By Therese Solimeno, Licensed Unity Teacher
I’m going to do something today that we rarely do at church…. conduct a Bible study.
I went to Catholic elementary school, and we rarely studied the Bible. We had Catechism, which Father Guido Sarducci called combining Disney with Theology (“Where is God? God is everywhere. Why? Because he likes you.”). We studied the greatest hits of the Old Testament, like Adam and Eve, Noah and his ark, Lot and his wife, Moses and his various adventures (it was hard to argue with statements like “if Moses could part the Red Sea, you can certainly finish your math homework!”).
Of course, Jesus was the main event in the New Testament, and we learned a lot about him, but as we all know, his story did not end well: as I kid I thought he was so lucky to have been born at Christmas and have all kinds of magic powers (he walks on water?!) but by Easter he was killed and that’s why we couldn’t eat bologna sandwiches on Fridays. Stories in the Bible were always so punitive and gruesome…you get thrown out of paradise just for eating an apple or turned into a pillar of salt for looking behind you. People were drawn, quartered, eaten by lions or nailed to a cross upside down (and don’t get me started on the creative ways Catholic saints were martyred) – there was more violence and retribution than a Quentin Tarantino movie. I was never a big fan of horror movies so I avoided reading the Bible whenever I could, which continued into my adulthood.
One of my biggest issues with the Bible was related to the 10 Commandments (according to Mel Brooks’ movie “History of the World, Part I,” there were originally 15 commandments). First, I never liked being told what to do and second, they were so negative – thou shalt not do this, thou shalt not do that. How about a “please and thank you” once in a while? Plus we all know what happens when we tell someone not to do something, as in the classic example of “don’t think of pink elephants.”
When I came to Unity, I was most interested in metaphysical Bible interpretation – you mean we didn’t have to take this stuff LITERALLY? I learned that throughout Jesus’ ministry he often clarified or simplified principles or Old Testament writings that had gotten complicated or distorted by centuries of Hebrew politics or power grabs. And as I started reading in that context, I learned how Jesus had whittled the 10 commandments down to two:
1. “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
2. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke10: 25-27)
Clear…Simple…positive…easy to remember.
[BTW, George Carlin also combined all 10 Commandments into two but his were a little different:
1. Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.
2. Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone... unless they pray to a different invisible man than the one you pray to. You can view the entire routine online.]
Condensing 10 into two didn’t solve my problem, really. How do we love something we’ve never seen, we struggle to understand, and have been taught to fear our whole lives? I wanted a God with skin on. What helped was that Unity teaches that we are expressions of the one creative Spirit that we call God (in the same way that a wave is an expression of the ocean), and names several attributes that we all embody - we can probably never fully grasp the nature of God, but we can feel and express its attributes, such as love, power, life, strength, wisdom, order, law, elimination, zeal.
When I was at Unity Village studying for my teaching license, I took a class called The Power of Prayer. The assignment was to meditate on the attributes of God. I was never any good at meditating – my mind wandered a lot and could never get physically comfortable, so I went into the little prayer chapel that rarely had a lot of people in it, and I laid down on the floor. I started running through the attributes in my head like a mantra: “God is love - I am love. God is power – I am power.” When I got to “God is life – I am life,” I felt like I was shot with a bolt of electricity. Every cell in my body was lit up like a pinball machine – mood enhanced, all senses heightened - it was better than any “high” I’d ever experienced, and it stayed with me the entire day. Others have said I experienced a “love vibration,” but whatever it was, to me it was a glimpse into what being truly aligned with Spirit feels like (and it solidified my commitment to meditate more often). I’d never felt so connected with Spirit and the people around me, and all was perfect in my world.
And I realized something: loving God and loving our neighbors are the same as loving ourselves because we are all part of the same flow of energy that comes from The Source. The two Commandments became one short and simple Commandment – Love – and when we love ourselves enough to express love, forgiveness, kindness and compassion towards ourselves as well as others in all situations, as best as we can, then naturally we will not want to do harm or injustice to ourselves or anyone else. When you love God and your neighbors as yourselves, then thou shalt not lie. When you love God and your neighbors as yourselves, then thou shalt not steal, murder, have jealous thoughts (covet) or behave in ways that are detrimental, negative or destructive to the calm peace of thy souls. These are Promises, not Commandments….
The third Commandment is the premier example of this: “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” Taken literally, one might think the third Commandment is about cursing. But on a metaphysical level, it’s something more meaningful than that. If we accept that the name of the Lord as “I am,” as indicated in the story of Moses at the Burning Bush in Exodus 3:14, then we know that God lives in the present of I am: and anytime we follow the words “I am” with anything negative (as in I am lazy, I am stupid, I am unworthy, I am unlovable) or whenever we speak ill of others or gossip, complain about our lives, or think unhealthy thoughts, we are “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” What we voice in words reflects a state of consciousness, and consciousness is forever projecting itself into our reality. This is such an important concept that we see it in many spiritual books and writings - “Be impeccable with your word” is one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements.
To sum up, as Jesus implied in his two Commandments, when we love God/ourselves/others with our whole heart and soul and strength and mind, we are promised a more personally satisfying spiritual and physical life. These Promises reassure us that focusing on love helps us surmount any challenge, overcome any conflict, lighten our hearts, and help us to live more in harmony within ourselves and the world around us.
Therese Solimeno has been a Licensed Unity Teacher since 1998, and is a co-founder of Unity Five Cities. She finds inspiration in movies, music and modern culture as well as traditional books and writings.