Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
My January Chaplain's Corner article last year called New Year resolutions a “useless waste of mental and spiritual energy." More than ever, I want to make the same point. However, I want to substitute a more functional alternative: making a commitment. The word ‘commitment’ brings up notions such as a ‘binding’ course of action, allegiance, dedication and loyalty. What better way to start the new year than by re-committing ourselves to respecting the personhood of others by overcoming any ways we have slipped into unthinking habits of rudeness. The word respect derives from the Latin word respicere, which means, “to look back, pay attention to.” In this case, to pay attention in a Godly way to the person with whom you are interacting.
The highest value of what it means to be a person is told to us in Sacred Scripture in the Book of Genesis (1: 26), a book that is sacred to Christians, Hebrews and Moslems alike. We read, "Then God said, "Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness." The person, therefore, is an icon of God, a consequence of His creative act in making us a finite mirror of His Divinity. Our Eastern Church Fathers would consider the meaning of personhood to be in our relationship with both God and mankind. To make this practical, the more we become committed to respecting others, to really paying attention to them as persons, the more we become like God.
Many in today's secular world have lost the concept of the value of personhood. Abortion, corporate, political and religious institutional corruption, exploitive commercialism, sexploitation abound everywhere. As individuals, we may lack the resources to straightway turn around society and make it more Godly. But all of us, in our personal world, can begin to be more "like" God ourselves. We can immediately begin by being respectful of the person or persons who are around us. A mere first step is overcoming rudeness. That is to say, we can commit and begin relating to others by being kindly and mannerly, by acting “nicely” and “politely.”
By such actions, our souls would start to reflect God's lucent beauty. St. Isaac of Syria tells us: "The following shall serve for you as a luminous sign of your soul's serenity: when, on examining yourself you find yourself filled with compassion for all mankind, and your heart is smitten with pity, and burns as if with fire, on behalf of everyone without distinction." (Brock, 1997). May all have a holy, blessed and Godly New Year.
Brock, S. (1997). The Wisdom of St. Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres, Oxford, England: SLG Press.