WHEN I was growing up, my family moved south; small-town America and farming were where our roots had been. But things change. Within a few doors of where we eventually found a new home was a German woman who spoke little English. Nearby were an Irish-American family and another family one generation away from their native Italy. My mom often helped out an older couple from Czechoslovakia. There were differences, obviously, and disagreements. But I remember a time that wasn't untypical when some older boys came and threatened us while we played. I remember the courage of the father from the Italian family. He came outside, protected us, and sent the older boys away. He did it quietly and with grace.
There are things that transcend even deep differences. Though this man's children weren't involved, he responded toward the rest of us like a father anda good neighbor. I couldn't have explained it then, when I was eleven years old, but I knew the feeling.
Many times we know something, but we can't always put the understanding into words. Spiritual ideas can be like that. Words aren't always needed; sometimes we just know the idea.
Christ Jesus brought healing to conflict, often with few words. Yet people could feel the spiritual breakthrough. One time a man asked Jesus what he needed in order to have eternal life. In response, the Master asked the man what was written in the law. He answered, ``Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.'' And then he concluded, ``and thy neighbour as thyself.''1
Perhaps one of the reasons we don't progress more rapidly in understanding God and feeling near to Him is that we don't fully realize how important love for others is in developing the capacity to understand God. Could it be that it's not so much a question simply that our neighbors need our love as it is that we need our neighbors in order to witness the Love that is God in our own lives? In fact, we might just need an even greater variety of neighbors not simply so that our love can be expressed but so that it can develop fully, completely.
When we think of men and women who have been associated with great acts of self-sacrifice and courage, aren't they people who have been able to love others fully? Dag Hammarskjld, the great statesman, described the essence of such a life when he wrote: ``Beyond obedience, its attention fixed on the goal -- freedom from fear. Beyond fear -- openness to life. And beyond that -- love.''2
This capacity to love comes from God. It's a power that develops in us as we come to realize that man is the spiritual image, or expression, of God, perfect Love. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, saw in genuine Christianity the power to love. She wrote, ``Striving to be good, to do good, and to love our neighbor as ourself, man's soul is safe; man emerges from mortality and receives his rights inalienable -- the love of God and man.''3
The power and presence of God appear most convincingly to the man or woman who sees that love of God can't be separated from love for man, and vice versa. This fundamental spiritual truth lies at the core of New Testament Christianity. This is the reason why spiritual healing and reconciliation remain at the center of the question ``How shall we live in the world?'' How we regard our neighbor tells much of what we think of our own spiritual and moral capacities. Surely this is why loving one's neighbor is central to the question of how to obtain eternal life.
1Luke 10:25-27. 2Markings (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964), p. 110. 3The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,p. 200. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? I John 4:20