Second Stone: Community

 

Dialogue, confession, morals and ethics
Initiation, baptism, religion as context

"Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

"We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves." (Romans 14:7)

"If any one says 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." (I John 5:20)

"No man is an island, entire of itself." John Donne

If nature first teaches us about God, community is our second teacher. Humans are social beings, as "hard-wired" for Community as we are for Encounter. It is within the family that a child first comes to a sense of herself and her place in the world as she interacts with others. Later, those interactions extend beyond the family unit into the world in increasingly complex relationships with those who are not our kin. All that we are and all that we know comes to us through the communities of which we are a part. Our very existence is a coexistence. We put ourselves into the care of others and we must care for others in order mutually to coexist. Humans cannot exist without community so our first task as humans is to learn how to live successfully with other people. Plato said that it is the community that gives us our soul. Aristotle said that only God and beasts are able to exist outside of community.

Human community is made possible through a set of covenantal relationships that are arrived at through dialogue with others. Morals, ethics, codes of behavior, cultural norms are the result of this dialogue which is essentially practical in nature and evolve over eons of time through trial and error. Without community input, the human creature is basically an amoral creature. We have to learn right from wrong, what works from what doesn't work and what is expected of us. It would be impractical for each person or small group of people to evolve their own standards so these standards are eventually formalized in religious practices and codes, like the Ten Commandments. The Jewish-Christian biblical understanding of the nature of community is that we exist in a covenant relationship with God that is reflected in community relations which include a commitment to justice, mercy, faithfulness, caring for the poor and the stranger, and maintaining a mutually agreed upon code of ethics. Most other religions agree on these basic principles. Our willingness to enter into and abide by our covenantal agreements with God and with others is often seen as a mark of faith.

Human weakness necessitates that we regularly confess our failure to live within our covenant relationship with God and with others and to seek forgiveness and restoration. Western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, teach that God has a personal relationship with us that is reflected in his mercy and compassion and love for us. God freely forgives us when we fail and actively seeks to restore us to communion with God. By the same token, we are called upon to reciprocate God's mercy by showing the same generosity, compassion and forgiveness to others. In eastern religions, friendliness, compassion and generosity also are signs of enlightenment.

These are difficult lessons to learn because by nature people are ignorant, egoistic and attached to impermanent and changeable things. Jesus sought unsuccessfully to teach his disciples about the nature of agape (unattached love), humility, spontaneity, forgiveness and compassion which are the essence of religion and true spirituality and take precedence over any rituals, rules or religious practices. They were unable to hear or understand what he said because during Jesus' lifetime they remained ignorant and attached to their egos, passions and needs and thus remained unenlightened. So Jesus became his own greatest parable by voluntarily relinquishing his claim to life as they understood it which is based on attachments to physical things, to ego and individualism. In different ways, the great spiritual masters all have sought to teach their disciples these same principles.

Encounter must necessarily bear fruit in community. We place our trust in a higher or transcendent power or being, we submit ourselves through moral and spiritual discipline to the principles that uphold covenantal relationships and this enables us to place our relations with others in their proper context. To love God and to love one's neighbor are two sides of the same coin. As we learn to value every human person as much as we value ourselves, we come to understand more clearly the relationship God desires with us. Complete trust that results in Union and realization of the Kingdom in our Midst.

In a sense, all religions teach the concept of incarnation in that all teach that God is present in every single living thing, in all creation and that when we come to understand that "this is that" and "thou art I", we will cherish everything in the universe. The meaning of the Christian concept of incarnation is that the best we humans can know or understand about God is to be found in the deepest of human relationships with the poorest of our brothers and sisters who become the Christ for us.

Emmanuel, God with us. "The Eminent One."

Third Stone: Hospitality


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