As I look at how we Americans live in the 21st century, I am not sure that we have any idea of why we are here, what our lives are to be, of who we are to become in the larger sense. We seem to live in two worlds, our own selves and in the community in which we find ourselves. Do we have an individual purpose and a collective purpose? In a lifetime what do we owe to ourselves? And what do we owe to the community? Here’s another question: what do excessive shopping, gaming, surfing the internet, and watching TV have to do with our purpose? Why are we here for seventy plus years? Is this what God had in mind for our sojourn here?
What do you think is the purpose of your life? Clearly throughout history men and women have lived in community, supporting each other, caring, living, celebrating, grieving together. I do think that community is a big part of why we’re here, to live in the give-and-take of familial, religious and neighbor communities, to give to others when we can and to receive from others what they have to give to us.
But the individual’s life, growing out of our individual allotment of talents, interests, gifts and areas of challenge—for what is it intended beyond the community? What is my purpose? your purpose? What is the meaning I am or you are to find in our lives on earth? Are there things that each of us is to learn? What is the point of the suffering we go through here? What is the collective purpose of mankind and what is the individual’s purpose?
I see us living on two levels: first, in our culture which has designed a certain kind of life for us, in a collective sense, a life of work and play, of set parameters, of interests all of which seek to sustain our way of life. Secondly, we live on the soul level as a part of the entire web of life, connected to every other creature and person and created things, and to our Creator. I think we could all relate what the culture expects of us, but I am not sure at all that we know anything at all about how to live on this soul level.
What came to me this week is that our lives here, at the soul level, are about learning how to love because we our context is a universe created and sustained by love. No matter how our lives play out on the surface, at the soul level we have three courses to master. The first is to live the 1st Great Commandment[Matthew 22:38]: to love God, our Creator, with all of ourselves—heart, mind, soul and body; to love God in every circumstance, to embrace our lives as they are constituted.
The second and third courses are extensions of the first; you can probably guess what they are. The second course is the 2nd Great Commandment[Matthew 22:39]: to love your neighbor as yourself. Or to restate it: to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The issue here to be resolved is this: can you embrace all of who you are, love that totality and in turn embrace and love all others? Also can you love yourself and others with the free-flowing, always forgiving, love of God.
The third course to master is the Golden Rule: “do to others what you would have them do to you.”[Matthew 7:12] This is the method by which we are to operate in all things.
So no matter what our lives on the surface are about, our souls are engaged in mastering these challenges. If we begin to live these rules of life in our souls, then our lives really begin to change on the surface. The great integration has begun of surface and soul. We are like the ocean where most all the activity—waves, choppiness, white caps, storms and even calm—takes place in the top fifteen feet and the rest of the incredible depth—up to 6.8 miles deep– of the ocean is filled with long, slow currents. Yet both surface activity and the slow currents constitute the ocean. So, too, we have our surface busyness, taking care of our basic needs and our families, and our activity on the soul level—the longer slower arcs of our lives. The question of a lifetime becomes this: which do we identify with—the surface busyness or the deeper soul-self? Can we live from both incorporating all that we are? Can I be human and divine at the same time? This is the ultimate question because the answer divides people into those who run in the cultural steam and those who run on love.
Something to ponder over the week: am I willing to be all that I am? Will I take the next steps towards integrating the soul’s tasks into who I am?