Living With Purpose

A house called The Person surrounding a smaller house called various life rules surrounding a heart in the center titled Life PurposeI grew up surrounded by people driven by inner purpose. Barbara wanted to be an excellent flute player so she practiced, tried out for the orchestra at Newark High and got picked as first chair. My friend Nick with a beautiful baritone voice auditioned to be one of our high school madrigals. Matt had a dramatic flair that he took to the stage for lead roles in our high school plays. Steve loved to play football became a first string offensive lineman. All of these friends found an inner drive that they translated into a purpose.

How well I remember taking a class on numerical methods as a freshman at the University of Delaware. As part of that class, I wrote my first BASIC program on a 300 BAUD DECwriter terminal connected to a Digital PDP-8E computer. That experience of typing a line of text, hitting return and having the computer respond deeply excited me. It felt like there was something alive on the other end talking to me! Young people today take the enormous power of an iPhone or an iPad for granted. For me back then, my passion for these amazing machines formed a strong purpose in me to understand how they worked and explore what they could be programmed to do. This purpose drove the next ten years of my life.

But before that purpose had run its course, a new and unexpected purpose started shaping me as I finished my electrical engineering and computer science degree at UC Berkeley. This new life purpose drove me to open my heart and develop my capacity for insight and wisdom. Instead of being concerned primarily with my interests and needs, now I was driven toward developing virtue and serving ethical principles. My religious life began to dominate my personal life.

Religion has long served as a dominant purpose to organize individual and communal life. In traditional societies, one’s religious life completely structures one’s personal life. Observant Jews are constantly reminded of their relationship with God by offering prayers throughout the day, following rules of behavior and consumption. Muslims surrender to God, don’t eat pork and pray five times a day. Christians strive to love God and love their neighbors. Buddhists vow to save all beings and abstain from killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and the use of intoxicants. If you claim a religious tradition, it claims you too.

Unitarian Universalism isn’t quite like that. We take responsibility for our own search for truth and meaning. We support each other in that search, but we may not find the same truth and meaning. We strive to appreciate what others find but do not feel bound to another person’s moral code of conduct. We are not all vegetarians, vegans or carnivores. We do not all agree on the same child rearing practices or philosophies of education.

What we do have are shared purposes and principles within our association of congregation. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all is a purpose most of us share. Respect for the interdependent web is a looser purpose that does prod us toward serving the whole rather than just ourselves. Honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person, maybe even every being, is a noble purpose that could organize one’s whole existence.

Purpose points toward the Spirit of Life itself. On a deep level, the source of unique expressions of purpose are mysterious and amazing. The purpose that drives someone to keep going, even in agonizing pain, to run a marathon for the first time is a marvel to me. The scientists and engineers that train their minds for years and years to master their field impress me. Watching the graceful movements of a gifted dancer, listening to the ethereal sounds riding on airwaves from a virtuoso’s instrument, gawking at the stunning reproduction of light on glass in oil on canvass , fill me with awe and wonder.

The Spirit of Life is not a neutral, chaotic process seeking rest. It has purpose and that purpose is imbued with meaning. Our challenge is to recognize it’s energy in us and find purposeful ways to bring it to life.