Our Best Selves
I recently have finished Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise: an Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. It is a fine book. Much of what makes it such a good book are all the authors and sages Tippett interviews. The range of people she introduces us to is remarkable. The interviewees range from writers to prophets to paupers. In the process we learn that wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge. Of course, they can be related. It is hard to imagine a wise person who does not anything. But many people who are smart and know a great deal are not wise.
Because the people Tippett interview are so interesting, it is easy to overlook her own contribution to the book. She does more than simply string together stories. Sometimes it is her own interpretation that I find intriguing. Sometimes her insight is at least as profound as the person she interviews. She has a fair amount of knowledge. I know she has been to seminary---accumulating a good theological foundation for the kinds of life questions she poses to people. I am sure she is becoming wise. And her book helps us become wise or wiser.
Appropriately, the last chapter of her book is called, “Hope.” It is a good chapter, especially as it helps me think about hope. Hope is one of those ideas we all assume we know what it means, but when we think about it, it is difficult to define. One of the best things about the book is the biographical stuff that informs so many of the stories and so much of the wisdom that is shared.
Near the end of her book, Tippett acknowledges, “I’ve traveled a long way since my early life in Oklahoma. She confesses that hope is not always easy. Cynicism is easy, but it is never constructive. As she says, cynicism corrupts the situation. This leads up to a summary-kind of statement which I will give focus.
Tippett says, “I experience the soul of this moment---in people young and old---to be aspirational. This is something distinct from ambitious, though the two may overlap. I’d say it this way: we want to be called to our best selves.” There are at least two nuggets in these quoted words. In the first place I really like the idea of a “soul of a moment.” Maybe not all moments are capable of being soulful, but many moments are. And most of us are totally unaware of the potential soulfulness of the moment.
Maybe that is a good way to see spirituality. Spirituality is being aware of the potential soulfulness of a moment. And not only is spirituality this awareness, it is the actualization of the moment’s soulfulness. If we can manifest the soulfulness of the moments---and even periods---of our lives, then we are enhancing the depth of our lives. We add a certain kind of richness to life. This speaks to the transformation of existing into a vibrancy of living. Who would not want this?
The second intriguing thing Tippett says is the soul of the moment is aspirational. If I could load it a bit more, I would say this aspiration for soul can be inspired and usually is inspiring. Aspiration is a form of hope. It is hope for more---for better. It raises up people rather than cynicism which tears down people. And if someone can manifest the soulfulness of the moment, that becomes inspirational. Everyone and every situation are raised to a new level---potentially a soulful level.
The last thing Tippett says that is important to me is her claim---which I agree with---that we want to be called to our best selves. This in itself is an aspirational claim. She thinks we want to aspire to be our best selves. I can aspire to be my best self, even if I am not totally sure what this even means. In the first place I like that she notes, we will be “called” to our best selves. I take the liberty to assume she means the call comes from beyond who we are. For me this means God. It suggests, secondly, that on my own I probably do not even know what my best self could be. On my own I will be too selfish or set the bar for myself too low. God calls me to my best self.
And that best self is certainly aspirational. I am not there yet. But there is hope! Certainly, there is reason in myself to hope. But that personal hope is buttressed by the fact that God’s grace is in the process, as well. On my own I likely can’t make it. But with God’s call and God’s grace in the process, I may be able to live into my best self. It’s a life project.
And if I can become my best self, then surely I will frequently enjoy knowing the soul of the moment. In fact as my best self, I am likely to be a transformational presence in the moments of many others. I probably will become that light in the world. I will be able to help others see. I will be a means of insight---transforming sight into insight. I will become a harbinger of hope. That’s what my best self can be and can do.