Do all the other things, the ambitious things–travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop)–but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality–your soul, if you will–is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear way everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
I saw this quote awhile ago on Facebook and it’s stayed with me ever since, which has turned out to be a pretty fantastic thing. See, this quote was part of a 2013 Commencement Speech that is one of the best ever. And while it seems to be a pretty secular, generalized little snippet of thought, it really is quite the little grenade of inter-religious beliefs and similarities.
And I think that, given the current world climate, we could stand to acknowledge some of those similarities right now.
I love the connection between our “bright and shining” souls and those of the great people of ages past–because it’s true. What is there to separate me from Mother Teresa’s great works of mercy except bravery, a dose of modesty, and a willingness to do God’s work? These people he mentioned–Shakespeare, Mother Teresa, Gandhi–were just really good at clearing away the antitheses that would have otherwise kept them from doing those great things for which we know them. And how fortunate is humanity that they did?
“Clear away everything that keeps you from this secret luminous place,” the author says, which might lead some of us to think that these few historical figures were the only ones to ever discover it. On the contrary, this “secret luminous place” is a place known all too well to so many throughout history–it’s the place that every world religion tries to nurture. We use different words for it–“the divine light” of the Hindus, the “soul” of Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths, the “svabhava” of Buddhism, “this secret luminous place”–but really, we’re all talking about the same thing. This essential sameness is perhaps what makes us human and at some point, to some depth, we’re all trying to be in better communion with it.
“Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly,” our author concludes, and thus summarizes the creeds of every major world religion. But that’s where their paths diverge, because I believe that when you do come to believe that “this secret luminous place” exists and when you get to know it better, you will find what I have found and what Mother Teresa found and what countless Christians before us have found: that that place is not necessarily something of our own achievement or design, but that that place is where we find that each of us was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And when we get our selves out of the way, when we “clear away everything that keeps us from this secret luminous place”, then that bright and shining light that the author spoke about can exude from us in our actions, our thoughts, our words, the way we interact with one another.
The author of the Gospel of St. John gives a name to this Light of the World: Jesus.
And that’s what we Catholics believe we take into our bodies each time we receive Eucharist: Jesus.
So the light that’s been in each one of us since our very creation can shine through.
How differently would we treat one another if we could physically see that very real light?
When you start appreciating the dignity of that reality in yourself and in every person around you*–in other Christians and in Hindus and yes, even in Muslims half a world away who are engaged in a civil war that we couldn’t begin to imagine–that’s when your life changes. That’s when your life changes the world,
not because you lived
but because you allowed Christ to live in you.
In that secret, luminous place.
* Ever been to a yoga class? Remember what they said at the end? Namaste. This is a Hindu expression that means “the divine light in me recognizes the divine light in you”. Sound familiar?