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The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis reflects on the universal wisdom that proclaims the mutuality of love:
No matter who we are or where we come from, no matter who we love and how we earn a living, the admonition to love your neighbor as you love yourself, when lived out, expresses the interdependence humans need in order to survive and thrive. And the first step, the starting place, is self-love. In the Greek language, the phrases “love neighbor” and “love yourself” are connected by the word os, which is like an equal sign. This suggests we are called to love the self and the neighbor in exactly the same way. When we don’t love ourselves, it is impossible to love our neighbor. . . .
The connection between self-love and the love of others is as old as time. From the moment we stood up and walked out of lonely caves and into the light of tribal togetherness, humans understood the inextricable connection, that our lives are woven together in love. Almost all the world’s great religions encourage us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Sometimes called the Golden Rule, this beautiful teaching invites humans to treat one another—and in some traditions all creatures—the way we want to be treated. . . . The story embedded in these teachings across faiths and religions is: We belong to a mutually beneficial web of connection, well-being, and love. At the root of this connection is empathy; the result is kindness, compassion, respect, and understanding. When religion doesn’t center on this mutuality, it can become one of the toxic narratives that, in the end, dismantles self-love.
Lewis honors what she has learned about love from others:
I learned more about this connection among humans while visiting Robben Island, the South African prison where Nelson Mandela [1918–2013] was confined in a tiny cell for eighteen of the twenty-seven years he was behind bars. I found it miraculous that Mandela could see his inextricable connection to the humanity of his captors, the ones who took away his liberty and humiliated him daily. He observed that no one is born hating another because of race, religion, or background. Mandela understood that just as hate is taught, love must be taught.
For some folks, talk about love sounds weak, but from my point of view love is the strongest force on the planet. I learned my favorite definition of love from one of my seminary professors, the late Dr. James E. Loder [1931–2001]. He defined love as a “non-possessive delight in the particularity of the other.” All these years later, I am still so moved by this sentiment. Non-possessive delight sounds like devotion to me. Rather than trying to change, manipulate, or devour the object of our affection, fierce love delights in the particularities of who they are. So, when you love yourself, you take delight in the unique particularities that add up to you, without judgment.
Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to a Better Life and a Better World (New York: Harmony, 2021), 28, 30, 31–32.
Explore Further. . .
- Watch Richard introduce a Daily Meditations series on Love.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Leaves (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Christ Figure from the Office of Richard Rohr (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Web (detail), 2021, photograph, Washington, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Fallen leaves in water surrender to the cycles of seasons. A spider’s web catches and kills a passing fly. Can we surrender to these moments too? Death is an invitation to slip beyond the web of knowing. What might we find if we allowed the cycle of death and resurrection in our own lives?
Story from Our Community:
Yesterday, I read the devotion on God as a Mother Hen just before I had an emergency breast biopsy following a mammogram with suspicious results. The women in the room that morning were God incarnate, holding my heart steady with their gaze and comforting me as they led me through each awkward and painful step. I wept quietly, knowing God spoke to me directly that morning through that Mother Hen analogy that was moments later brought to life by my compassionate nurses.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.