Recently I was asked to preach on a biblical text which is called the Greatest Commandment (Christian) and the Shema (Jewish). It is recorded in Mark: 12:29 and Deuteronomy 6:4. From the Inclusive Bible it reads: ‘Hear, O Israel: God, our God, is one. Love the Most High God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29)
I know that I do not live this commandment fully. There is a part of me that doubts, that clings to my own sense of knowledge independent of a deity. But what if, what if I did align my perspective to this commandment? What would change? How would my own values, my ethics, my day to day decisions shift? Would it require a remaking of my relationship with the One God?
I talk with people every day in my professional life who firmly believe that there is no organizing power beyond the earth’s scientific majesty, no Ultimate Being who has a connection to Creation. This is such a common perspective that it now seems countercultural to orient a life around the call to love God with all heart, soul, and mind, and even further to be guided by the person who is Jesus, the Christ.
It is pretty popular these days to eschew the concept of God. In some spiritual circles, I have noticed it raises hackles to talk too much about God. It creates a rift between the theists and nontheists, terms that I don’t find so helpful because of their absolute distinction from each other. They are terms that are black and white, and often divisive.
In my own life, my relationship with this One God shifts, changes, grows, fades, redefinines. I wish that it was always oriented around the great commandment to love with all my heart, soul, and mind. I wonder to myself about how to deepen that orientation, and I think it may involve some significant paradigm shifts.
Probably my deepest encounter recently of the One God happened when I was in a religious setting totally foreign to me. I had been invited to a friend’s mosque, and this poem is an effort to convey the depth of experience I had there. To explain a couple of Muslim terms:
Muezzin is a Muslim leader who calls the community to prayer
Adhan is the call to listen to God, or Allah
Here is my poem:
The muezzin sounds its prayer, it is
A loud plaintive cry- invitational, pleading, a clear message
To turn toward the One God, intoning
“God listens to the one who praises God,” and I
Lower down to kneel,
Arms stretched forward in petition like
A reach for something just out of grasp.
Forehead touches the Turkish patterned rug in a simple room,
My makeshift head scarf, my jacket, sweeps across the floor with each undulation.
I lean into this, praying with Shukri, mimicking movements
Feeling it as a cosmic dance, shoulder to shoulder.
The women pray loudly, a cacophony of voices in supplication:
God is great. To God belongs all praise.
We women, we stick together, we are
Intent on the televised room where men pray, this
Notion of division that tests my ethic, striving to
Trust in a rationale beyond my own understanding.
I pray in my own way too, my personal sense of
God as I know God imminent in space we make sacred together
Calling to this one God known in so many ways,
Over and over falling to our knees,
Face to the ground,
Like a wave, like a plea, like awe.
I think about the many things that pull me away from acknowledging the One God: my own sense of purpose, other’s demands, politics, conflict with people. I think of the many ways that my belief in the person of Jesus makes conflict with a wider human community.
Would it be helpful if like the Muslim community, the muezzin called out the adhan the call to prayer five times a day, for the whole community to be alerted to the structured time to pray?
I remember when my neighborhood in Minneapolis allowed the mosque to chant the call to prayer across loudspeakers the community for Friday prayers during Ramadan in 2021. The comments ranged from the grateful to the outraged. Those who were outraged were basically offended that their right to peace and quiet was disturbed. Any infiltration of control was seen as an affront to one’s own personal freedom.
For me, I believe that if the culture of prayer was more embedded in my surroundings, I may be able to be immersed more in the acts of the Greatest Commandment, the call to love and serve and listen.