“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
— Howard Thurman
I love this quote. Maybe I over-reference it, I don’t know, but I can’t help it because it speaks to the burning questions at the heart of almost everything: Why? Why me? Why this? What’s the point of it all? I think most of us wonder from time to time about our personal purpose for being here on the planet. Some of us question it constantly.
And maybe it’s because of my profession, maybe it’s just my temperament, but not only do I think a lot about the nature and purpose of my own existence, I also spend a fair amount of time wondering why we’re here doing this together, at the same time. What’s the point of our togetherness? What’s the purpose of intentional community, spiritual or otherwise? What are the reasons for our families and friendships, our collaborative enterprises and organizations, our societies and faiths and cultures?
I think Thurman addresses this too: we’re here to call forth each others’ aliveness, to light each other up.
The quote contains something of a paradox, almost a riddle. At first, it seems to suggest that we should go our own way, do our own thing. Don’t worry too much about what others think or want or expect. But the twist is that if we do do our own thing, if we live out the fullness of our radiant and genuine souls, then we can’t help but fulfill the world’s needs. We stumble together into our dharma, our raison d’être, our collective calling without even having to worry about it too much.
For me, then, the purpose of community becomes about creating space for our own and each other’s enlivening. Our own and each other’s enlightening. A space where we light up and get lit at the same time.
Last weekend, I had the great joy of attending a jazz performance at the Presbyterian Church in Placitas. It was music and dance, selections from the sacred concerts of Duke Ellington. I didn’t even know that Ellington wrote sacred music, but I found it extraordinarily beautiful. One piece, “Heaven,” included the lyrics: “Heavenly heaven to me is just the ultimate degree to be.”
Whoa! That sure lit me right up. The idea that our very being naturally culminates in paradise. The ultimate degree of self-expression is heavenly heaven. Included in this little phrase, I think, is the suggestion that we don’t have to force it or make it, certainly we don’t have to buy it or earn it — it’s simply the direction in which being fully ourselves is headed.
I immediately imagine how much more potent it is to be ourselves, together. How a love like ours can light up the whole world.
The coming week is pretty jam-packed with celebrations of light. The Winter Solstice, burrowed deep in the darkest night of the year, at the same time welcomes the sun’s return. Sundown this Sunday begins Hanukkah — a story reminding us that even if we don’t think there’s enough, even if we don’t think we’re enough, lighting up with a leap of faith can prove our sufficiency. And then Christmas promises the birth of world peace, joy triumphant, hope eternal, and heavenly love out of the least likely, most humble circumstances.
I’m ready. I’m ready to do this with you, create everything with you, simply by being us. And I can’t wait to see you this Sunday, December 22. XO, Drew
© 2019 Drew Groves