To Learn and To Grow

Star Foster at Patheos is delving into ancient philosophy – something I wish more Pagans would do. The Greeks and Romans are our cultural as well as spiritual ancestors and their ideas are more prevalent in our common society than many of us realize.

Today Star asks one of the Big Questions: what is our purpose? She says:

Most religions insist we don’t belong here. We’re trying to get back to where we came from. Redeem our fallen state or liberate ourselves from the illusions of the material world. Some Pagan religions have these theologies. Returning to the source, gaining access to the highest plane, becoming like the Gods. Aside from these theologies of transcendence and liberation, what is the purpose of humanity from a Pagan viewpoint?

As Pagans, we differ from other religions because we believe we DO belong here. The Earth is not fallen, it is not illusion and it is not sorrow. The Earth is our Mother and our home. We grew out of the Earth – spiritually as well as physically.

So if we belong here then we must be here for a reason, right? Philosophers and theologians far wiser than me have struggled with this question for millennia. Long before I became a Pagan I tried to figure it out for myself. What I came up with is this: my purpose is to learn and grow, and to help others to learn and grow.

As someone who is naturally curious and who has always loved learning, this conclusion came easily and seemed self-evident. But the longer I’ve studied and the longer I’ve practiced as a Pagan, the more I’ve become convinced I didn’t figure that out on my own. I saw it in Nature.

As an aside, it’s amusing how often we think we come up with brilliant ideas on our own, when it turns out they’re something we read or heard or saw a week or a month or 25 years ago. The brain is a remarkable, mysterious organ.

If the purpose of life is to learn and grow, then to what end or ends? Evolution has no foresight – natural selection rewards helpful mutations after the fact. But look how far it’s brought us! From single-celled organisms to multi-celled creatures to complex life to sentient life to creatures who are capable of contemplating their own origins and purposes. Through the ordinary and painful struggles to survive and reproduce, over billions of years, Great Things have happened.

Is this process what some of us call God and Goddess?

Maybe. Maybe not. But the evidence says it’s brought us this far, so we can trust it to take us further.

I like clear purposes and specific goals. I like detailed plans. I like to preach Isaac Bonewits’ magical maxim “fuzzy targets yield fuzzy results.”

But sometimes we don’t know our purpose. Sometimes we don’t know what we want, much less how to get it. What are we to do at those times? Wait until a clear answer presents itself? Most of us don’t have the luxury of waiting that long. So we do what we can – concentrate on doing the right things for the right reasons and trust that good things will come, in their own season.

And so we learn, and we grow, and we help others to learn and grow. And over time, with hard work, bit by painful bit, something magical happens. A new job appears, a new friend enters our lives, a new species emerges. Magic that wouldn’t have happened – that couldn’t have happened – if we hadn’t done the work.

I believe our purpose here on Earth is to learn and grow and to help others to do the same. If there is some greater purpose than this I don’t know what it is or how to go about finding it. But I’m confident that if we learn and grow, Great Things will continue to happen.

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.