When I say it could be a spiritual experience, I don’t mean I was interviewing the student for some kind of religious job. We never talked about God nor religion. On the surface no one would get any kind of clue that it was about spirituality. Perhaps it was only in my mind. But let me unfold my understanding.
I was set to interview a young man and the appointment was made. From his name, I assumed he was Asian or, at least, Asian-American. As far as I was aware, I have never met him nor had I ever seen him. I asked him to tell me a bit about himself.
I know this is not an unusual request when you are in an interview process and the interviewer does not know you. It seems like such a common question, we are not likely to realize how profound it could be. However, it typically is not very profound. Instead of the profundity of the potential answer to who we are, the interviewee normally would talk about descriptions of himself that are not very revealing.
In my case, some of this did come from the young man. It turns out he was born and spent his early years in Korea. He came to the USA to study and to gain some global experience. He is a junior in college and shared that his major was business. None of this seems remotely spiritual. It could have stayed at that level and it never would have occurred to me that interviewing would be spiritual.
It was only after our conversation deepened a little more that I realized it was becoming spiritual. I realized in the beginning I had actually asked the young man a question of identity: who are you? That has the potential of becoming profoundly spiritual. However most of the time, we answer that question at such a superficial level, the spiritual is not even hinted at. As long as we stay with things that describe our role---like being a college professor---we don’t enter the spiritual realm.
This young man began to enter the deeper waters of identity when he shared that he has spent some time recently dealing with depression. He was tempted to despair. He shared that his dreams for himself had fallen away like leaves off a tree. He returned home and felt like he was being drawn into a dark hole of nothingness.
But there he was right in front of me with a smile and as much optimism as I could imagine. Through effective help and significant effort, he had come back to life. Religious people could even say he had been saved. My point in the reflection is simply to say the interview had become spiritual for me. Let me explain.
One important facet of spirituality has to do with identity---who we are. I suppose most of us assume we know who we are. And we do at a superficial level. But many of us don’t really know who we are at a deeper level. This becomes routinely obvious in my teaching of undergraduates. They are usually surprised when they begin to realize they don’t actually know who they are. And I suspect that many of us who are “adults” have lived long enough that we assume we surely have come to know who we are. But often, we are not much further along than the college junior.
Identity is a spiritual issue for me because my assumption is that who we are is tied up with who God (or the Spirit) is. While I realize not everyone would agree with my assumption, nevertheless I press on to suggest that we all have a deeper self---what Thomas Merton and others call our “true self.” Until we begin to know that true self---and it is only known in relation to the Spirit---we don’t really know who we are.
My time with the chap from Korea lead me to think about life metaphorically as a preparation for an interview. Imagine coming in to engage the Spirit in an interview. The invitation is offered; tell me a bit about yourself. My function in life is pretty irrelevant. More pertinent is whether I know my deeper self. Has that self been depressed or despaired? Has it loved and been loved?
What are my commitments to my friends and, even, to my enemies? What have I done to help and heal the world? In this interview the Spirit will be less concerned about my net worth and more about my spiritual worthiness.
I don’t see this interview as meeting God at the proverbial pearly gates when I am dead. Instead, I imagine the Spirit as the ever-present interviewer for the job of living day by day and living with as much fullness, meaning, and joy as I can muster. That really is the job I want---the job of a fully lived life.