Last night ABC’s Nightline began an in-depth series on the Ten Commandments. They started not with the first, but with the sexiest, number 7, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” I remember as a kid thinking that that one meant, “Don’t be too serious and stuffy—like an adult.” In those days, the Ten Commandments seemed so basic. Add them to the Golden Rule; subtract the Seven Deadly Sins (which I learned as an acronym, PAGGLES: pride, anger, greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth); align it all with Jesus’s lovely condensation, “Love God with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself”; and you pretty much had rectitude down pat. Of course, it’s easier when you’re ten.
Since Nightline is looking at the Commandments, however, I thought I would, too: what do they have to say to me today? And I’d love to hear what they have to say to you.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
This says to me: get your priorities straight. God first. Meditation before the gym and breakfast and reading the paper. Asking first to do God’s will and trusting that the rest will fall into place.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…
We’re not so big on graven images these days, but when I get too caught up in the wonder of someone or something, it’s a kind of golden calf, circa 2009. I’m out of step with this commandment when I put that person who has what I want on a pedestal, or when I stop wanting some object or experience or state of being and start, instead, to crave it.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain...
Everybody knows about plain old swearing, but something interesting I’ve learned about this one is that when Moses, who brought us the Big Ten, after all, asked God what His name was, God said, “I am that I am.” Therefore, according to some spiritual teachers, every time I say, “I’m a mess” or “I’m so stupid,” I am taking the name of God, “I am,” in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…
I once visited some Seventh Day Adventists, who follow this one to the letter, and was asked if I would turn the knobs on the stove. They’d prepared the huge Sabbath feast the day before, but to turn on the range and oven would be work; as the token heathen, I got the task. These days, I religiously guard my Sabbath, which happens to be Sunday, and make it a day of fasting, albeit imperfectly, from electronic involvement. The goal: No email, no blogging, and no revealing to Twitter followers the Sunday goings-on of “charmed life lady.”
5. Honor thy father and thy mother…
Since my father and mother are both dead, I have two ways to honor them. First, I can remember them, acknowledge that they’re still with me (and probably every bit as “alive” as I am), and forgive them yet again should an old resentment come to mind. Secondly—and better even—I can live my best life. It is, after all, a gift from them.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
Okay, I don’t kill people, obviously, and I don’t kill (or eat) animals, but I have to be careful not to kill hope, or a dream, or a tiny, embryonic aspiration in myself or someone else. These are so fragile they can be snuffed out with a mere, “That doesn’t seem very practical.”
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
My husband is pretty appealing, and one of the joys I’ve found in being past fifty is that it’s still fun to look at attractive men, but the desire to touch just isn’t there anymore. I can, however, “adulterate” the relationship by being so caught up in myself that “his stuff”—and he himself—don’t get the attention they deserve.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
Most of us aren’t holding up liquor stores, but the subtleties around stealing are many and fascinating—a free dessert when the server fails to put it on the bill, an unattributed quotation, taking full credit when it should have been shared.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
This often comes down as “Thy shalt not lie.” It’s interesting that it doesn’t get technical about things like “I got all A’s in high school”; it’s “Mandy was a slut in high school” (when, in fact, she was a perfect young lady—or maybe a little loose but not that bad) that will put us at odds with the 9th commandment. For me today, it’s telling me not to say anything about anybody that isn’t nice. Chances are, it’s either not true or I don’t know the whole story.
10. Thou shalt not covet…anything that is thy neighbor’s.
Commandment 10 covers the house, the spouse, the ox, the ass, whatever: if it’s not ours, we need to get over wishing that it were. This is a huge one today, especially for people in a business like mine (I write books), where we’re all striving like inmates of Dante’s hell to reach just one rung higher. I didn’t think of it before the nice people at ABC gave me this opportunity to ponder that wanting my neighbor’s invitation onto a big talk show, or her slot on the New York Times Bestseller List, is as covetous as craving her livestock or maidservant. I guess we still appreciate these ancient guidelines because they never, ever, go out of date.