On the Greatest Commandment
By Fred Pruitt
(This is the last half, revised, of an article published on the blog in 2010, but which had been originally written years before that, probably in 2002 or so. The first half outlines my short life as a cadet at the U. S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1969. To check that out, one may read the entire article by clicking here. The Greatest Commandment. Otherwise, enjoy this shorter portion below. FP, 11/10/2016.)
That was the law side of things there, but the grace side of things culminated for me one particular night after survival training. We had been training in topographical map-reading, and to put our map-reading skills to the test, little groups of four of us were given maps of the area, compasses, coordinates of particular locations in the area, which we were supposed to find merely by map-reading. Each point we were supposed to find, we had to pick up the proof of our having found it. We had to eventually find our way back after dark.
It was another of those wondrous days. My group made our way through the forests and foothills with the high peaks of the eastern side of the Rockies. The peaks were towering above us. Slowly we found each map coordinate we had been given and it was getting to be nightfall.
The last portion of our hike took us to a large clearing. When we walked to the edge of the clearing, we saw that we were on a high plateau above the back portion of the residential section of the Academy grounds. Below us cascading down the foothills and into a valley were the lights of the dwellings of men, the laid out rows of the streets, the streetlights, the driveways, the occasional cars moving slowly down the streets. To the east above us and beyond the range of the lights below lay the whole panorama of the western sky and the vast infinity of space, filled with sparkling white lights that seemed as if they were blazing against the total blackness of the sky behind them. Then below that high view was the land stretching out infinitely into blackness, where they merged together, sky and land, in that darkness.
We stood and paused there – I think all of us were overwhelmed by the view. I had never been taken with such immensity before, something so beyond me, something so noticeable, something so “there.” For a moment we found ourselves almost speechless, except to utter, “wow,” or “God,” or “Man, will you look at that?”
It was only a sky; it was only a landscape draped in the darkness of night. But no, it was infinitely more. It was “Wow”, it was “God” (meant as an adjective, or expletive), or “Man, will you look at that?” I repeat it here because we could not help but to repeat our utterances of sheer wonder.
In all this speaking of God being “us,” we are safe in Him because it is always with this panorama behind us. We are ever overtaken by the immensity of the Living God. Indeed, we cannot help but worship Him, night and day praising God in the inner sanctuary of our being, ascribing inwardly to Him all honor and glory and majesty and righteousness and holiness and joy and wisdom and Love.
We have been billowed over by Him, HE WHO IS completely beyond, HE Who is above all that we ask or think, HE WHO answers before we call, HE of whom we ask, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” It is this very same HE who asks us, when we are the most forlorn and distraught and think we can go no further, “Will you also leave me?” and we answer, “How can we, Lord, YOU have the words of eternal life?”
It may be that we met Jesus by the side of the road while we were fishing or collecting taxes or working at a gas station. Whatever we were doing, He walked by and turned and looked at us, and we couldn’t help but get up from whatever it was and walk on with Him. We couldn’t understand Him always; we weren’t quite sure HE was doing the most prudent thing always. He seemed to say things that completely riled some pretty important people that we wish sometimes He had not said. But we could not help ourselves, darn it, because we found we loved Him no matter what. He had the words of eternal life. Somehow behind Him and in Him was the infinity of the stars, the immensity of Being, the Reality of Life, and though we often hadn’t a clue as to what He was talking about, we found ourselves so encompassed about with His Love that even if we tried to escape it because we thought we were not worthy of it, there were no outlets to be found. We were hemmed in on all sides with a Love so BIG, a love so MAGNIFICENT, a love so WONDROUS, a love so STEADFAST, a love so UPLIFTING, and a love so FORGIVING, that as we steadily realized it we ceased being so much petrified rabbits caught in the hunter’s flashlight beams that we suspected we were, and instead took off our garments and basked naked unashamedly in the Sunshine of His Love, because HE revealed Himself in us as ONLY LOVE, and absolutely nothing else.
“We love Him, because He first loved us,” the apostle John wrote. He Loved us to awaken Love in us. The only reason He wants to be “loved back” is because for us to Love Him in the Mystery of His Person, to live in perpetual thanksgiving for the gracious bounty of the Father, to tearfully wonder continuously at the immensity of His Love, is His Love going full-circle, propagating Love, creating Love, Love loving giving birth to love. To Love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength is to see that He is ALL of that, He is the Only Love there is, there is no other, and when we Love Him we are not loving with some “separate” love that somehow exists outside Him, but joining in the subterranean love-flow that is the foundation of the universe, which IS God manifesting Himself, and now we know ourselves are mere forms of HE WHO IS ALL.
Therefore and we gladly, joyfully, tearfully, thankfully, in great wonder and awe as to how such grace should happen to us, cannot help but to fall on our faces before HIM in adoration and weakness, because when the heavenly vision of WHO HE IS overtakes us, we cannot but help but to say, with the prophet, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
Here we are completely undone, because in HIM we have lost ourselves, and see only HIM. There is ONLY ONE LOVE, and we are enraptured that HE is the ALL and that fills all the alls there are.
Lovers recognize and sense each other, even from afar. We do not love God as some old white-haired man sitting on a throne way up in some heaven far away. We love Him when we see Him and know Him where He is. We recognize Him everywhere we look; we see Him peeking out from the most unlikely places; we fall in love with His mountains and flowers and oceans and flocks of quail bursting above a field in the dusk. We see Him in beggars and thieves, as well as in politicians and soldiers. We see Him in little babies who have lost their mamas and live in refugee camps, and we see Him in little children who grow up in the warm nurture of loving parents who can provide everything they need.
How can we not love Him more than anything? Because He is MORE than “anything”!!! There is simply NO OTHER but He, and He has so overtaken us, so filled us, so overflowed us, that He has burned in the fire and heat of His passion anything in us that was contrary to His kingdom, and wrenched us WHOLE from the inside-out by the inundation of His Spirit into the very spiritual molecules of our existence and person.
In this revelation our love is turned around the right way. Before, that love had been turned around in on ourselves, but in the inflow of His love into our inner being He turns that love the other way, outward, and we begin increasingly to know His river of everlasting Life flowing from our bellies.
“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Matt 12:29,30)
Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” ceases to be something we strive for but becomes instead our permanent state of being.
“And he said, I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” (Ps 18, 1,2)
What wondrous grace, what bounteous love, that should foreordain that we would find ourselves hidden in Him Who is beyond all, yet in all, that against the panorama of sky and land fading in the distance together into infinity, we walk as Him in this world.
1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.