The Greatest Commandment
by Fred Pruitt
 

In the summer of 1969, the summer of Neal Armstrong & walking on the moon, the summer of Chappaquiddick, the summer of Woodstock, the summer of the breakup of the Beatles (that won't matter to some but for some others of us it was devastation), and the jungles of Vietnam were ablaze, that summer i was tucked away in isolation in Basic Cadet Training (BCT = BEAST) at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado .... only the news of the Apollo landing reached us .... we all watched it in our dorm common room (that we "doolies" weren't allowed to use EVER -- this was special dispensation) and we all saw it together, 40 or 50 of us cadets, as Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon & we all cheered .... 20 Jul 69 .... but the other stuff, we didn't read papers, watch tv, listen to the radio so we missed all that ....

The Academy was couched in a spectacular spectacular effluence of the beauty of God's mountains and skies .... i cannot possibly describe it .... even in the hardest moments of BCT i was still bathed in the overwhelming presence of both of them, the mountains and the sky, backdropped behind the Academy buildings as we ran or marched or even occasionally were still .... i remember doing pushups looking at the peaks above, or running miles in formation in the dawn surrounded by mountains just beginning to be visible as black shapes as light seeped over them, and the brightest & clearest stars you've ever seen giving way gradually to the dominion of the day ....

We lived three weeks in the field, away from the campus, one of them in "survival training," (though it was hardly as rough as the regular troops get), in the Pikes Peak forest, on top of the mountain range above the Academy, maybe 9 - 10,000 elevation .... we spent Monday - Saturday in the forest, "surviving," and hiking some 30 or so miles to our pickup point .... (since there were several hundred of us out there in the woods at one time, in groups of 12, each of us supervised by an upperclassmen, they weren't really taking any chances that any of us would starve to death or get eaten by wolves, but i lost about 20 lbs in that week, so that should tell you something) .... i saw the stuff of the dreams of my childhood on that hike, though, the mountains of the West, where the Indians had run down their prey, and where mountain-men, cowboys & cavalrymen had  explored & settled & made it their own .... beaver dams, mountain rivers, high mountain meadows, boulder-filled evergreen & white-barked aspen forests ....

We were trucked into our location in groups of 12 & each given a "survival packet" that supposedly a downed pilot would have, containing a few energy bars and toothbrushes & toothpaste, and we were given a parachute & sleeping bags & canteens & water purification tablets .... we camped in the same location for a couple of days while we got some training, though i don't remember what they trained us in .... then the third day we were given a live rabbit to kill & some beef strips to make jerky out of .... somehow i got the job of killing the bunny .... that's really not my thing, as i found out .... won't tell you how i did it, but once it was done, i couldn't eat any of bunny, even though the rest of the guys said it was great, and we were starting out on a 30 mile hike the next day ....

Still, turned out i loved the jerky (i didn't have to kill that cow) and some of the other guys didn't .... so i ended up trading toothpaste for jerky, toward the end there ....

The last morning, at the end, the pickup point, all the hundreds of us converged where they had set up fire pits & were grilling steaks .... i remember standing in line with hundreds around just salivating for that steak, you could smell 'em cooking long long before you got there .... i finally got up to the grill & they slapped my steak, texas toast, & orange on a plate & handed it to me & i took one bite and ....

Too rare ....

Ok, ok, i'm finicky .... yes, i'd been out on survival training for 6 days & had had virtually nothing to eat, and & long since ceased fantasizing about things young men that age frequently fantasize about & only dreamed of double-cheeseburgers & fries from McDonald's, but, darnit, my steak was too rare, & i just couldn't eat it ....

Unfortunately, in that particular circumstance, one cannot call the manager over, nor return one's steak to the grillmaster .... one is stuck with what steak one is given .... so i passed it on to someone who had no qualms whatsoever about eating raw meat, kept the orange & the texas toast, and so broke my "survival training fast" ....

I made up for it that night, however .... coincidental with the last day of our survival training, there was a big rodeo that night in Colorado Springs .... it must have been a pretty big deal, because Michael Landon, Little Joe Cartwright, was riding in the parade as Grand Marshall .... our whole class went to the rodeo that night, all 1400 of us .... the upperclassmen gave us strict orders, for our own protection, to those of us who had spent the previous week in survival training & whose stomachs were shrunk, to "not spend more than $2.00 on food," (that was a lot more money in 1969) and as the children of Israel told Moses, we all said, "All that thou hast spoken unto us we will do" ....

and we all though that was what we would do ....

until we got to the rodeo ....

There were no upperclassmen around, and there was cotton candy, hot dogs, hamburgers, candy bars, popcorn, french fries and soft drinks .... all brought by vendors walking through the bleachers shouting their products .... the revenue generated that night from the 1400 cadets had to far exceed $2800 i sure, because we were all food-deprived and we bought everything we saw .... i don't remember much of the rodeo but i remember i ate everything any vendor came down the aisle with and then we all spent the next few days in mortal fear we'd be asked how much we'd spent at the rodeo and we were under the "honor code" ("we do not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate among us anyone who does), which is SERIOUS business at all the service academies, & we knew if we were asked if we'd spent more than $2.00 at the rodeo against orders, we'd have to answer in the affirmative .... (being caught in the least lie would get you kicked out) ....

That was the law side of things there .... but the grace side of things culminated for me one particular night ....

We had been training in map-reading, and one day we were put in the field to put our map-reading skills to use .... we were in groups of four .... each group was given topographical maps of the area, compasses, and map coordinates of particular locations in the area, which we were supposed to find merely by map-reading (this was a wilderness area), go to each point we were supposed to find, pick up the proof of our having found it, eventually finding our way back after dark ....

It was another of those wondrous days .... my group made our way through the forests and foothills with the high peaks of the eastern side of the Rockies towering above us always .... we slowly found each map coordinate we were supposed to find .... we rendezvoused with the larger group for lunch at midday, brought on hottrucks from the Academy dining hall, and we all ate as much as they would give us, and then back to our quest for the rest of the coordinates, which had to be found by things like compass-headings & mountain formations & creeks, etc. .... it seems somehow we found them all and it was getting to be nightfall ....

The last portion of our hike took us to a clearing, and when we walked to the edge of the clearing, we saw that we were on a high plateau above the back portion of the residential section of the Academy grounds .... below us cascading down the foothills and into a valley were the lights of the dwellings of men, the laid out rows of the streets, the streetlights, the driveways, the occasional cars moving slowly down the streets .... to the east above us and beyond the range of the lights below lay the whole panorama of the western sky and the vast infinity of space filled with sparkling white lights that seemed as if they were blazing against the total blackness of the sky behind them .... below that high view was the land stretching out equally as infinitely into blackness and they merged together, sky & land, into that darkness ....  

I stood & paused there, i think all of us were taken by it, because i'd never been taken with such immensity before .... something so beyond me, something so noticeable, something so "there" and we found ourselves with nothing to say except "wow" or "God" or "Man, will you look at that?" ....

It was only a sky, it was only a landscape draped in the darkness of night .... but no, it was more .... it was "wow", it was "God" (meant as an adjective, or expletive), or "Man, will you look at that?" ....

In all this speaking of God being "us," we are safe in Him because it is always with this panorama behind us .... we are ever overtaken by the immensity of the Living God .... we cannot help but worship Him, night & day praising God in the inner sanctuary of our being, ascribing inwardly to Him all honor and glory & majesty & righteousness & holiness & joy & wisdom & Love .... we have been billowed over by Him, Him WHO IS completely beyond, HE Who is above all that we ask or think, HE WHO answers before we call, HE of whom we ask, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds & the sea obey Him?", HE who asks us, when we are the most forlorn and distraught & think we can go no further, "Will you also leave me?" and we answer, "How can we, Lord, YOU have the words of eternal life?" ....

Maybe we met Jesus by the side of the road while we were fishing or collecting taxes or working at a gas station .... but whatever we were doing, He walked by and turned & looked at us, and we couldn't help but get up from whatever it was & walk on with Him .... we couldn't understand Him always, we weren't quite sure HE was doing the most prudent thing always, and He seemed to say things that really riled some pretty important people that we wish sometimes He hadn't said, but we couldn't help ourselves, darnit, we found we loved Him no matter what .... He had the words of eternal life .... somehow behind Him and in Him was the infinity of the stars, the immensity of Being, the Reality of Life, and though we often hadn't a clue as to what He was talking about, we found ourselves so encompassed about with His Love that even if we tried to escape it because we thought we weren't worthy of it, there were no outlets to be found and we were hemmed in on all sides with a Love so BIG and a love so MAGNIFICENT and a love so WONDROUS and a love so STEADFAST and a love so UPLIFTING & a love so FORGIVING that as we steadily realized it we ceased being so much petrified rabbits caught in the hunter's flashlight beams that we suspected it was, and instead took off our garments and basked naked unashamedly in the Sunshine of His Love because HE revealed Himself in us as ONLY LOVE, and nothing else ....

"We love Him, because He first loved us" .... he Loved us to awaken Love in us .... the only reason He wants to be "loved back" is because for us to Love Him in the Mystery of His Person, to live in perpetual thanksgivingness for the gracious bounty of the Father, to tearfully wonder continuously at the immensity of His Love, is His Love going full-circle, propagating Love, creating Love, Love loving giving birth to love .... to Love God with all our heart & soul & mind & strength is to see that He is ALL of that, He is the Only Love there is, there is no other, and when we Love Him we are not loving with some "separate" love that somehow exists outside Him, but joining in the subterranean love-flow that is the foundation of the universe, which IS God manifesting Himself, that we ourselves are mere forms of HIM WHO IS ALL, and we thus gladly, joyfully, tearfully, thankfully, with great wonder and awe as to how such grace should happen to us, fall on our faces before HIM in adoration & weakness, because when the heavenly vision of WHO HE IS overtakes us we cannot but help say, with the prophet, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)

we ARE undone, because in HIM we have lost ourselves, and see only HIM .... there is ONLY ONE LOVE, and we are enraptured that HE is the ALL and that He fills all ....

lovers know and recognize & sense each other, even from afar .... we don't love God as some old white-haired man sitting on a throne way up in some heaven far away -- we love Him when we see Him & know Him where He is .... we recognize Him everywhere we look, we see Him peeking out from the most unlikely places, we fall in love with His mountains and flowers and oceans and flocks of quail bursting above a field in the dusk .... we see Him in beggars and thieves .... we see Him in politicians and soldiers .... we see Him in little babies who've lost their mamas and live in camps, and in little children who grow up in the warm nurture of loving parents who can provide all they need ....

How can we not love Him more than anything? .... because He is MORE than "anything"!!! .... there is NO OTHER but He, and He has so overtaken us, so filled us, so overflowed us, that He has burned in the fire and heat of His passion anything in us that was contrary to His kingdom, and wrenched us WHOLE from the inside-out by the inundation of His Spirit into the very spiritual molecules of our existence & person, so that our love is turned around the right way .... before it had been turned around in on ourselves, but in the inflow of His love into our inner being He turns that love the other way, outward, and we begin increasingly to know His river of everlasting Life flowing from our bellies ....

"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment." (Matt 12:29,30)

Paul's exhortation to "pray without ceasing" ceases to be something we strive for but becomes instead our permanent state of being ....

"And he said, I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower." (Ps 18, 1,2)

What wondrous grace, what bounteous love, that should foreordain that we should find ourselves hidden in Him Who is beyond all, yet all, that against the panorama of sky & land fading in the distance together into infinity, we walk as Him in this world ....


Psalm 150
1  Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2  Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3  Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4  Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5  Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6  Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.