The profound humanity of choice


The Egyptians noticed that the sun sets down before dusk and rises again at dawn; they created the Rah Sun story ascending into the skies to rest after the day underneath the Nile to rise again completing a 24-hour cycle. That metaphor has been transformed many times over. The Greeks took it into Mt. Olympus, renamed a menagerie of spirits led by Zeus as the head honcho of warring forces, like humans in their full pettiness and glory.

The language of profound humanity has been coached in the metaphor of sky-watching ever since; the lingo of “theos” (Zeus, Deux) in the Middle Ages simply made what was natural super. Today, in the absence of a language that affirms finitude and ordinary humanity without deux machina, we relegate our profound awareness of identity and vocation in the clothe of eternity in time. To speak of a wonderful feeling is to relate what is “heavenly”.

Undifferentiated metaphor and literalism has been the bane of human cognition and articulation. In the west, Augustine’s “City of God” and “City of Man,” recognized the separation, though it is clear that the language of one is also the veiled meaning of the other, affirmed in Thomas Aquinas’ “natural” and “supernatural” dichotomy.

In the late ’60s, the Ecumenical Institute of Chicago reinstated the monastic vows of old and in the triune tradition of the Christian faith, charted the categories of the Journey (Being as the intensification of Knowing and Doing), social consciousness labeled as the corporates (chastity as the intensification of poverty and obedience), and the solitary trek (contemplation as the intensification of meditation and prayer) that everyone does.

Google the subject and the website points to cabinet-full of materials and explications. Their New Religious Mode chart is helpful to those who remain with the Christian faith but is also stuck in the transcendent mode of navel watching directed skyward; often, the human core is missed.

The chart provides a bridge into the secularity of our age. Knowing, Doing, and Being, after all, are not exclusive to the religious. Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience tend to be the language of “absence of” or the “lack of” as the format for western idealistic aims, the pursuit of an identified goal-but-not-there-yet; the chart also uses such qualifiers of “poverty” as detachment, “obedience” as engagement, and “chastity” as being single-minded about the direction of one’s choices. “Meditation” throws one back to sociality, and “prayer” an expression of freedom, with “contemplation” as the sheer mystery of existence, of simply taking in the “way life is.” The chart is understandable seen this way.

It is a cool chart, for those who think in threes, with accompanying 4x4s that further quads the individual subjects. I understand that hundreds of persons of no particular qualification other than as a “cadre of those who care”, as later labeled, worked on this chart one summer research assembly ’68 in a former hospital on Chicago’s Westside. The attempt included intent to breakthrough what was the province of experts and specialists. Introducing the subject is not our intent, the metaphor for profound humanity, is.

I forsook the metaphors of skyward thinking and its assumption of an external force that determines fate and destiny, coached in the language of infinity and “theos” of the Germans garnered from the Greeks pointing to that which is profoundly human, to the wart-and-woof of down-to-earth in the here-and-now as the area that defines human profundity. Even saying it that way seems to sound like it was something special and extraordinary. No, folks, it is about the common and the ordinary.

The language of “depth” for what is “profound” is another way of escaping into the other Other World outside of this world. Old escapist habits are hard to die. “Theos” sits up in the sky and in home altars!

An island radio announcer emailed my editor for a copy of the Social Process triangle I mentioned in one of my columns. I added a chart of the Ur Images to identify major aggrupation of human understandings we used to refer to as philosophies, or god-help-us, metaphysics, “meta” again signifying an escape beyond what is ordinary.

Well, all of this is ocean wide enough to swim into; it certainly adds vocabulary to our language metaphors, but it shies away from focusing on the depth of the ordinary that comes into being as a matter of choice, mine, yours, and others. If we fail to exercise the freedom to choose, someone else will, and that’s how we get carried away into trends, fads, and fashions.

Inescapably and inevitably, what is profoundly human is the reality that all of us make choices daily, profound, and ordinary. When we no longer choose, it means we are dead. Sometimes, we choose to let others do the choosing, but we still choose. “Gracias,” to those at the Chicago Research Assembly S ’68, but the religious metaphor can no longer hack it. Let’s move on.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at
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