Second

2

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
—Matthew 22:37-38

Fasting is not one of my favorite spiritual activities—as you can read about here—and for that reason I don’t do it very often. In fact, I rarely do anything that might be mistaken for spiritual discipline. There’s just something about asceticism that gives me the willies. I say, give me excess or give me a different religion.

Even so, every now and then (mostly then) I get an inkling that I need to block off a few days on the calendar for some serious prayer and hardcore not eating. I can usually tell that it’s a God thing because, once I start, it’s generally no big deal to forgo food for the duration. (After a few days on a water and tea diet I do experience acute flavor deprivation syndrome, but I’ve learned a few tricks to deal with that.) But physical hunger, when held in submission, has a way of sharpening your priorities and tuning your spiritual radar. You simply become more aware. As a bonus, a longer fast can have a nice slimming effect and can reset your gluttony gauges to the safe zone.

So for the past while or so I’ve been committed to a season of fasting and prayer. The writer of Hebrews tells us that God “is a rewarder of those who seek Him,” and this round was no exception for me. I experienced some profound realignment in my thinking about God and rekindled the sheer delight of abandoned worship. I’ve done some writing about all this which I hope to share in days to come. This last Sunday was the day I scheduled to end the fast. I could tell it had been an especially good run for me because I actually considered extending my fast a few more days to wring out every drop of God I could get. But per my request many days ago, my wife had prepared her devastatingly delicious potato and leek soup for me as a break fast treat, and God himself had neither the power nor authority to keep me from it.

This post is not about any of this. What I want to tell you about is what happened that Sunday morning. Knowing that this was the last day of my fast, I got up early to wedge in a little extra time of prayer before we headed off to church. As I knelt before the Lord in my office, I could sense the completion of something, not just the fast, but of something else too, something I couldn’t quite grasp. By the time we arrived at church I was looking forward to corporate worship and, now, to the end of my fast. (I could taste the soup already.) It was a good service, and I was engaged in both the worship and the sermon. Then, during the closing, as I stood and sang, it happened.

I sensed very clearly the Lord’s quiet voice, the same Lord who had faithfully met me over the past days, the one who had taken account of my earnest desire to love him with my whole being. I sensed him say—gently, approvingly—Let’s move now into the Second. And within me, unbidden, rich and lovely, and in perfect, exquisite unity with the greatest commandment of all, there unfolded the second, like unto it: Love your neighbor as yourself. I bowed my head in worship and deep gratitude, recognizing—knowing for the first time that, just as the Father and the Son are of the same Spirit, so this second commandment is of one Spirit with the first.

I lifted my head and, with a desire I had before known only for God himself, I replied to the Father, “Yes, Lord. Teach me to love my neighbor as I love myself.” And I knew that I had answered rightly, and that my Father was pleased in me. And I knew something else. I understood that this, too, was a reward for earnestly seeking him, that the beatific vision is not of God only, but of all that he loves as well.

So now I begin a new journey, or maybe it’s the same journey. I think it is. Knowing my profound weakness, I will put my whole trust in my Father to teach me, trusting him to love through me by his own Spirit, believing that in his Son the Father and I are one too. I guess second isn’t so bad after all.

By the way, the soup was delicious. And, yes. I had seconds.

fancy line

potato-leek-soup-31

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