What is the universal message for “all humankind” – regardless of religious labels?
Surely the greatest challenge we face today is learning what the call to love asks of us, inwardly and outwardly. Learning what it might mean to love universally, regardless of “liking” or “agreeing with”. It’s the call that’s at the heart of all religions: the only call or idea fully worthy of our attention. Learning to love because we can and not just when it suits us. Learning to understand that love can transcend personal preferences or even affection. The usual messages at this time of year call for peace on earth. But peace would follow very naturally if we were to heed the call to love. Love is the supreme transformational power. It transcends personality and opinions. It demands and it offers at least a minimum of care. How could we wish harm to people whose lives we care about? Those we know, those we don’t know; those like us, those miserably unlike us: our care could and perhaps has to include them all.
We will have no peace on earth until we begin to understand and extend our vision of what love is, and especially who “deserves” it. Of course we will truly love some people and struggle even to tolerate others in our thoughts – never mind our lives. That’s real and understandable. But should we exile those with whom we disagree? Should we declare war on them: in our homes, family courts, between tribes, religions, cultures or nations? Should we feel entitled to slaughter them, defame or crush them? Perhaps not.
“Our human family lives in different lands, but under one sky. We have many churches, temples, mosques…but one God. We have many scriptures, but one wisdom. We are many souls. But one spirit… ” writes Sufi teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan. “How then can we be happy if our neighbour is unhappy?”
Let me repeat, because we all struggle with to get our minds around this vast idea of love, even as a possibility, that living love as a way of being doesn’t mean you will like everything that other people do, think or believe. I suspect you won’t. You probably don’t even like everything done or thought by the people closest to you! By your own self! But you can respect their gift of life anyway, and protect their safety anyway. You can see them as part of our vast, diverse human family. Anyway. And why would you do this?
Because it will profoundly benefit you and the people you already love. It will bring life to life. It will lift people’s spirits rather than dash them. It will bring infinitely greater safety to our world. It will redefine and reignite social justice. And it will create the world of our dreams.
This is, once again, also the holy season of renewal. The great Jewish mystic, Baal Shem Tov wrote: “The world is new to us each morning — that is the Lord’s gift, and we should believe we are reborn each day.”
That, for me, is a message of profound, limitless hope. It inspires a new start built on the secure foundations of love, a new relationship with inspiration itself.
In Seeking the Sacred I wrote extensively about the power of story in shaping answers to that most basic of questions: “Who (and what) am I?” As I write these words now, I am wondering if there are any limiting stories you are telling yourself about the past that prevent you from seeing the world as new each morning? Are there any stories that prevent you from living lovingly, generously, appreciatively – and with robust kindness for yourself and other people? Or that keep you from seeing where suffering could be relieved. Or where joy, even rapture could be more fully expressed?
You need to be strong to live a loving life. You need to have strength of mind and of character to make choices that are inclusive of other people’s reality. So how wonderful it is to discover that living a loving life makes you strong. It gives you a freedom that can never be taken from you: the freedom to choose wisely and to live well, whatever your circumstances.
Truly, you cannot know what strengths you have until you claim them and risk living them. That courage to live lovingly comes in part from recognizing what is important – and what is unimportant. Material wealth, and its acquisition, obsesses many of us. Yet it’s very unimportant when it comes to bringing love, happiness and renewal to our daily lives. In doing that, it’s your inner gifts that count. It is your appreciation of life and how you treat other people on a daily basis that adds up to everything. You want to live in peace, care for your friends and family, laugh, sing, play with the children, get the baby to sleep at night, run in the park with the dog, tell stories, contribute to society, love the earth, and grow old in safety? So do I.
What we share is far more significant than what divides us. Looking into one another’s eyes, recognising each other’s vulnerabilities as well as our strengths, we know that. And even when, in the eyes of “the other”, we see only otherness, we serve ourselves best when we can distance ourselves from their views and actions yet steadfastly refuse to demonise, cast out, or kill in person, or in spirit.
“Love one another,” said Jesus of Nazareth, one of love’s most explicitly inclusive teachers. “Love one another as I have loved you.” From the exquisite Metta Sutra in the Buddhist tradition we hear the same call:” Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart, should one cherish all living beings.”
Love, peace, happiness, good will: whoever we are, however we have lived until this moment, each one of us can choose to embody and live out these great qualities in small and large ways.
“The world is new to us each morning — that is the Lord’s gift, and we should believe we are reborn each day.”
Living lovingly, we can change the world. It’s time.
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