriate to our life’s proper goal that the command should be given and obeyed (Summa Theol. 2a–2ae.184.3). In this vein Richard Rolle speaks of obedience to the Great Commandment as a willed motion of the heart toward God (“a wilful stiryng of owre thoght intil God”), so that it accepts nothing which opposes the love of Jesus Christ (“The Commandment”).
The Ten Commandments themselves were often divided on the pattern of the twofold commandment of love, so that the first three were said to pertain to the love of God, the balance to the love of one’s neighbors (e.g., Wyclif, De Decem Precepta). The Lollard Knight, Sir John Clanvowe, says in his devotional treatise The Two Ways that the Great Commandment thus simplifies one’s approach to the Ten: “Sithen þat we mown with the lovyng of God and of oure neighebour keepen all the Commaundementʒ of god, we aughten not þanne hoolde it heuy for to keepen his hestes ne we shulden not grucchen to keepen hem on þat wise” (670-74). To Chaucer’s Parson, similarly, “soothly the lawe of God is the love of God” (The Parson’s Tale, 10.127) and “the love of God principal, and lovyng of his neighebor as hymself ” is the “remedie agayns this foule synne of Envye” (10.514-30), but also intrinsic to the remedy, he adds, for each of the other Seven Deadly Sins. It is this fact which makes the poor Parson’s brother the Plowman an ideal of the perfect Christian (General Prologue, 1.529-38).
The Great Commandment is a familiar element in Catholic, Anglican, and Calvinist catechisms but became less prominent in literary allusion after the Reformation. In the 19th cent. the second precept tended to predominate in theological and philosophical reflection and, where present, the “first and great” commandment was often subsumed under duties to one’s “higher self,” so that, for Carlyle, the personalized first commandment assumes its importance in terms of the second (“Characteristics”).
Literature : During his debate over vocation in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce has Stephen Dedalus reflect that it would be for him “Idle and embittering, finally, to argue, against his own dispassionate certitude, that the commandment of love bade us not to love our neighbor as ourselves with the same amount and intensity of love but to love him as ourselves with the same kind of love” (chap. 4).
Craigie, P. C. The Book of Deuteronomy (1976);
Craufurd Tait Ramage, Scripture Parallels in Ancient Classics
France, R. T. Jesus and the Old Testament (1971
Jeffrey, D. L. The Law of Love: English Spirituality in the Age of Wyclif (1988).
In what might be the best country song ever written, Don Williams sings this verse:
“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine thru the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head”
What Do You Do With Good-ole Boys Like Me resonates with every southern man over 50 and most of the rest because it gets at the essence of our boyhood. The verse is important because it is informed by another tale of southern boyhood, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, who indeed whispers in our head.
When Wolfe died, William Faulkner said he was the greatest writer of their time.
Few have really read this book because it isn’t easy reading. It’s written in stream of consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Wolfe was criticized for his unapproachable style but remained unrepentant. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to him suggesting shorter novels, but Wolfe’s reply letter was 8 times longer than Fitzgerald’s.
Angel does, however get right at the marrow and rewards good ole boys willing to stick with it. Wolfe’s title was almost Alone, Alone, borrowed, he said, “from the poem I like best, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; then it evolved to O, Lost!; finally, when his publisher asked for something more inspired, Wolfe went to Milton:
. . . Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
Milton’s angel in Lycidas was St. Michael; the statue in Look Homeward, Angel was of a different sort, based on one that Wolfe’s father had purchased for his tombstone shop. The actual Wolfe statue has been identified on the grave of the wife of a Methodist minister in the Asheville, North Carolina area, and is today a stop for the literary traveler.
When you finish this great book, then read You Can’t Go Home Again.