Abigail Francis suggested when she asked me to do this that I try to be inspirational. That is the challenge for all of us at this time of the year who are marking transitions. How can we say something worth hearing at a time when everyone is talking and everyone is trying to do the same thing? It is a hard task.
So I decided to be serious and if inspirational, it will be the by-product of taking this festive occasion as important enough to try and say something that might be worth hearing and remembering. I have been concerned that graduates arrive at this point as whole men and women. There are lots of things you learn here, but nothing is more important than knowing ourselves and being comfortable in our own skins. That is what being whole means. I hope that is the way you feel this evening and I know that what I hope may not be true, but it is a goal worth working toward as you prepare for the next step in your life.
If you are whole, then the next concern has to do with the quality of the life you are setting out to live. And it is important that there be some intentionality as you move on. Spontaneity is a good thing, but when it comes to setting life goals, it is better to think seriously about the consequences of your decisions. I say that to you as someone who moved to Boston planning to be here for one year. That was 43 years ago on the 4th of July. We did not think of the implications of our initial decision.
When I talk about the quality of life, I am talking about the values you are willing to live for. What are they? What are the values that will inform your lives? Common to nearly all religious traditions in our world is something like what we call the Golden Rule. “Do to others what you would wish them to do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule and living up to its expectations is not as easy as it might seem. It is a difficult challenge because we are often able to deceive ourselves and if we are honest, looking back we may note that we often “Do unto others what is good for me.”
So my hope for you is that if you are whole people who wish to live whole (holy) lives that you take the Golden Rule as your bench mark. And it follows that if being whole, comfortable people is our lot, and if living by the Golden Run is our intentional mantra, what are the virtues I wish you would cultivate in order to be quality people. Notice, I did not say happy people. I did not say successful people. I said quality people, people of worth. Success may elude you; pain may be your lot, but if you are person of quality, you can manage failure, and sustain life in the presence of pain.
Let me suggest four things that will make a real difference. They are in the words of Carter Heyward, “overlapping pieces of a whole cloth, the tapestry of creation itself.” The Reverend Carter Heyward was in 1974 one of 11 women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church paving the way for the acceptance of women as priests two years later. The four virtues she endorses are: wisdom, passion, justice and prayer.
To be wise means to see the whole. It is the perception of wholeness, it is an aspect of the Divine. It is not the same as being smart because knowing the answer to a question may well mean having only a piece of the picture or puzzle. Those who are wise know that there is more to life than their corner of the world, more to living that pursuing happiness. The wise person sees life for both its beauty and its terror and is able to deal with the nuances of the experience. For the sake of your health and your future, seeing the wholeness of the world, is terribly important. May you be wise.
May you know passion. You need to dive deeply, to dive into creation the very realm of God to express your passion; may you be immersed in the whole of life and may you be able to cut to the heart of matters and in so doing find God.
Value justice; make it one of the qualities that you embrace and are willing to go to the mat for. Justice means that people know right relationships whether they are rich or poor, well educated or rustics. Just as smart people are not always wise, powerful people are not always just. Justice presupposes community as fundamental to human life and the wise, passionate person knows that.
Finally I wish that you will cultivate prayer. You may want to call it meditation or centering; you may engage in your own form of reverie but it is only in opening yourself to the other that socially active people can gain the perspective they need. Prayer is opening your life to that which is beyond the intellect; it helps us ground our passion, avoid the disillusionment that comes when we are not just and the hollow intellectualism that counts angels on the head of a pin rather than the hungry on the streets of Calcutta.
So I wish for you lives that are whole, intentional in your ethics and lives that cultivate wisdom, know passion, love justice and are willing to pause and ask for the help and perspective you need. If you can do that you do not need my inspiration
May God bless you!
May 4, 2011