The Biblical language has been updated. And because the language has been updated, it might help to imagine the apostle Paul not to be wandering the desserts of the Mediterranean basin, but to be seated before a glowing computer screen. A pumpkin spice latté at his elbow, maybe. Election news blaring from his television.
Or you might imagine him in a bank drive-through or in a grocery produce aisle dictating into a smart watch. Reindeer antlers strapped to the grill of his Subaru. It doesn’t matter.
In either case, the updated language is a response to one of his many satellite churches. In fact, the entirety of his known ministry is drawn from his responses to frustrated leaders, disgruntled congregants, gossipy chinwags and, of course, authentic seekers as well.
In imagining the apostle Paul to be seated before a glowing computer screen or dictating into a smart watch, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear a response akin to this, “To see one body is to recognize many parts. And to see many parts is to recognize one body.”
Now: not all of of the teachings attributed to Paul speak to me, especially in their common translations. This happens to be a favorite, however. To see one body is to recognize many parts and to see many parts is to recognize one body. How beautiful is that? Paul just as easily could have said there is one presence and one power in all, through all, as all.
He continues, “The foot might be tempted to say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body. Because I can’t toss a ball or play a piano or perform a surgery, I don’t belong to the body,’ but even this doesn’t stop the foot from being part of the body.
“And the ear might be tempted to say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body. Because I can’t perceive a sunrise or anticipate a turn or articulate a color, I don’t belong to the body,’ but even this doesn’t stop the ear from being part of the body.
“The naval might be tempted to say, ‘Because I’m not a nose, I don’t belong to the body. Because I can’t take in air or send a warning or locate a piece of crispy fried chicken perched on a praline waffle (some authentic Vermont maple and candied thick-cut bacon on the side) because I can’t pinpoint that within 28 square miles, I don’t belong to the body,’ but even this doesn’t stop the naval from being part of the body.
“After all, if the foot were to become a hand, what would become of balance and speed and durability?
“And, if the ear were to become an eye, what would become of song and conversation and exchange?”
“So, the foot cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the eye cannot say to the ear, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable are worthy.
And he closes by saying, “God has put the body together, that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers; if one part rejoices, every part rejoices.”
At which point, we might imagine the Apostle Paul to insert a care emoji or maybe some prayer hands before logging off or checking out. Speeding off in his Subaru.
Now, Paul’s use of the human body as analogy is pretty compelling if you ask me. After all, as the cells of a human body develop, they differentiate into liver cells, lung cells, heart cells, skin cells and beyond – each unique in its contributions, each important to the others, each significant to the whole.
So, it might be said that each of us is a complex community comprised of billions of sentient little cells. At the same time, it might be said that each of us is but one of billions of sentient little cells comprising a complex community.
And so it is that from the smallest to the largest of living systems, we find something of this correspondence between micro and macro. As above, so below, could be one prophet’s attempt to speak to such dynamics. As for me, I would simply ask us to consider that we’re all in this thing together.
For if an individual cell ceases to function properly, the health of the entire organism is challenged. And, if the entire organism ceases to function properly, the health of an individual cell is challenged.
This is such an important idea for new thought people to grasp: that we’re all in this thing together. As individuations of one beingness, we depend upon each other. Whatever work we choose to do in consciousness might start with each of us (and it should), but we must understand that we are working within currents of consciousness which existed long before we arrived; currents of consciousness which may well be sustained by any number of cell siblings, you see. We’re all swimming in the same cosmic pool.
Deepak Chopra speaks into this same idea through a different (and older) lens. He says, and I quote, “Everyone has a purpose in life. Everyone has a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal.”
Now, let me start by explaining that your dharma isn’t your job. Your job is one means by which your dharma is expressed, (at least hopefully).
One might look at my life and be tempted to say that my dharma has been music and teaching and ministry, but it hasn’t. Music and teaching and ministry are three ways in which my dharma has been expressed.
My dharma (the core values of my essential self, maybe) could be described as an innate drive for order and beauty and creativity and healing; a deep knowing of the rich and expansive possibility of the human being and a deep commitment to building connection among people for a more sustainable future.
It would be accurate to say that I sought to express such a dharma through music. It would be accurate to say that I sought to express such a dharma through teaching. And it is certain accurate to say that I seek to express such a dharma through ministry.
Your dharma isn’t your job because your dharma isn’t limited to the constructs of this level of reality. Your dharma is deeper and older than the constructs of earthly life. You brought it with you. You’ll take it with you. Your dharma is just as likely to lead you to a vocation never before realized than it is to land you in your dream job.
If your dharma were your job, you might be tempted to think that dharma would simply evaporate upon retirement. Or that you will get some sort of dharma diploma. But it doesn’t. And you won’t. Upon your retirement, your dharma will simply lead you to new forms of expression.
And I have to believe this suggestion lends at least some value to how one experiences retirement. If you lost touch with that “essential you” comprised of passions and talents and purposes and began to think you were an actuary, or began to think you were an assistant, or began to think you were a carpenter, retirement may well represent a deep loss of identity.
But as we come to recognize that the essential self, comprised of passions and talents and purposes, has expressed itself in different ways from your early years; through your developing years, we come to trust that the same essential self, comprised of passions and talents and purposes, will find appropriate new ways of expressing itself in the seasons of life going forward, at which point retirement simply becomes a new season of creativity and wonder.
Said another way, your vocation might be sanitation worker. But your dharma may well include a deep passion for sustainability and beauty in your world coupled with a gift of order. Your vocation may end, but your dharma will make you new in every season of your life.
Your vocation might be a kindergarten teacher. But your dharma may well include an unyielding belief in the capacity of the human spirit to achieve anything, coupled with the gift of teaching. Your vocation may end, but your dharma will make you new in every season of your life.
Your vocation might be single homemaker, but your dharma may well include a fierce determination to realize and reveal the fullness of yourself in your world, coupled with the gift of zeal. Your vocation may end, but your dharma will make you new in every season of your life.
And yes, one obvious suggestion is that one seek a vocation that aligns with one’s dharma, but the less obvious suggestion is that one bring one’s dharma to bear on one’s vocation, no matter what that vocation is.
If your gift is song, sing that song as you wash those cars.
If your passion is beauty, allow that dish you’re washing to become the sole recipient of your passion. Make it the most beautiful dish ever.
If the essential calling of your soul is love, be love right where you are. Be love in the grocery line. Be love with your relatives. Be love on the highway.
To return to the analogy of Paul, if you’re a hand, do everything hands are designed to do. Lift someone up. Point to a higher possibility. Offer yourself to an adversary. Pat someone on the back.
If you are a hand, resist the temptation to be a foot. Someone else is better at being a foot than you will ever be. A dharmic existence would have you surrounded with empowered, purposeful, passionate people who know more about their work than you do.
If you’re a hand who thinks you have to be a foot, you’re not helping. You are hindering.
If you’re an eye, do everything eyes are designed to do. Be one who perceives the wonder saturating any given moment. Be one who looks at another in such a way, with such an intention, that you become a blessing. Be one who injects some softness into your world. Be one who looks again, who looks higher, who looks farther.
Discover who you are and figure out a way to give that away, trusting that it serves a purpose in our world. Touch that essential self of you and find a way to express it, trusting that it serves a purpose in our world. Chopra would say, find that blend of purpose and talent and dedicate it to the service of others, trusting that it serves a purpose in our world.
I interpret success to mean that you might carve of yourself such an expansive vessel that you are able to contain the full measure of life with grace. I interpret success to mean that you might fashion a life of such authenticity, understanding, purpose and meaning that even difficult moments are somehow swept up in humble service to your unfoldment.