Love of God: Many Paths; Many Expressions
The third component of the Greatest Commandment is to Love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
As noted earlier, how we view Self affects how we view others and God. Similarly, how we view God affects how we view Self and Others. Is God a demanding, autocratic “thing” that creates damaged goods under clouds of damnation except for a chosen few? Or, is God different? Are we different?
The Greatest Commandment provides guidance. Its focus is love, not rules, doctrines and consequences. It is not about a mean-spirited god, innate sin, damnation, judgment, submission, heaven and hell. It is about connection, in love: to Self, to Others and to that “something greater,” however perceived at the personal level.
Connection with a deeper reality is part of the answer to the question, “Who am I?” I am in part that which is within: my grounding. I am in part what I share: my extended self, sounding in purpose, worth and care. I am, finally, part of an extended whole beyond my immediate four corners. The trinity of connection: Self, Others, God.
So how do we connect and honor “God?”
Prayer and meditation are obvious examples. So, too, is the oft ignored practice of gratitude. During the day, pause, look, feel, see—and say a simple thanks. It need not be to a particular being or essence. Just a simple thanks. Notice if there is a subtle indwelling of something good, something warm.
We honor God by honoring Self and Others, the human element of the Greatest Commandment. Far from being afterthoughts, love at the human level are critical to an existence of joy, purpose worth, and the very workings of the Greatest Commandment. I have value. You have value. We support one another.
At a spiritual level, we connect in a manner that best resonates. We are different people. For some, the experience will tend to be more emotive in nature. That is a valid connection. It is of the heart. Some may tend to the quiet of meditation and prayer. That is also valid. It is of the soul.
And let us not forget the mind. Like “Self”, the mind is expressly noted in the Greatest Commandment. Like “Self,” the mind has sometimes been one of the more flagrantly ignored components of the Greatest Commandment in some religious traditions. At its worst, religion has sometimes led to repression of thought, scientific inquiry and discoveries beneficial to mankind. At a minimum, doctrinal tension with science and use of the mind has led to alienation of a sizeable portion of the population.
The mind, awareness, memory is a gift. Let us honor and use it to support self, to support and benefit others. Let us honor whatever be the source of the gift through appreciation and use: to inquire, discover and understand the wonders of creation.
Heart, mind and soul. Though not fully comprehensive, a useful way of thinking might be the feeling me, the thinking me, the conscious me. All are vehicles of connection. The mix and depth will vary by individual depending upon traditions, circumstances, personality and background. That is okay. Love is a multifold path, an aspiration, a practice. Love of God is not an all-consuming directive or a narrow path. It is an opportunity, not a prison. Love guides. It does not browbeat. The hope and counsel of the Greatest Commandment reflects a desire that our experiences in life be as profound and meaningful as possible at multiple levels. The deeper the connection, the deeper the experience.
And what should the connection to the “greater something” look like? Again, it may depend upon the person and background. Ultimately, faith is an individual experience.
Perhaps “God” for each of us must be a God we choose. “What?!” one might say. But note: this is not a statement of power over God, but rather the manner in which we relate, and a reflection that if He made us different—which is obviously the case—then He also knows we will relate to Him differently, each in our own unique way. Such diversity is even implicit in the command that we love God with all our “heart, mind and soul.” We are different persons and express differently.
Many religion traditions have focused on a personalized, theistic God. That is understandable. We are humans. It is easier to imagine and relate to an existence that has characteristics we can understand at the human level. Is that wrong? Absolutely not.
Note, however, that traditions which worship a personal God typically consider Him to be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. If that is the case, God can—of course!—touch us through a human-type interface. God can do anything!
But by a like token, if God is “all”, then He can be many things to many people. God can be personal. God can be Spirit. God can be a Presence, Essence or Consciousness. God can be found in Nature. God can be an amorphous force. God is available for all expressions and modes of contact, and is not intrinsically confined by any one of them. God—at least one bonded with love—is universal, inclusive, and broad enough to encompass anything or any connection and expression that we might imagine, and then some.
Does the physicist, who senses God or a something-truly-profound through the majesty of the universe or the magic of the subatomic world: is that a “God” moment? Yes. Can he say, this is all God is? No. God is more.
Can the mystic, who embraces a broader consciousness in meditation, say this is God? Yes. Can he say, this is all God is? No. God is more.
Can a person experiencing an epiphany, a catharsis of newly found faith, an experience of being “reborn” say this is God? Yes. Can he say, this is all God is? No. God is more.
Can a person who best relates to God as an essence rather than as a spirit with human traits say this is God? Yes! Yes. God is that too. God is big enough!
A Christian may embrace God in prayer as a theistic being. A Buddhist, as a state embraced through meditation. An American Native, as a force in nature and all things of nature. Like love, God has many expressions and manifestations. He is all of them. It is we, who by observing, perceive the God that touches us. Like the quantum observer, we collapse God’s breadth and possibilities—the God experience—into our personal reality.
One God. Many expressions. A many faceted, loving God is not limited or inconsistent, except to the extent of man-made doctrines. A loving God is not a “one size fits all”. God does not have a size. There is no cookie-cutter model of God or faith that is the true for all. God is unbounded and inclusive without regard to human limitations of thought, experience, or understanding. Just as people are created with different personalities, needs, talents, so God’s multiple expressions are available to all. God is ecumenical.
It is the communion, not the mode, that matters. And note: we as individuals are not limited to a single expression unless we choose to be. God can be sensed in prayer in the morning, and in looking with awe and thanks in the mountains in the afternoon. Be aware and open. If we are troubled, allow in a personal God of comfort and love.
God is love, not doctrine. Allow for a Faith that is open and integrative, not exclusive. Can—do we truly love God in His fullness with all our heart, soul and mind if we deny whole parts of Him? Or His gifts? Or His creations? Or His diversity in expression?
Do not begrudge or judge a person who may relate differently to that “something greater.” Celebrate that they have found connection that touches them, even as we have found one or more expressions that resonate within us!
Any faith predicated upon love and honor of God must allow for other expressions based in love, even as each tradition celebrates its own unique connection. In this sense, love is a unifying force. If faiths and traditions are grounded in love, there is no conflict. It is not us versus them. It is simply “we,” sharing different experiences with the same ultimate oneness.