As I watched this video, it reminded me of a scripture from the New Testament which said there were two commandments we are to follow, First, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31). Other spiritual writings teach a similar lesson; we are to love God and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
That raises a question similar to the one raised in the video. Who are our neighbors? Who are they? Our neighbors are not just the people with the same color skin as we have. They are not just the people who are the same sex as we are, or the same gender or the same sexual orientation as you. They are not the people who are the same class as us or the same HIV status as us or the same _______ you fill in the blank as us. Our neighbors are the people we see at work, on the street, on the bus. Our neighbors are people we know and people we will never know. If a person lives in the world, then they are our neighbor. People living with HIV are our neighbors. People who are transgender are our neighbors. People who are homeless are our neighbors. People we know and people we will never meet are our neighbors. We must love them as we love ourselves.
Not only do we have neighbors, but we also live in neighborhoods. There is more to our neighborhood then our physical surroundings. There are the mental, emotional, and psychological neighborhoods in which we live. We need to look at the neighborhoods we live in. Does SHAME share an apartment with us or is PRIDE our next-door neighbor? Does GUILT live down the street or does CONFIDENCE hang out in your kitchen? Is FEAR just around the corner or is SECURITY in the apartment above yours? See part of loving our neighbors and ourselves is not allowing anyone to live in emotional, mental, and psychological “neighborhoods” of shame, guilt, and fear, rather we should be creating neighborhoods of pride, confidence, and security. Loving our neighbors and ourselves involves more than our silence; it means we take on our own attitudes.
We cannot love our neighbor if we cannot love ourselves. We are all here to transcend our early limitations, whatever they were. In other words, we have done the best we could with the understanding, awareness and knowledge we have. As Maya Angelou once said, “you did the best you could with what you knew then, but now that you know better, you can do better.” Blaming others only gives away our power and blaming ourselves makes us powerless. In order for true change to happen, we must face truth and accept responsibility (not blame). We are victims of victims. In other words, it is very important that we realize, again, that we have done our best. Not only have we done our best, our parents did their best, and their parents did their best. No matter what they did, it was the best they could do.
What does all this have to do with this month’s theme of devotion? It is quite simple. As the video clip discussed, it is through the spiritual practice of devotion that we expand our prayer circle.
In our love and inspiration group, which meets here on Wednesday night, we have been listening to a five-hour workshop by Pema Chodron about releasing our fear and replacing it with courage and compassion. In several of the exercises, she says start by praying, as most of us do, for those we love, know, and for whom we have compassion. Then she challenges us to pray for those we feel neutrally about. They too are our neighbors. Then she challenges us to pray for those we may not want to pray for due to a diversity of reasons.
When we intentionally expand our prayer circle, it is not as much about the people, but our relationship with and our devotion to the direction of our Higher Power, however, we define that. This week, let us be intentional about expanding our understanding of who are our neighbors and begin getting involved in a neighborhood improvement program. May we cleanse our neighborhood of all that is not of love and flowing from our Higher Power. May we open our hearts to a closer and ever deepening relationship with the source of love for all of us.