On this last day of our theme–Let us build a house of peace–I am drawn back to a simple and yet transformative teaching that I’ve known since I was a small child. For all that people from different sectors want to attribute to the teachings of the bible, Jesus made it clear that there was really one thing that trumped it all–or to use his words, was the sum of all of the laws and the teachings of the prophets found in the bible: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself.
It was true in the time of Jesus, over 2000 years ago, and it is certainly true today that religious individuals (and even non-religious individuals) love to turn to the teachings of scripture as a weapon to use against other people. With this one teaching Jesus brings everything back to focus: it’s either about love, or it’s not about anything at all.
Jesus was not alone in this view. Five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha taught: “Just as a mother would protect her only child with her life, even so let one cultivate a boundless love toward all beings.” Toward all beings. Not just people of your religion. Not just people from your country. Not just straight people. Not just white people. Not just people who speak English. All people. It’s either about love or it’s not about anything at all.
Hinduism, a religion older than Christianity and Buddhism has a teaching about love known as atma-prema:
” . . . we see ourselves in others and see others in ourselves. The river that flows in you,” says the Indian mystical poet Kabir, also flows in me.”
When we achieve atma-prema, we recognize that—when stripped of the accidents of our genetic heritage and upbringing—we are all expressions of the one life . . . The great Sufi visionary Rumi gave voice to this paradoxical experience:
I, you, he, she, we—
in the garden of mystic lovers,
these are not true distinctions.
Without using the word love, one of the teachings that come from Native American peoples offers us the same guidance and wisdom:
“The first piece, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the Universe and all its powers and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” –Black Elk – Oglala Sioux
Lest any of these great teachings be misunderstood, love is not a feel good teaching. It is a teaching that may call us to our most challenging moments. This teaching of love, which across time and peoples, across religions and languages is exactly what builds a house of peace will insist:
- that Black lives matter
- that LGBTQ people are welcome in communities
- that the stranger deserves welcome and help
- that the poor and most vulnerable should be the first concern, not the last
- that a concern for the earth, clean water and trust between peoples is a human concern on which our very existence depends.
Let us build a house of peace. But, let’s not pretend that this is some noble, high-brow concern that has no real way forward or that it’s a new idea. It’s as ancient as humanity at least, and the sages of all our traditions point to one way to build this house. The real, practical and necessary work of love.