Sunday, December 18, 2016

Purpose and the Self: a Turn toward Home

You can track your life and chronologize it. Where you went to school, where you worked and for how long. When you married and whom. The names of your children. What you gained and what was lost. You can make a chart of all that and, in certain respects, it can be taken to summarize a life.

For a closer perspective, you might define your life in terms of purpose. The causes one supported, one's politics. What you believed in, when and where, and what you did and why. Written biographies swirl with recitations of chronologies and statements of purpose, all amounting to a declaration of a person's decision-making and worldly effect at a particular place and in a particular time. Even so, you might be inclined to ask yourself, Who am I, really? In the end, am I really my voting record? Am I the fact of being in favor of this or that legislation? If my opinion is held to be valid, in this place and time by this or that set of persons, am I defined or justified in my existence? Am I merely my tastes, my habits, my accomplishments and connections?

For a young person, being right - politically, culturally - is a great accomplishment. It means that you have figured out how to live in your society with a measurable degree of success. It provides not only solace but is encouraging, energizing, serving to reward the hard work of thought and action. The question of standards or perspective (context) enters into the picture in a meaningful way when one discovers a flaw in oneself or the grounds of the moral text one has inhabited. This is why a life lived in society, for society, is almost bound to offer episodes of success followed by disappointment. The ground is always shifting. The standards are flexible, from place to place, from time to time. Exigency is bound, after a time, to produce short gains in decision-making. And one comes to understand that one's life amounts to something more than policy. Still, we must shrug off disappointment and continue on, for there are things to do. Tests to take, careers to form. People to help, art to make. A house to pay for, children to raise.

You probably think I am leading this conversation toward a discussion of God in one's life, but I am not. I am leading it back toward you.

What then is the purpose of life? What is all our effort aimed at? The purpose, the meaning, the point of life surely runs deeply in ourselves and it can be characterized in many ways, being so profound that it must allow varying forms of language and thought. For the present moment and at this time I have in mind that life is comprised principally of an interior act of going forth and returning to oneself. Put another way, I believe there is an arc to one's life where the child grows into adulthood to fulfill the dreams of childhood. In time then the adult seeks to return, to readdress, to inhabit the heart of the child, for the heart is the seat of desire, the very desire that propelled the child to seek its way in the world to begin with.

We are defined by our desire, by our yearning, by love seated in belief. Only so much of what we are can be defined by the times in which we live. In the end, one is that self that has existed since the beginning, looking out over the world, seeing what you have done in it, and then looking back toward yourself, into your heart, for the final answer.

Desire makes likes meaningful. Love makes life bearable. The self that encompasses its desires bears witness to the comings and goings of life and is ultimately unmoved. We can reside in those comings and goings, being busy with work, talk, and entertainment. We can exhaust ourselves every day with the stuff of life so that we have no time or energy for contemplation, but the heart resides nonetheless, and it bears witness.

And so we return to ourselves and in that movement we see the arc of our lives. We cannot simply know our heart, but we must inhabit it. We must return. When you sense in yourself the desire and wonder you felt as a child you will know that your life's purpose is what it always has been and can never change.

Since the beginning your heart has sought its companion, and in the end it will find peace.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Night Reflections on Sunday Mornings

So it's Friday night and here I am washing dishes getting things cleaned up for dinner and whatever lies ahead for the weekend. Friday night is always such a relief, but you know, we'll all be right back it at come Monday morning. I mean waking up earlier than we'd like to, making lunches, commuting, rolling into the office (or wherever we're expected), and generally doing those things we just finished doing this week and are bound to keep doing until we change our minds or circumstances somehow change us.

It's a good life, don't get me wrong. I for one have fought hard with the world and with in particular with myself to achieve exactly this routine, this stability.You may feel the same about your life, in act I hope you do. I hope your life is as deliciously predictable as mine is. Drama at a minimum, good humor never beyond one's reach. Comfortable and broken-in.

And it helps, certainly, to have Sunday Mass to look forward to. Church on Sunday is exactly what's needed to tie everything together. Where else are people flat-out grateful that you simply showed up? There is nothing to plan and nothing to fear. It will all go exactly as it always does, thanks be to God. You will hear something worth thinking about and get the chance to sing a little (and no one can complain). You will see the same nice people you see every once-a-week, the young and the old, and with no other obligation than to pray for each other.

Administering to this affair is a man or men whose sole purpose in life is to see to it that you get to heaven. Getting to heaven is, after all, the point of the entire exercise - I mean, this is what binds the efforts of the week with the activities of the weekend. And if heaven is even half as good as it is promised to be, then your one hour a week, accompanied by thoughtfulness and time off for good behavior, will be more than justified.

So. Wash the dishes and enjoy your weekend. And on Sunday take time off from everything and see to the heart of things. And don't forget to stop by for coffee and donuts.