I often ruminate about about being of service…..I sometimes have trouble with this subject. This is because when some spiritual disciplines and religions speak about service, it is spoken of in a way as to indicate that loving the self, taking loving care of our self is selfish; that to be spiritual we must be self-sacrificial, that altruism forgets the kindly, loving care of self and thinks only of others. It seems the goal is to forget the self in service of others.
I have a different awareness of service. I first must be in service to myself by expressing myself authentically in the most true loving way for me. This is always our responsibility and no one else’s. No one else can know our path or what is right for us. No one else knows if our heart is singing, or what makes it sing!
As we flow our good feeling, doing what feels good, which can be a simple thing such as sitting on the swing on the back deck, or doing the work we love, or the work with which we are presented at the moment, we fill up our reservoir. NOW we have a full or fuller vessel from which to give. Now we aren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel.
As I am just being me, teaching what I love in the way I love and understand, I am being of service in the way I have been called on to be in my life. And it uplifts and fills me! As I do what I love, I am joyous that others feel that love….and receive it! And it flows back to me, and I receive it, and have more to give, in an endless cycle (until, being human, we temporarily lose our way and halt the cycle…until we recover). And every step along the way, every wacky step, every step where I seemed to lose my way, was essential and perfect, just as each step unfolded, to bring me to this moment of fullness and joy and service. I had to be in service to myself first, be willing find what makes my heart sing, what feels loving to me, what reminds me of the Love I Am, which fills me up so I can spill over to others.
Richard Rohr, who I think of as a radically loving Franciscan, talked about this in his May 28 Meditation Who Am I? He quotes Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader. Dr. Thurman says:
“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.”
Rohr writes :
“As conscious human beings, our life purpose is to be a visible expression of both the image and the likeness of God. Each of us reveals a unique facet of the divine, what Franciscan John Duns Scotus called haecceity or thisness.
Parker Palmer says it well in his book Let Your Life Speak:
[My newborn granddaughter] did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with the shape of her own sacred soul. . . . Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or “that of God” in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price. . . .
The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” . . . [I believe we’ve got to get our own who right before we can begin to address the question of what am I to do.]
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner (in Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC) asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” . . .
Contrary to the conventions of our thinly moralistic culture, this emphasis on gladness and selfhood is not selfish. The Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question “Who am I?” leads inevitably to the equally important question “Whose am I”—for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. . . .
The world still waits for the truth that will set us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.”
And one of my favorite pieces on this subject is a letter to Agnes De Mille from Martha Graham. Here is part of it:
There is a vitality,
a life force,
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.
And If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine
how good it is
nor how valuable it is
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU…
– Martha Graham
It’s all about love, and loving you, first, so you can then love and be of service to others.