Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four
Love is all you need. (The Beatles)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jesus)
Anyone who fails to go forward begins to go back, and love, I believe, can never be content to stay for long where it is. (Teresa of Avila)
Teresa of Avila says, “you must not build upon foundations of prayer and contemplation alone”. We must also “strive after the virtues and practice them”. Without these virtues we stunt our spiritual growth. Central to “the virtues” are humility and love. Humility is the central character trait of the Christian. Love is the central behavioral trait.
Love is Enough
If love is the central behavioral trait of the Christian and it fulfills the requirements of “the law”, why are there so many other “commandments” in the Bible? The list of rules seems endless. Sometimes these commandments seem pointless and/or unloving.
Love is enough. Biblical commands, properly understood and practiced, always express love. Two key points:
- The commandments provide definition to love.
- The commandments only provide definition to love.
In the first bullet: The commandments provide an expansive view of love to help us understand the scope and possibilities of love. Restrictive commandments exclude behaviors that dehumanize self or others.
In the second bullet: The operative word is “only”. God did not design commandments to create rules of behavior apart from love. Behaviors that do not express love misunderstand the intent or context of the commandment.
Teresa says we must “strive after the virtues and practice them”. Virtues don’t develop automatically. Cultivating virtue is a combination of learning a particular skill of love and practicing it in changing circumstances over a period of time.
Take Paul’s phrase, “Love is patient”. We find this partial definition of love in I Corinthians. We can intellectually understand patience. Then we begin to practice it, but realize it doesn’t work in every situation (at least not in the way we understand it). What if our understanding of “patience” becomes the acceptance of the despicable behavior of others? Does our patience still meet the criteria of love? Is exasperation (instead of patience) ever an appropriate response? Jesus expressed exasperation on occasion. We realize exasperation may be carefully included in the overall theme of patience and love. But if we begin rationalizing chronic impatience and exasperation, now our habit of exasperation may not express love.
This may sound complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. We can process this thinking more quickly and intuitively than it takes to read the previous paragraph. But some of us have been so weighted down with religious dogma and rules that it interferes with common sense. One thing dogmatic religion strives for is absolute rules that can be applied to every situation at the exclusion of good judgment and love. This leads to self-righteousness, shame, and unloving behaviors.
The Beatles said, “Love is all you need”. In fact, I think they said it 15 times in one song just to make sure we got it. They’re right – “love is all we need”. Of course, it takes some work to better practice love in a way that actually loves the other person. So let me leave you with a few tools to connect biblical commandments and love.
- What is the commandment when we properly understand it in context?
- If I practice this commandment in the way I understand it, is it loving to others and self. Or am I just following a “rule”?
- Are there exceptions to my understanding of the commandment. (Without these exceptions, the commandment becomes unloving.)
- Would I find it loving if I were the recipient of how I’m applying this commandment?
- How would Jesus practice this commandment in today’s world? (Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.)
- Do my actions have credibility in a larger community (not just church) as the “way of Jesus”? (By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.)
You can make significant contributions to your families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. All you need is love.