Seeking Divine Purpose
(The Spiritual Blog For Those Who Don’t Need One)
Welcome to true learning,– the discernment of divine purpose, and practical, if often hidden, intuitive life lessons gained from prayer, contemplative life, the reality in which we live.
A highway shall be there, and a road and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean [impure; unwholesome; corrupt] shall not pass over it. But it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray.
Isaiah 35: 8-9
In his autobiography, Confession, notable Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy admits that, since early boyhood, all he ever wanted was to be a good man. Fame and fortune were not his deepest wish. Later in life, he may have found these distracting.
Tolstoy sought Truth, virtue, the sort of excellence that strives for something altogether good, lovely, elusive, beyond “self’. Often, this elusive something is also beyond what’s safe. It can be impractical, even beyond understanding. Forewarned is forearmed. Heed this last caution, please. The “true learning,“ and our divine purpose, is rarely linear, conventional, secure. At the very least, we can feel like an odd-duck amongst our family or friends. Not always, but very often.
That slippery slope of an elusive (perhaps impractical) mission, only begins to describe a divine purpose. In this “seeking,” most of us can feel, in Isaiah’s words, like “the fool.” Haven’t you found that, often, you derive your deepest, most wholesome satisfaction from what others devalue, consider odd, imprudent? “How will you support yourself with a fine art degree?” ask our parents when we choose to study painting.
That seeking motif seems rooted in what Scripture calls “the inner man of the heart,” not in outer results, approval, or security.
Here sits the crux of what I mean to say and will repeat variously. Most, if not all of us, yearn for a profound peace, supernatural meaning, and self-forgetful or transcendent contribution to ourselves and others. That search is rarely sensible.
Yes, interior benefits (like meaning and fulfillment) are likely. Also, if we’re blessed, material support could be ours as well (especially if we’re mature, responsible for our calling, and draw on inborn talent, a strong work ethic, and so on). However, as noted, there will be costs.
We may not realize how expensive –materially, socially, emotionally, relationally– it may be to “follow our bliss,” as writer Joseph Campbell once said. No doubt that’s why some of us stall and delay. We sense something wonderful within, something we’re born to be and do, and simultaneously sense danger.
Hence, my introductory task is to urge each reader to keep a clear head about all of this. Please don’t sell the family farm to finance a pipe dream. Sometimes, ‘seeking a divine purpose’ can merely be a bid to escape present circumstances, to run from what’s hard, taxing, and unpleasant.
As an old Spanish proverb warns,
Choose what you will, and pay for it.
Defining the Territory
First things first: How do you define “divine” purpose? That’s each one’s initial, essential job. My definition may not be yours. So take responsibility for what you think you need. An old adage fits:
Be careful what you want. You just might get it.
Do you agree that not all your aims are “divine”? Meaning (for me) not all purposes are God’s call, not all goaks are “holy,” sacred, integral to vocation? On the other hand, almost anything can further self-awareness of the deepest inner summons, identify God’s will, and (occasionally) usher in His very Presence.
Can you judge divine purpose by your own or anyone’s appearance? I’d say, “No way.” What’s your thought? Divine purpose, as I mean it, is a pursuit of the soul – the faith and the experiential nature of only one person–the individual involved. Only you know your truths – and even then, you may not. As a case in point, who among us is not swayed by false idols, such as others’ opinions? When was the first –or last – time you were influenced by social pressures, friends, relatives, teachers, the culture at large? When was the first – or last – time you’d wanted to please your manager at work or your spouse? Maybe today? Ten minutes ago? Now?
Looks Don’t Count
Our neighbor may be a world-class pastor. Perhaps he talks a mighty otherworldly language. Have we considered that that neighbor may have selected a religious career to impress parents and/or a judgmental set of in-laws? Maybe he’s following a long line of religious leaders in the family and didn’t dare go against that grain.
Who looks to you like an aimless dreamer? Might she tinker pointlessly in the garage day and night? On weekends, she works at a deli, making tuna melts and fruit smoothies for others. Have you told yourself that she should get serious about a better job and get her head out of the proverbial clouds? But consider this: what if that ‘dreamer’ is lost in truly worthwhile, contributive goals – maybe she’s not really “of this world,” but serving some higher, if invisible, aspiration. Only she can say whether her experience or awareness is of value to her.
For one example of how someone might appear foolish while serving and/or experiencing a divine purpose, check out the old film Chariots of Fire. That gem of a story shows us that what looks like one thing could really be – to the individual engaged in it – another.
Based on the life of champion runner and, later, Christian missionary Eric Liddell, we learn he disappointed some people. Although he was the fastest runner in Scotland at the time, his own sister thought him “foolish.” In one scene, she urges him to quit racing for more important work. To which he counters succinctly,
I feel God’s pleasure when I run.
Exactly. Only you can know if and when God is with you in a quest for a divine purpose. And, sometimes, enen that’s unclear. One could live a lifetime in doubt while, in truth, contributing mightily to a divine purpose.
Ready for true learning?
Are you wondering how one might fathom such hidden marvels? Stay tuned. I have ideas to share. Our next issue speaks to that process, about contemplative life lessons, and spiritual wisdom, for spiritual growth.