Since I was young, I have always been drawn to movies & stories of redemption & deep spiritual rebirth. Films like ‘The Mission’, ‘Seven Years In Tibet’, ‘The Last Samurai’, & most recently, Scorsese’s masterpiece in ‘Silence’ ignite my imagination as I dream of what it would be like to live through similar experiences. I don’t know, maybe I have a bit of monastic calling in my DNA. Not a religious demand for institution but, a deep longing for a life dedicated to discovering meaning, purpose, beauty, & truth in all things; a complete submission of every breathing moment being founded in the essence of eternity working itself out within my soul & drawing it out to the rest of the world.
I’m sure that would look quite differently to others & I am equally sure that I’m not the only one that feels this way. But these internal longings are part of all of our lives & in Plato like fashion, cast the shadows of meaning upon the walls of our world. The lenses of interpretation, or the beliefs & manifestos we create to see those shadows with are important as they are the fuel for the actions we take & the choices we make in life.
The Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel identified three relational tensions to which humanity is always searching for meaning & fulfillment, “The self, the fellow-man and the dimension of the holy.” In personal reflection, I think Heschel’s three dimensions lack in the greater aspect of the whole of creation being part of that second dimension; so that humanity’s search for meaning is in the relationships of the self, the whole of creation, & the holy.
Understanding the individuality of our being is not about an ego driven need for self satisfaction as though the world was created for the sole purpose of our needs & desires. We are not the central character or figure in the story of all eternity. The revelation of being fearfully & wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) is recognizing that we were created within the being known by an eternal will & desire for us (Jer. 1:5). It is to say that the dimension of the holy knew us first so that we might be & exist in personhood today.
In ‘The Bees Of Rainbow Falls’ my friend Preston wrote it this way, “From the very start, and even before the very start, God has delighted in you. You are not incidental to God. When God was creating and pondering who should be created, God thought about and made a way for… you.” The language of God delighting in our being alive seems to come from a nature of love that is foundational to all existence. It shouldn’t be insignificant to realize then that love is a pivotal factor to all three dimensions of humanity's search for meaning & fulfillment.
But what else makes us individuals & why are our beliefs & manifestos important to the way we grow into ourselves? Themes such as time, life experience, gifts/talents/abilities, sin or brokenness, calling & personal vocation, & even our personal acknowledgment of death & suffering both in ourselves & others needs unpacking & exploration. But all of these are found in diversity as we reflect upon the multitude of individuals in the world. So what is true for one person is not for another. It is why the Apostle Paul said you are to walk in a way, a practice, a manifesto that is worthy - recognizable & definable - of your calling (Eph. 4:1).
The Whole Of Creation
I think one of the most beautiful & exhilarating experiences I have ever had was sitting in the back of a small fishing boat that was sailing some 40 yards off a Nanaimo coastline. Reaching out over the streaming waters, my eyes took in the natural tree line & surrounding hillsides that sloped down into the water. As my mind contemplated the thought of swimming to shore, a killer whale surfaced right beside the boat. I could have reached out & stroked its arched back as it crested the water! My heart raced as I found myself flooded with the emotions of realizing the enormity of life that was present around me. It was overwhelming & imprinted the experience onto my very soul.
What does it mean for us to be part of the whole of creation? What responsibilities do we have for it? How are we all connected to each other, the environment, & the creatures within it?
Being a part of creation is no simplistic observation. It is shaped by the natural & human constructed environments around us; the cultures & ethnic diversity that bring difference to our appearances & expressions; as well as religious traditions & learned rituals that shape our character’s & beliefs. While the dimension of self perception is based in individuality, the creational dimension shows how our relational community & environmental experiences also shape the way we see our world & life. Our manifesto’s move the perception of these realities from an unconscious state to a level of consciousness, so we can participate with greater awareness & responsibility to the power of choice that we all have.
Growing up, I always thought heaven was a place of great distance away; it was apart from life on earth & only experienced when you leave this life for a kind of spiritual existence. The holiness of heaven was an existence of complete rightness, there was nothing unjust or with strife & struggle. While I lived here on earth, I would continue to see & experience great struggles & try to correct them both for my benefit & that of the world; but nothing would compare or achieve the holiness of heaven. Still, the desire for this heaven on earth experience seemed engrained upon my being.
With the interdependence of our self dimension & the whole of creation, the third dimension of the holy is much like the gravitational catalyst for meaning in our existence. If self awareness is dependent on creational awareness, & vis a versa; holiness is the purpose & mission of such a dependance. As Abraham Heschell writes, “The course in which human life moves is, like the orbit of heavenly bodies, an ellipse, not a circle. We are attached to two centers: to the focus of our self and to the focus of God. Driven by two forces, we have both the impulse to acquire, to enjoy, to possess and the urge to respond, to yield, to give.”
Of course, the response or actions of holiness are defined as worship, but what themes emerge out of these actions & how do they take shape both individually & communally? There are deep explorations into themes like the nature of God, prayer & the Word/Voice of God, Church, calling & mission, truth & justice. The nature of the holiness dimension through the lens of a manifesto ceases to be something of a great distance away & instead reveals itself as relevant & intwined with the here & now of the world today.
Heschel’s three dimensions of human concern gives us a glimpse into the incredible dynamics of a life of meaning. They serve as a hermeneutic or lens bringing purpose to our existence while living with a manifesto allows us to contextualize & express it through our own in simple practices & ways.
Perhaps with this understanding you might feel more ready to start writing your own Monk Manifesto. How will you live out these three dimensions in life?