By Rev. Rebecca
This happens to me every once in awhile. I'll be reading and my mind begins to wander and suddenly I've stumbled upon something that touches me deeply as being true...an idea that just wells up inside me and seems to bring together everything I know into a climactic culmination of insight. Then I must to stop and write it down feverishly, immediately, before it's impact and clarity fades. Usually these kinds of insights are interesting and helpful to me...sometimes even a bit profound, but normally not of huge significance. This time my insight seems to shed some light on the possible meaning of life, so I figure it's worth writing an essay and posting it up on the world wide web…where else would it go!? You can find everything there!
1. Life is a Journey
Life is not a static or momentary event. It is a process of travel, a journey with many ups and downs, joys and pains, losses and gains. Fields such as science, philosophy, and religion serve as guideposts along the way. But what are we journeying towards? What is worth striving for along this journey and why?
2. The Eschatological Self
While I was a seminary student, one of my professors used to talk about a concept he called "the eschatological self" and how it related to the goal of counseling. I no longer remember what his exact definition of the "eschatological self" was, but it has been a concept that I've carried with me ever since. My understanding of the eschatological self has formed and changed as I have.
Eschatology is the study of the "end times" in theology. A person's individual eschatology is who they are becoming...who they will be as they undergo the transformation of maturity, experience, and time. Essentially, who God is calling and transforming them to be.
Every human being has immense potential. We have potential to excel in countless areas, from creativity, skill, and intellect, to personal inner integrity and character. Often, those things we are innately drawn to are the very things we have the most potential to excel in. People drawn to math often sharpen their skills and can do very well in that field. People drawn to cultivating virtues such as patience and mercy are drawn to that undertaking and exhibit those traits more and more over time. Given time and conducive circumstances, we can move towards our potential and become better and more gifted in every way. At the point of total transformation, where every bit of your human potential and possibility has been attained, you have reached your eschatological self. Your eschatological self is the most beautiful, talented, strong, amazing person you can be.
3. Attaining the Eschatological Self
I believe there is one force that most quickly encourages and draws out the eschatological self in people. That force is love. I realize this sounds trite and stereotypical, but let me explain!
Love calls the eschatological self forth because love "sees" the eschatological self in a way nothing and no one else can. Lovers tell one another, "I love who I am when I'm with you." This is because love draws out the best in all of us. Lovers see and help us to see our potential and gifts. When we are praised and adored, we see the truth or hint of truth in our lover's statements, even if we don't think we deserve such praise. Love sees the best attributes in us that we often fail to recognize. The more we love and are loved by ourselves and others, the quicker we will realize our eschatological selves.
4. The Key to Love
You begin to learn to love by realizing and believing that people are worthy of love by acknowledging the eschatological self within them. When you look at someone (or yourself), look beyond the surface appearance and behavior, observe the treasure and giftedness that is hidden beneath the surface. Each person has something precious inside of them...something so rare and beautiful that to behold it in all it's glory would by staggering and overwhelming. But that precious core has been covered up and hidden in most people for a variety of reasons. It is covered up by self-doubt, fear, abuse, bad habits, addictions, mental illness, lies, etc. But it is there. Admittedly, it seems to be much more hidden in some people than others.
As a youth worker of many years, I realized quickly that the best behavior came from my youth when I treated them as praiseworthy to begin with. And the only way to do this sincerely and with credibility was to love them. I loved my youth by seeing each one as a precious person with incredible potential. I reminded them how mature, honest, intelligent, and wonderful they were and they generally lived up to my praise. I didn't have "behavioral" problems with my youth because they were able to see what I saw in them and act accordingly. They believed they had the potential to be what I expected of them and they were. Parents have the same effect on their children, but even more so. When people disappoint us time after time, we often stop trusting in their potential. Eventually we may grow to dislike or even hate someone. But that is a mistaken reaction.
Hatred has the exact opposite effect of love on the eschatological self. Whereas love draws out the eschatological self in yourself and others, hate diminishes it and causes the eschatological self to retreat. When someone demonstrates hatred towards you, it often causes you to question yourself and take on a piece of that hate. That hate can turn into self-doubt or, even worse, self-hate. And when we look at people through the eyes of hate, we not only diminish their potential and value, we diminish ours. The ugliest most horrible people to be around are those who hate. Hate turns us into hateful creatures.
5. Love and Sacrifice
In the movie, "Billy Elliott," we see the perfect example of what it looks like to draw out the eschatological self in another person. The boy Billy has found that he is naturally gifted in dance and finds this activity to be extremely life giving. His father is embarrassed and cannot stand the idea of his son being a "dancer" because such activity was seen to be a girl's activity, unfitting for a boy. Essentially, his father must choose between love and hate. He must choose whether to love his son enough to allow him to move towards his eschatological self and become a dancer. In choosing love and empowering Billy to move towards his eschatological self, the father must sacrifice however. He must sacrifice his deeply ingrained beliefs and traditions, his reputation, and even the presence of his son at home. He must "die to himself" in order to experience the rebirth of love in his heart. In doing so, he rediscovers himself, his integrity, self-respect, and the capacity he has for unselfish love. He also experiences the joy of seeing his son reach his personal potential while the relationship between them is reborn to a better, closer, more loving relationship.
The "sacrifice" of love always brings with it greater rewards. The sacrifice is only the sacrifice of a lesser good to a greater good. Loving sacrifice is not really sacrifice at all, it is a movement from death to life.
6. The Human Goal
In light of this, I believe that the human goal is to draw out the eschatological self in ourselves and others through love. In drawing out the eschatological self in others, we are drawing out the eschatological self in ourselves. In seeing ourselves and others with the eyes of love, a love that knows there is a treasure inside of us waiting to be fully realized, we move towards our eschatological self. Love makes us better humans because as we learn to love others, we learn to love ourselves. Such love is possible through God as all love comes from God.
Written July 31, 2001