“And the second is like it”.
This is what Jesus said about the relationship between the first and second great commandments.
In what sounds like the beginning of a bad lawyer joke, an ‘expert in the law’ tries to trick Jesus into saying something he’ll regret by asking him, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied with what has come to be known as the summary of the law:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
It’s significant that Jesus offers two great commandments in response to the lawyer’s question. The rhythms of life – upwards, inwards, outwards, withwards and Godspeed – don’t happen in isolation from one another. The single beat of a drum is not music, it’s just noise. But several beats together in a pattern – that’s a groove, that’s something to tap your feet to. That’s a rhythm. Our community group patterns are called rhythms because of how they relate to one another.
Upwards is an iteration of the first commandment: loving God. The inwards rhythm embodies the second great commandment. It exists so that we might encounter God through loving one another. Through it, we can both represent Christ to each other and experience Christ’s love through one another. This is why Jesus said, “the second is like it”. The commandment to love one another flows from the first and greatest commandment.
There are three components of inwards: sharing, listening and praying. Each is an experience of the love described by Jesus.
We share what is going on in our life, which requires vulnerability. Being vulnerable is why I sometimes approach inwards evenings with some dread. It’s just plain hard – there’s no way around it. But vulnerability has also brought me immense healing.
However, there have been times when I’ve been frustrated by the apparent tendency to approach vulnerability as a contest of who has it worse or who can share the most dramatic story. This creates unhealthy pressure around sharing that prevents true vulnerability from flourishing.
While it is integral to share the things that are hard in life, the struggles you don’t want to talk about, this isn’t all that inwards is for. It is also for sharing the joys and triumphs of our lives. Depending on your predisposition, one of these is probably harder than the other for you. Depending on the season of life you’re in, you might have a tendency to overemphasize one of these dynamics to the neglect of the other.
Inwards should never be reduced to, “what’s wrong in your life this week”. But it also should never be a place where the grit and grime of life are glossed over. Conversely, in a culture that defaults to cynicism and synthetic humility, sharing genuine joy and gratitude can feel uncomfortable. There’s a balance to be had here: we need both the triumphs and the trials for vulnerability to be truly freeing.
We’ll probably never get the balance of this exactly right, but there’s grace enough for that. Ultimately, by practicing vulnerability we become more like Christ who laid himself bare for us. Christ embodied this virtue, and by participating in it, we can represent him to each other.
The second activity of inwards is listening to each other share. Active listening is an underrated act of love, and a disappearing art. Rachel Naomi Remen says that “listening creates a holy silence.”
This is why we intentionally don’t offer advice during inwards night. While there is certainly a place for offering wisdom, it is important to simply hear one another in joys and struggles. Remen also says:
Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us… Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person.
We worship a God who listens, a God who heals and a God who gives refuge. Simply listening well to one another is a way of representing God to each other.
Finally, we pray for one another. The illustrious Roger Revell once said of inwards that “opening up is not itself the end goal; rather, the end goal is to be opening to God’s grace.” Prayer accomplishes many things, and opening ourselves up to God’s grace is one of them. God promises us “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”
Prayer is a mystery to me, but I do know that something of great magnitude happens when we pray with others. I also know that prayer can be hard. Sometimes, you have no words to pray. I especially find it hard to know how to pray for myself. In these scenarios I have been profoundly encouraged and strengthened by the words others have prayed over me. When we’re unable to pray about something, we have community to take our needs to God on our behalf.
This too represents Christ to one another and forms us more into the likeness of our holy mediator.
Sharing, listening, and praying are acts of love towards each other. They embody the second great commandment of loving our neighbour. But inwards also responds to and redirects us to the greatest commandment of all: loving God. Inwards shapes us more and more into Christ’s likeness and mirrors the love he has shown us back to our community. The final destination of inwards is not ourselves, and it’s not each other. The final destination is Jesus.