The theme of today's post is from a book of Henri Nouwen's called Life of the Beloved, subtitle Spiritual Living in a Secular World. It is topical insofar as today is the moveable feast of Corpus Christi and hence I thought the intercessionary post was warranted. As I was sitting, listening to the readings in Copenhagen's Cathedral this morning, I felt moved to give you my own meditation on the meaning of these terms and wanted to attempt to do so in a purely secular, materialist manner.
To put it in a slightly Coelho-esque way, the entire universe has conspired to make you who you are and put you where you are today. Assuming you are more or less bought into the Big Bang Theory, all matter since the very beginning of time predestined: You. I don't think it is possible that this initial state contained a random number generator. You were destined to exist from all eternity. You are part of a select chosen in a very real, very materialist way.
The very real consequence of this chosen nature is that each of us is imbued with infinite inalienable value. It is good to reflect on whether we treat each other in this way or whether we forget that each of us has this birthright of being chosen. We call these "human" rights and we talk about them a lot in our politics. Do we live them out in our lives every day?
A lot of psychological self-help literature revolves around our fears, our insecurities, our anxieties of being rejected, unloved by others and by ourselves. We are not good enough, we are impostors, we are unworthy, and so on. For a psychologically healthy life, it is absolutely crucial to realize that these are lies intended to alienate us from each other.
The Latin word for blessing is benedicere, speaking (dictio) well (bene), saying good things of someone. We are all in need of such affirmation and the place we first seek it is our parents. A few years ago I had the realization that we are in actual fact the end point of love in so many ways: the love our parents had for each other when they co-created us. The love of our mother when she raised us. The love of our father when he taught us. The love of our teachers, our spouses, our children, of all those around us. We are a consequence of love. The reason we exist at all, instead of not existing, is love. You are beloved.
The best spiritual advice I can give you is to sit and listen to this voice of love and to conform your life to it. But now I am drifting into the non-secular...
Is there something more human than the joint recognition of our brokenness? Show me the great work of literature, of music, of visual arts, and I'll tell you how it is an exposition of our brokenness. There is the mystery of our pain and suffering and of the ultimate reality of death. But also the fact that we know what is right and yet we are tempted so often to do wrong, rationalizing it to ourselves and others.
Our brokenness is most visible in our sexuality: our longing for intimacy, for touch, for safety with each other, for comfort. And the physical manifestation of these failures: of divorce, sundered families, betrayal, and the rampant sexual violence. This brokenness is exploited in the most crass versions of capitalism: on the billboards that promise sexual attractiveness, the products that confer comfort and safety in the most seductive ways, the omnipresent pornography.
Nouwen: Our sexuality reveals to us our enormous yearning for communion. The desires of our body - to be touched, embraced and safely held - belong to the deepest longings of the heart and are very concrete signs of our search for oneness.
There is a lot more to say here, but for now let me leave you with a surprising finding from the social sciences: shared suffering is a key trigger for group formation. Meaning: when we address the suffering felt by another, when we hold space for it, when we are just there for another person in pain, we bond deeply over it. "A suffering shared is a suffering halved"... so trite, and yet possibly so much truth. Great leadership starts with vulnerability. Embrace your brokenness.
The consequence of being chosen and of being blessed is that we are called to give ourselves. There is an innate purpose in who we are. Liberalism likes to pretend that we are free to choose our "why", and to some extent rationally discerning which way is the best is absolutely part of being chosen and blessed. But there is a teleology to being human: a purpose that comes with being human. And that purpose is always to give ourselves to others. You are free to choose in which way you do so, but I have personally found that a lot of pain lies in the refusal of this call. One of the best ways in figuring out in which way to give yourself is to discover in which unique way you are broken.
For instance, many founders I work with have an incredible desire to prove themselves. I don't love digging into the cause of this ambition (that's one for their therapists, honestly). But the consequence of the ambition is that they desire to build very large organizations. One way towards healing is to build these organizations in such a way that the founders feel like they are in service to their customers, their employees, their shareholders, their suppliers, etc. I don't think of this as "stakeholder" capitalism so much as "love" capitalism. These founders are giving themselves, body, heart, and soul, to their mission and they will be succesful because they are all in.
I have to stop now - my own mission calls. This was a gratifying post to write. Thank you for following along.
Copenhagen, Feast of Corpus Christi, June 2023