One of the many inspirational books I have read, and re-read, over the years is ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach.
On the surface it is a lovely story about a seagull who sought more, and found more, from life than just feeding. If we were all to share his outlook on life and our role in it, we could make great progress, both individually and as a people.
Of course, in the story, as in real life, daring to be different, to follow the path less traveled requires courage, determination and a long-term investment of our energy, and generally loses you a few friends along the way. We do not learn how to be perfect, how to be godlike, as Scott Peck suggested to us our heritage is, by thinking about if for a few minutes every day and for a couple of hours on our holy days. No, it requires continuous work and effort. Even to move in the direction of perfection, of being godlike, requires determination and dedication. The rewards are immense but still we delay.
My mother use to say, “Old age is not for the faint-hearted”. The same is true, of course, for sainthood – which should be all of our destination. Sainthood, furthermore, is not as inevitable as old age is. There is only one, sad way to fail to make it to old age. There are many, many ways by which we can fail to reach our destiny, godhood. So few of us make obvious spiritual progress, we are assuming that a spiritually enlightened person is recognizable and i think that this is a justifiable expectation. The failure of the masses to reach their destination, assuming again that Scott Peck is right and our destiny is godhood, is probably one of the explanations why some religions believe in reincarnation. They assume that the spiritual journey is too difficult, to long, to achieve in a life-span of four score years or so and so there is an acceptance that the journey will take many life-times to achieve. All animal life is included in the journey.
Christians believe that we get one shot at it, then we get judged on our progress and behavior, fail and you go to hell, to eternal damnation, pass and you spend some time in limbo, putting in your time, waiting on promotion like a civil servant in the olden days. Seniority eventually gets you into the honors class, which gets you into heaven, and the eternal company of God. An honors grade when you first die gets you straight into heaven. Rather improbable too, i must admit, especially if you throw in the resurrection of our bodies and their re-unification with our souls at the end of time. Followed by the re-emergence of the Garden of Eden, or similar earthly conditions, in which we all live “happily ever after“. Often i wish i wasn’t a skeptic, a seeker of the truth. To believe what you are told by your elders or ‘betters’ must be quite comforting, like a small child being comforted by its parents. Unfortunately, for me, and i know this is true for many, many, others, the gap between my expectation of behavior from my elders and betters and the reality of that behavior, always disappointed me and often shocked me to my core. Infallibility, i learned at a very early age, was not a human characteristic. And so you ask ‘Why?’ and once you start asking it becomes difficult to stop. So many beliefs fall, like a row of dominoes, once you subject them to the glare of questions. Eventually, you find that you have stripped away almost everything, then you are ready to start your journey.
But you will never make any progress unless you ask questions and you will never succeed unless you know some answers and take some tough choices.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull knew that to succeed it was likely that he must first fail and fail often as he struggled on his journey, “Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air is for them disgrace and it is dishonor. But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching his wings again in that trembling hard curve – slowing, slowing, and stalling once more – was no ordinary bird”.
So, my friends, do not hesitate to stretch yourself in that trembling movement which may fail at first but which will eventually reward you.