- Open your eyes and ears. All around you are signs that what you see and hear are not all there is, that there is a beautiful and mysterious Presence behind it all.
For thousands of years people have said they see it in the stars and galaxies on a clear night in the mountains. They hear it behind the roar of the waves at the ocean. They perceive its beauty and design when they look at a tiny flower. They sense it speaking commands in their conscience. They discern it when they experience love, and realize the cosmos is not finally cold and impersonal.
Atheists and agnostics are a tiny minority of all those who live today, and who have ever lived. The vast majority of people in every age have perceived that there is a transcendent realm, invisible to the naked eye, that is responsible for everything we can see and hear.
Most people today and in all history have recognized that in the midst of the chaos and confusion of life there is a still, small Voice. They know that if they quiet their minds they can hear it.
You will never know what really Is until you submit your mind and will to this transcendent Reality. Even if you are unsure and afraid, you must take this first step. Believe, and be willing to submit. Only then will you be able to understand anything truly important. Make this the first goal of your life, after which everything else must take second place.
- Don’t put in first place what is second or lower. If you miss the first rule, you will miss everything else. If you elevate to first place anything else in life, that something else will only disappoint.
It might be an otherwise good thing, such as family or your own idea about how to improve the world. For many people, it is money or worldly success. For others, it is sensual pleasure. But whatever it is, and no matter how noble it might seem, it will become hollow eventually if you ignore the first rule.
Those who trust their own minds about what is good and true and beautiful, and ignore the wisdom of the ancients, are missing something. Every generation thinks it knows better than its elders. Only those who return to the ancient sages become truly wise. Only those who recognize their littleness and acknowledge the Holy One are able to see their way.
- Be humble before what others treat with reverence. Such as sacred traditions. And the name of God. Jews treat the divine name, which for them reveals the divine character, with the utmost reverence. They write “G-d” and substitute “LORD” for the revealed name (YHWH).
The Christian tradition treats the names of God and Jesus similarly. It frowns on those who use either word as an expletive.
Even if you aren’t sure if you believe, start living “as if.” It shows respect for the mysteries of life, and opens you to be able to experience those mysteries.
- Take time to look up. Every great religion of the world teaches the need to set time aside regularly to revere and to learn. Muslims have Friday, Jews Saturday, and Christians Sunday. Buddhists and Hindus have their own regular times.
The point is that we need to step out of the daily rat race. If we don’t take that time, we will be overtaken with the fear and desperation of all the other rats.
Do you say you don’t have enough faith to go to church or synagogue? That is where you get faith and grow in it. Go with humility and learn. Look up to your Creator and repeat the words of worship in the liturgy. You don’t know how to pray? Perfect. Let the liturgy teach you and take you where you have not been before.
Only by looking up each week can you see the way forward during the week.
- Show respect to the ones who brought you into this world. If it were not for your father and mother, you would not be. Give thanks for them. If they are still alive, tell them. Think of all the good they have done for you, and let them know.
Were you hurt by them? Do you feel wounded? Join the club. No one ever had perfect parents. Small people forever nurse those wounds. Big people forgive and try to forget. They move on. So should you.
But in the meantime, give respect where respect is due. Especially for those good parents who sacrificed over and over for us.
If your parents are dead, give thanks to God for them. It will make a difference, not only for you but for others when they see your freedom.
- Do not take innocent human life, or support those who do. Jews and Christians have always taught that humans are the only beings made in God’s image. Even the smartest horse or dog is not. Every unborn baby is precious. Every elderly person, even if memory and mind are gone, shows something of God. Their lives should never be taken for the sake of something else, such as our convenience or society’s efficiency.
This does not mean that all killing is wrong. Sometimes there are tragic necessities such as in a just war (think of WW2 against Hitler) or capital punishment (the execution of a serial killer). Most Christian and Jewish theologians have supported both. These are cases of justified killing, not the murder of the innocent.
- Take sex seriously. The problem today is not that people take sex too seriously but that they don’t take it seriously enough. Every great civilization has regarded sex as a sacred function of marriage. Sex is for the creation of new human beings in love by a man and a woman who will care for and train them. (Some couples will want to adopt children if they cannot have their own.) Sex is also a sacred means to deepen the love between that husband and wife.
Therefore sex before and outside marriage disrupts and damages marriage, the foundation of every society. Married couples know this from experience, and have to work hard to repair the damage from pre- or extra-marital sex.
If you have broken this rule—and many have these days—there is forgiveness available. But only through confession and humility, asking for help from those who believe in this rule.
It helps to remember that it has only been since yesterday, so to speak, that people have thought sex was essential to happiness. Some of the happiest people in history have been celibate all their lives. For most of the last millennia, we would be thought crazy to think we need to have sex to be happy.
- Don’t take what belongs to others. Therefore we should pay our debts and taxes. We promised we would when we signed for those loans and expected the government to do things for us, like keep order. It also means we should give waitpersons good tips if they do their job. If we don’t, we are taking what belongs to them, just compensation.
Any kind of theft is wrong. Even if it is a government or big corporation or company that we feel is guilty of malpractice. What is not ours is not ours to take. Kant was wrong in many respects but right in this: If we would not allow others to do what we do, we should not allow it to ourselves.
- Tell the truth, even if it hurts. When we don’t, we disadvantage others. We give them a report about the world that is not true, and when they act on it they are hurt.
It is easy to lie because it can make others think better of us. Or it can help us get ahead for a while. Or we think it will avoid shame and humiliation.
But in every case we become smaller as persons. We take the easy way out. We fail to take responsibility for our actions.
Telling the truth connects us to reality. It prevents us from deceiving ourselves, which is easy to do. It tells others that we can be trusted and that we are not afraid.
If it has been a pattern in your life to fudge the truth, start a new pattern. Be brave enough to tell the truth even when it hurts.
But before we run off to say everything that comes to mind, especially our criticisms of others, we should remember an all-important accompanying rule–the rule of kindness. We should say only what builds up, not what tears down.
- Be done with envy. There are two kinds of people in the world. The first are those who are grateful for what they have. They know there is much they do not have, but they also know that they could be far worse off.
Then there are those who are always complaining that they don’t have what their neighbors have. The neighbor has a better spouse. Or a nicer house. Or a better job. The envious burn with resentment. If only they hadn’t been born to those parents, or with this body or this brain. If only they had gone to a better school. If only so and so hadn’t done them wrong. Then they would be happy.
Nothing will strip a person of happiness like envy. No matter what that person has. It will never be enough.
Are you overwhelmed? Do you feel like a failure because every one of these rules indicts you?
Actually, this is a good sign. It shows you are taking these rules seriously. That’s the first step to a worthy life.
If you resolve to try to live like this, and ask for help from God, you will begin to see changes in your life. You will be on your way to a worthy life.