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What Matters Most
Miroslav Volf suggests: "The most important political question of our time is the one we tend not to think is political at all. Who are we—you, I, and the nations to which we belong? What kind of human beings and what kind of nation should we aspire to become?"
Theologian Miroslav Volf writes about holding two truths together. We must stand in our own place, fully content in our individual creatureliness, crowned in our humanity. And we must also allow the glory and goodness of others to permeate our being. For such has God made us.
Over the past week I’ve seen the campus halls come to life. The familiar presence of friends and returning students. The hopeful faces of new students. The movement and sacred bustling of life. The refreshing conversation that draws us in. It reminds me of two simple truths we must hold together.
First, we are essentially connected to and interwoven with each other. In bearing the image of God, our humanity mirrors the triune mutual indwelling of God.
Years ago, I wrote about the porousness of our individual identities in Exclusion & Embrace. The more we allow others to indwell us, the richer and more expansive our lives will be. I still believe and hope for us all to inhabit a sense of self that is “transformed by the Spirit of the new creation and engaged in the transformation of the world.”
But second, we can and should celebrate the form of humanity that is specifically ours. Soren Kierkegaard offers a witty and vivid—yet tragic—interpretation of Jesus’s call to “Consider the lilies…” (Matthew 6:28).
In his imaginative extrapolation captured in Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, a beautiful lily stands glorious, isolated near a small brook.
When a bird visits the lily, befriends it, and starts naughtily comparing her with other lilies in faraway fields, the lily becomes anxious and worried. “It felt imprisoned and bound … in self-concern it began to be preoccupied with itself and the condition of its life—all the day long” (168).
When the lily can take no more, the bird hatches a plan to transplant the flower to another field where it can become a truly gorgeous lily, “envied by all the others” (169). The tempter bird pecks the soil away from her roots, and carries her under its wing, only for the lily to wither and die on the way.
The lilies teach us to be content with ourselves in being human.
I hope we can hold these two truths together. We must stand in our own place, fully content in our individual creatureliness, crowned in our humanity. And we must also allow the glory and goodness of others to permeate our being. For such has God made us.
Flourishing life recognizes the journey is both mine and ours. I cannot know what it is for me to flourish apart from asking what it is for you to flourish. I cannot understand who I am apart from the ways those in my life have shaped me. I would not be who I am apart from you, nor would you be who you are apart from those around you. We shape one another. Through this, each of us is unique and all of us are better.
At Yale Center for Faith & Culture, we seek to foster understanding of both the splendor of a flourishing human life and the connection across porous boundaries that depends on difference and commonality.
- Through our Life Worth Living and Christ & Flourishing initiatives, we are working to create a global network of educators who do the same.
- Through our collaborative writings—most recently The Home of God and The Hunger for Home, and very soon Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most—we seek to foster open, truth-seeking conversation.
- Through our podcast For the Life of the World, we help listeners engage and grapple with the task of seeking and living lives worthy of our humanity.
My colleagues and I daily see the ways we have been shaped through generative, invigorating relationships. Our work-culture and vision have developed through the voices of our staff, those of our longstanding advisory board (many of whom have invested in the Center for more than a decade!), our dear friends and collaborators, and our generous donors, not to mention our broader public audiences.
Without a commitment to both stand contented in our place and openly receive the investment of others, YCFC would not exist as it does today.And so the Center is as much yours as it is mine. I and the rest of YCFC staff are incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful community of support.
I invite you to continue in community with us as we enter the 2022-23 academic calendar. Please consider supporting YCFC by donating. Gifts of any size provide the Center with the funding we need to continue this valuable research, teaching, and public engagement work.
May you find the courage and contentedness to stand glorious where you are, and may your lives be continually indwelled with the goodness of others.
Grace & Peace,
Director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture
Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology, Yale Divinity School