Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Shema

It's no secret that I'm a creature of volatility who generally avoids habits. However there are certain habits to which I do steadfastly adhere and encourage others. The first is prayer. The second is reading. The third is (wait for it. . .) writing.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
-- Deuteronomy 6:4-5
It's fairly common find the habits of the daily devotional, which usually encompasses the reading and the prayer. For me that's not enough. We are called to "pray without ceasing" which to my mind is really about an attitude or mindset. Unfortunately, we are human and such a broadly ambiguous goal usually ends up serving as license for casualness and a general slacking-off.

My desire to treat such a call with practicality of purpose and honor the intent with sincerity gives me pause to consider the more formal religions and their merits. The above passage from Deuteronomy is called The Shema and is the main prayer for Jews. Shema can be translated "hear" in Hebrew a name derived from the contents of the passage. It is customarily said at least twice a day, firstly when you arise for the day and again when you retire.

The Shema is the centerpiece of Jewish thought and practice. It is a cornerstone habit, if you will.
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
-- Matthew 22:37-40
As we are reminded in this passage, habits by themselves aren't all the Lord requires of us. Surely love for our God and our neighbors is mandate here. But in practicality we are also given the mechanism by which to make this real in our lives. Jesus makes it clear that we are to interpret all of scripture through the filter of these two imperatives.

For myself, I stand amazed at how simply impactful and relevant that simple adjustment makes on such a weighty issue. With one small clarification the precepts are moved from concept to application. They are made relevant and real only by shifting them from simple habits to a lens through which we can view all the rest of our world.

In case you were wondering, yes, I often speak The Shema. (wow, how self-centered am I?)

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