About two months ago, I met a woman who told me an interesting story. It was about her first cousin, who'd been a beautiful, young movie star in the 50's. Living out here in the Midwest, we don't often hear family stories about movie stars; and since this particular young celebrity had been one of my favorites, my ears perked up.
The woman told me that, in the late 50's, her cousin had a future that promised fame, fortune, and a really full life. She wasn't struggling to make it; her roles were already co-starring roles. She was successful, and no one had any doubts about her future. But one day, while shooting a movie, the young actress decided to get away from the movie set and tour the local countryside. While on her trek, she came across a Catholic convent and went inside to meet and talk with some of the nuns that resided there.
No one in her family (her cousin told me) knows exactly what was said or what occurred that day at the convent--but the young actress felt that she had come home. Everything about her direction in life changed in an instant. Soon after the movie was completed, the actress informed everyone that she was done with acting; she promptly left Hollywood, fame and fortune to become a nun, in either the same convent she visited or one similar to it. Her cousin said that, in her sixties now (2003), this nun still resides at the convent, doing charitable works for the people in her area, fulfilled with her life's mission. I saw a recent picture of her; and her smiling face, make-up free and peeking out from a habit, still shows strong traces of the same beauty she'd possessed in her youth.
Because of her beauty, some people might think that to take such a talent and beauty out of the movie profession was a waste. But this view doesn't see the greater beauty that was also inside the young woman. Her story reminded me of a expression I'd heard some years ago, "…coming home to a place you've never been before." That's exactly what I think happened to this young woman back then--she found a home she didn't even know she was looking for. It was a home for her unique soul and individuality. It was a place and purpose in life that fulfilled her. It was a mission that belonged to her.
Does that mean that everyone should go off, find a convent somewhere and become a Catholic nun? Absolutely not. What it means to me is that, even when we think we're in charge and control of our own life and purpose, there's a greater will and divine Intelligence that can lead us, unsuspectingly, to a higher place and higher purpose. For this ex-movie star, it was a mission in a convent. For others it might be returning to their native country during trying times, or going to a third world country as an educated leader, or performing free surgery on disfigured children in Africa. It could even take the form of giving up a business career for an artistic, creative endeavor that heals something in society; or simply making cakes and treats for local shut-ins.
Whatever seems to call us to an unselfish purpose that brings good to others, often fulfills us in a way nothing else can. For when this recognition of our more spiritual path or mission in life is presented to us, it's no sacrifice to give up the materialistic goals we'd previously set for ourselves. Like the young actress-turned-nun, many people who've found their own "home" in life have left wealth and fame behind, without a backward glance. Their vision is forward, away from self-gratification and accumulation of material good, to a giving out from within--using their own talents, abilities, and energies to heal, ease suffering, and transform the world for the better, just as long as they're here.
So where do such impulses come from? They come from the infinite Creator, God, that knows us better than we know ourselves. While we're busy planning what we're going to do, accumulate, and accomplish in our limited material time here, the divine Intelligence has another agenda for each of us. In this divine agenda, our place and work is far greater in scope and value to the whole of creation, than mere human planning ever provides. That's because we're a part of a greater creation than we perceive with the physical senses. We're a part of God's spiritual realm and kingdom, invisibly ever-present to be found within our deeper, spiritual comprehension. (It's interesting to note that in some Native American cultures, there's a recognition of each one's greater mission. The Native American practice of a 'vision quest' is an attempt to spiritually awaken to one's individual place and purpose in the divine order.)
It's my belief that if we're fortunate enough to recognize this 'other' agenda when it presents itself to our awareness, we might possibly advance ourselves a thousand years in spiritual growth and development. If we fail to recognize it, we've limited ourselves to so much less than life could be for us--we're living out our own agenda instead of God's, in a temporary sense of creation.
There's a wonderful, biblical example of this in the story of Joseph. To briefly paraphrase: Joseph was a child getting too much attention from his father, Jacob. Joseph was a believer in God and a dreamer who foolishly told a dream to his brothers, that they would one day be bowing down to him. His jealous brothers now became hostile brothers. To get rid of Joseph, they sold him into slavery to the nearest caravan passing by. From there, he was taken to prison, where he spent a couple years. Now, while this would usually cause the rest of us to scream against the injustice of it all, (or at the very least, plan a prison break) Joseph seemed to know that God was with him in all that was happening. To coin a more modern phrase, he just "went with the flow" because he trusted God's agenda.
The biblical story (Genesis Chap. 37 - Exodus 1) shows that Joseph always seemed to have this sense of God's agenda behind it all, no matter what happened. When Joseph was delivered to Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh's dream, he said the dream meant seven years of plenty in Egypt would be followed by seven years of famine. As a reward for this knowledge, Pharaoh made Joseph second in command, only to himself, and Joseph stored enough food to save the people of Egypt from the famine. Soon, his brothers came to Egypt for food, and Joseph finally revealed himself to them with this message: "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life." (Genesis 45: 5). God's agenda for Joseph made Joseph's ultimate life's mission of far greater value--and fulfillment--than he could have ever planned for himself.
There's a great balance, harmony and peace that exists in the spiritual reality of God's universe, when everything and everyone is fulfilling it's divine purpose. In order to do this, one must first realize that every thing and every one has a divine purpose. This pertains to all that exists spiritually, but is appearing to us in material form--including people.
Every good and constructive thing, as well as every identity which exists, is a part of this great harmony and balance. When the right purpose of something isn't perverted humanly and made to be something else, a natural harmony results. And while it's true that in this human condition, both good and evil purposes seem to be applied to just about everything, the reality of the true, divine purpose still underlies the falsities material expressions take. The true purpose is spiritually present to be detected and expressed. Misuses of good things, mis-directions of right activity, and perversions in purpose of every name and nature can be justified by society; but they never become a part of the divine harmony, nor do such indulgences result in bringing divine harmony and true success into one's life here. God's agenda, not man's, permeates the everlasting harmony of creation, and all people created are meant to express this agenda--not one of their own.
Take, for example, what would happen if the moon slipped out of its orbit. Or if the spiritual laws of love were universally thrown out in favor of killing who we wish; or if stealing as a way of life was embraced by all, rather than the immature few. In all three cases, chaos would reign and life on earth would quite probably cease to exist in a rather short time.
Destructive acts, if sanctioned, become annihilation in the long run. Thus, God's all-inclusive agenda makes sense to outlaw all destructive tendencies in favor of love. Only the moon following its singular purpose preserves the planet; only loving our neighbors as ourselves preserves life. Only honoring what belongs to another permits society to exist at all. Thus, it's smart to realize the wisdom of having a divine agenda over all creation, and to try to bring our individual lives also into its will. Then we can play out our own, unique part in the great, divine balance and harmony we wish brought into the human experience for the good of all.
So, one might ask, how do we find our higher life's work or mission? In some cases, as with the movie actress, it may just appear in one's life when least expected. But if not, one way is to open one's self to it. When we feel that the only place we desire is our rightful place in God's family, purpose and ever-present kingdom, our human place and mission has a way of becoming clear to us. When such a new direction comes, we may accept it and make the changes required, or reject it and stay with our more worldly choice. Our response will depend upon how important it is to us to live our life with some divine purpose--how much we really want to be a part of God's agenda and the resulting harmony and peace it can bring.
So until the day one's path takes a turn to a coming-home experience, the wrong purposes, material wealth and fame, even indulging some generally-accepted perversions, will continue to be the popular goals for many in society; for as one prophet wrote, "…God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions." (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Yet, since God's agenda is always available within us to know and follow, (if we have the courage to make the changes necessary to turn our lives toward a higher direction) we'll have more than one opportunity to make this change. Such a change may even involve loss of some material good, like wealth, fame, or a sense of human power; but, even so, the eternal good we find may be well worth the trade.