Paris would have to be my favorite city in the entire world. There are a lot of reasons for this. There’s the food of course, and the atmosphere. There are the small street cafes and the wonderful little neighborhoods, each with its own charm. There are the fabulous museums. And of course, there are the people. Paris was tailor made for a people watcher like me. But most of all, there is the architecture. Everywhere you look there are these amazing buildings. It almost doesn’t seem fair that so many wonderful buildings could all be in one city. I marvel at the Pantheon and the Le Opera. The church at Sacre Coeur sits atop a hill with magnificent views of the city. The Eiffel tour stands tall above the teeming metropolis. But most of all, I love Notre Dame.
The Cathedral sits there by the river. You could spend hours just walking around it, wondering at the carvings around the doors and the gargoyles by the roof. Every element of the cathedral is magnificent. And when you enter, you really feel as though you have walked into the house of God. Light streams in from the brilliant stained glass windows and washes the floor in a kaleidoscope of fantastic colored light. It is enough to take your breath away.
When I consider that this triumphant edifice was constructed by the loving hands of people who donated their work out of the love of God, it is enough to bring tears to my eyes. The entire building was built out of love. The construction was not rushed, either. It took nearly two hundred years to build this testimony to the human spirit and to faith. Some things require more than one lifetime to achieve.
But that’s really what religion is all about, isn’t it—no matter what religion you might be talking about. Religions are humankind’s attempt to figure the whole thing out. Religions are the acquired wisdom of thousands of lifetimes. No one of us could ever unravel the knot that is life, the universe, and everything in one lifetime. The seventy or eighty years we are here just aren’t long enough. Moreover, we have so many distractions that keep us from diligently working on the project. Any understanding of reality would have to take many, many lifetimes to find even the smallest understanding.
So each generation of humanity has taken what the generation before has given to us, and added our own little piece of understanding to it. And then we transmit it to the generation that follows. Here, son, here, daughter, this is what we have learned. Take it and use it well. Find yourself some peace. Because, in the end, that’s what we all want—just a little peace. We want to be able to put our troubled spirits to rest.
Every culture has understood that. And each culture has found that way to peace and offered it to its children, hoping and praying they would take the time to listen. The ancient Greeks had a story about a girl named Psyche. She was beautiful, so beautiful that the goddess Aphrodite was jealous of her. And so she sent her son Eros to doom her by causing her to fall in love with the most horrible of men. But when Eros saw her, he fell deeply in love with her himself.
So Eros took Psyche and put her in a magical place and came to her bed every night. He warned her that she must never look upon him. He was to be her mysterious lover. So, night after night, he came to her, and made love to her in the darkness. But curiosity, as in all humans, got the better of her. So one night, she took a small lamp and hid it by her bedside, and after Eros had fallen asleep (typical male), she lit the lamp to look upon him. But a drop of oil from the lamp fell upon his shoulder and awakened him. He stood tall beside the bed in his winged splendor (no little baby boy cupid here) and disappeared.
Psyche tried to drown herself in the first river she saw, but the god Pan rescued her, and delivered her unto Aphrodite, who made Psyche her slave. She sent Psyche out to perform impossible tasks, all of which she accomplished with the help of various gods, even leading her to the very gates of the underworld, where she fainted into a dead sleep. Eros, forgiving her, asked Zeus for permission to marry Psyche, which he grants, and they live happily every after. It's a wonderful story, isn't it? And more than that, it was a part of the ancient Greek religion.
It is the story of humanity. We look, out of our curiosity, to unravel the mysteries of life. But when we find the truth, we lose the connection to divine love. And we are cast into life, a life of many trials and impossible tasks, until, at the gates of the void, we are rescued once again by divine love. It is the story of Adam and Eve, the very same story. It is the understanding of ages, thousands of years of searching, transmitted to us in the form of a story, so we can remember it, and learn it if we want to.
The Greek word, “psyche”, originally meant life. The Greek poet, Homer, uses it in phrases such as “to save one’s life,” or “to risk one’s life.” He also uses it to describe those half-alive half-dead souls in Hades, the underworld land of the dead. Later, the word would come to mean “the conscious self” or the “personality.” By Plato’s time, the word “psyche” would come to mean the immortal soul. And of course, it is the root of our word psychology, the study of the mind. For our lives are in our minds. But for the Greeks, life was in the soul. And the soul is unspeakably beautiful. We are loved by divine spirit and rescued by the love of that divine spirit. That is the story of Psyche. Jesus taught the same thing.
“When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’
“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’”
When Jesus says to love God with all your soul, he uses the Greek word “psyche”. Linguistically speaking, that word contains all the meanings of “psyche” and the story as well. And the word we translate as mind, “dianoia”, means thoughtful purpose, or intention. So, desire to know God, just as Psyche wanted to know Eros. Make the desire to know the purpose of your life.
And the other commandment, we are told, is the same. To love your neighbor as yourself. The word used is “plesion”, meaning the one near you, next to you, or close by. So, in other words, love one another. This commandment is the same as the first. This is how we love God, by loving one another. This is because we are all part of the divine. We are divine. We love God when we love one another. And in this is contained all the laws and all the prophets, all the wisdom of the ages, all the wisdom of humankind. Just like Psyche, we are rescued by love. And the word used is “agapao”, which is the love a parent has for a child. It is not like. Like is “phileo”. You don’t have to like the person next to you. You are not called to like people. But you are called to love them.
How do parents love their children? They take care of them. They nurture them. They comfort them in their sorrows. They celebrate their successes. They rejoice with them. Parents don’t have to like their children. But they do love them. That is what we are called to do, not as a law, but as the secret to understanding and joy. This is how you come to find peace. In the end, nothing but love matters. At the end of our lives, we do not celebrate our anger, but our forgiveness. We do not celebrate our wealth, but the love of those around us. To be alone at the end of our days is the very essence of Hell. The secret of wisdom (other than 42) is that in order to find peace, you must find love. You must open your heart to love and you must let love flow through you.
Our lives are trials, and we are rescued by divine love. The Greeks knew it. So did the Hebrews. But they forgot, and so did we. We chalked these stories up to myth and legend, and no longer paid attention to the message the stories held between the lines, the wisdom of a thousand lifetimes. It may take several lifetimes to build a masterpiece such as the cathedral of Notre Dame. And it takes several lifetimes to build the masterpiece of our own psyches. And if we’re smart, we use the foundation already constructed by those who came before us and build on that.
Religion is not just a collection of stories designed to keep us well behaved and under control. True, they have been used for that purpose. But just because a hammer may be used to bash in somebody’s skull doesn’t make the hammer evil. There are the foundations of truth in all religions. And we can take those foundations and build upon them, adding our own piece of insight, leaving all we have built to our children, so that they may find their own way to the light of understanding.
I don’t imagine that I will find the key to all life’s mysteries in my own lifetime. But I can make my own stories, and hopefully my children will learn something from them. The stories our ancestors left for us show what they learned, love will save you. Love will save us all. So love God, with all your heart and all your soul and make that your purpose for living, and love one another. All the wisdom of humanity, all the laws, all the prophets, hang on those words.