With All Thy Soul
I was recently called in for jury duty and couldn’t help but notice a large bronze plaque mounted beside the front door of the courthouse with the words “SUMMARY OF THE LAW.” Just below this were the commandments our Lord proclaimed to be the first and second greatest, taken from the Shema and the Golden Rule. I must admit to being somewhat surprised that the ACLU hadn’t done its job of making sure our public buildings are free from any hint of the divine, but I was even more surprised when I went inside. The courtroom itself resembled a church far better than many churches I have visited. The room was filled with beautiful stained-glass windows, and we jurors sat on benches that were essentially pews. The tone of the room was one of amazing reverence: the potential jurors remained hushed, with an occasional whisper about “this being just like church.” When we were asked to stand and take an oath to God and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that we would tell the truth during the voir dire, I realized that, at its best, the courtroom is about as close as many people will get to understanding God and his laws.
In the courtroom one is judged for one’s crime. A judge, wearing vestments, proclaims the penance that the guilty must perform to atone for his sins. The judge can show mercy, or he can set his face as flint. The guilty has few options but to ask for mercy or to deny his sins and risk the wrath of the judge.
As I sat in the courtroom, I couldn’t help but think how profound the plaque beside the front door truly was. Had all people followed our Lord’s words, most of the cases adjudicated in this court would be unnecessary.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and all our minds, and our neighbors as ourselves? It isn’t difficult to think of what it means to love a neighbor as ourselves. It is also easy to consider loving God with all our hearts (to love with all our passions) and to love with all our minds (to set our intellects upon the things above), but what does it mean to love with all our souls? How does one love the Lord with all his soul?
If we believe the biologists who claim that man is simply a collection of flesh and blood and neurons, then we do not even have souls and Christ’s words become merely poetic. But if we believe that there is something within us that is eternal, something that enables us to be partakers of the divine nature, then we need to consider our Lord’s words carefully.
St. John Chrysostom said, “The love of the heart is in a certain measure carnal,” but of the soul he wrote, “The love of the soul is not felt, but perceived.” I believe loving with all our souls transcends the normal human emotion of love. It is a leaning of ourselves towards the divine, as captured in Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for flowing water, so my soul longs for thee O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”
Loving with all one’s soul is wanting to be in the heavenly kingdom, yearning to be with God at all times, feeling unsatisfied with our inability to be with him completely while in this world with all its distractions. While it is nice to find this summary of the law engraved on a courthouse, it is even better to find it written on our hearts and minds—and on the hearts and minds of our children and our neighbors.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“With All Thy Soul” first appeared in the January/February 2001 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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