Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22 v 36 -39
Today we move on from reflecting on heart and soul to think about mind and strength. Perhaps during this lockdown period you have been practising some mindfulness, either intentionally or unintentionally. Neuroscientists have discovered that parts of our brain open up and become engaged when we perform mundane tasks like hanging out washing, ironing, doing the dishes and cutting the grass. This might explain why many people find these tasks therapeutic once they get into them, although the thought of doing them at times seems like a chore. When we fully enter into the experience of what we are doing, be that household jobs or intentional mindfulness activities like “adult colouring in” books, we pay attention and appreciate little things that connect the neuro-pathways in our brain and make us feel more alive. That’s mindfulness at a very basic level but spiritually, mindfulness is what Jesus spoke about, a way to love God, to turn our thoughts to gratitude and worship.
When we introduce the word strength, which is not always included as a word in every translation of our passage from Matthew’s gospel, we may all have different ideas about what that means. When was the last time you felt that you were strong? Most people find it easier to identify their times of weakness. When they felt weak in their bodies with illness or frailty, when they felt weak in their will power – giving in to something or when they felt weak in their faith – full of doubts or disillusionment. Over the years our culture has encouraged us to see strength as being something to do with muscle and power, courage and heroic acts. The people in the gospel that Jesus healed and interacted with were always the vulnerable and marginalised and through his encounters with them he showed us that there is actually strength in vulnerability and that there is faith in persistent asking for help. Relying on God’s strength and recognising our interdependence within community are the true markers of resilience.
As I considered the word “strength” this morning, I suddenly thought of a little card I keep in my bible. I remembered the first line; “I asked God for strength” and I looked up the rest of the words. Having recently commemorated VE day, I was moved to find that the verses on my card come from a piece called “The Prayer of an Unknown Soldier”. I share it with you as today’s prayer and as an example of how real strength is often the opposite of what we expect it to be. May this prayer help us to love God with mind and strength, heart and soul in this gift of a day.