One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?" 
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, 
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
MK 12: 28b-34

What does it mean to love God with our whole heart-- and is it humanly possible to do so? This commandment, so foundational to Judaism (Dt 6: 4-9), is also central to Christianity: the task of every believer is to allow God to be the center of one's life, affections and priorities; this means that any "false gods" -- however good or noble-- must take second place. The Shema ( Sh'ma Yisrael ;   Hebrew : שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל‬; "Hear, [O] Israel" ), which is based on this commandment, is the most important Jewish prayer; recited morning and night, it affirms God's absolute rule, establishing God as the beginning and end of human life, or, in other words, as our source and destination. Parents are obligated to teach the Shema to their children, and to keep the commandment ever-present -- hence the use of "phylacteries" on the wrists and foreheads during prayer, and the placement of "Mezuzahs" on the door posts of Jewish homes as a constant reminder of God's reign. (

But while we may have no difficulty reciting the Shema (in English!) or of quoting Jesus' reference to it, how successful are we in practice? Loving God with one's whole heart goes beyond mere ritual observance (that is, attending liturgy on Sundays and Holy Days); or sending one's children to Christian schools; or even making time for daily prayer and devotions. Loving God with one's whole heart goes beyond putting God on our calendars or daily schedules, though that is a starting point. Nor is it about joining religious life, getting ordained or volunteering for the Church. It is not about "making time for prayer" and certainly goes beyond studying theology or even spirituality. Rather, it involves "being" constantly in God, with God, in ongoing union and loving surrender. This intimate relationship to which each of us is called demands that we surrender the totality of ourselves to the Divine Presence -- our dreams, desires, goals, relationships. It means that we really live "Thy Will be done," instead of giving it mere lip service; that we let go of our ego attachments to make more room for God -- actually, so that we can give God ALL the space as that is what God asks for. Paradoxically, if we surrender everything to God, we find more than everything in the Divine Embrace.

  1. What relationships, activities and possessions compete with God for your attention?
  2. If God were the center of your life, how would your life change?
  3. Conversely, would do YOU need to do to make room for God in your life?
  4. How can you grow in intimacy with God?