Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection May 17, 2020
"This & Only This" by - Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
The prophet Micah helped all of us when he wrote the following: “This and only this is what the Lord God asks of you: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I’ve lost track of the number of people to whom I’ve mentioned this prophetic advice. It certainly has the power to simplify one’s life. Many of us get caught up in much foolishness when it comes to God and how to do God’s will.
We imagine God wishing us to live in guilt and dread. We suspect God to be constantly tracking each and every sin that befalls the human race. Virtually every sin I’ve ever heard confessed can be summed up as failures “to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” The rest, as has been said, is commentary.
If we seek to live our lives according to the words of Micah, we can be assured that God’s mercy will be more than enough for us when it comes to stand before the Fountain of All Good.
Too many preachers in the past and present try to make people afraid of God’s judgment. This is purely a way of controlling people. It can also be seen as outflow from twisted psyches. Whenever religion promotes fear instead of faith, anguish in place of awe, guilt rather than grace, such a religion has gone astray. A good way for us to stay centered is to pay attention to the words of Micah.
For us to act justly, we must become people of empathy and compassion. We must allow the injustices of the world to impact us deep within. We must keep our eyes wide open, not missing what is before us.
By taking in what we see, we allow it to fashion in us a sensitivity to what is right. We do the right thing because to do wrong bruises what is best in us. When we do what is wrong, tears flow freely. If we have never wept over our own sins, over our often callous treatment of others, then we can be assured we are not striving to act justly.
If memories of my ill-treatment of others do not bubble up into my consciousness in the moments before dawn, I know that I have abdicated my responsibility to act justly. Yet in these moments of self-judgment, I also know that God’s mercy continues to move in my soul. This movement of mercy helps me learn how to live more fully as I face the future. My mistakes, instead of dooming me, educate me. Justice, then, becomes a possibility.
“To love tenderly” is the greatest challenge of the human person. Most of us imagine ourselves to be quite loving, but we lie to ourselves.
As Dr. Gerald May notes in his wonderful book, The Awakened Heart: Living Beyond Addiction: “Love is the most important quality of human life, and the least comprehensible … We are meant to participate in love without really comprehending it. We are meant to give ourselves, live ourselves, into love’s mystery.”
To become a loving person requires a profound understanding of the human heart. It also demands that we give up our insatiable desire to be in control, to be in charge.
“To love tenderly” means acknowledging how much in need of love we are, how we hunger for it through every day and every night. If I want to become a holy person, I must learn to “hallow” love and the deepest desires of my soul.
I must know what my desires are if I am to honor them. Honoring our desires is one way to holiness. As Alan Jones writes in his masterful book, Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality: “The seeds of holiness and love have to be there; or, better, the longing for them must be acknowledged if the soul is to grow. Longing and desire play a great part in soul making. It is as if God has deliberately put unfulfilled desires into our hearts so our hearts may be stretched beyond their present capacity.” If I am “to love tenderly,” I must undergo “heart-stretching” - a not-always pleasant experience!
“To walk humbly with our God” requires us to admit that we are creatures, rooted in the wet clay of the earth. We come to recognize our radical dependence upon the One who made us. We come to see how full we are of what Jones calls “the awful chorus of ‘I want, I want, I want.’”
To walk humbly involves a softer way of walking, a way of treading lightly as opposed to the trampling that always accompanies arrogance. Humility demands a self-surrender that is the basis of any true self-love. So often we puff ourselves up - like fish in the ocean - making ourselves appear more threatening, more important, and less likely to be eaten by something else.
Yet arrogance is an empty well, and when we cling to it, we die of thirst. Many of us are frightened by the dark, so we demand that the spotlight be constantly shining on us. However, the brighter the light shining on us, the deeper and darker will be the shadow flowing from us. Humility allows us to walk contentedly in the soul-soothing light of day.
All of us want to mean something. I know of no better way to unfold a meaningful life than to follow the wise words of the prophet Micah. He lived in the eight century before Christ, a time of great turmoil for the people Israel.
Yet in the midst of such turmoil, he gave us a glimpse of a graceful life. “This and only this is what the Lord God asks of you: to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God!