My Proverbs 1
The Art of Living
November First is celebrated as All Saints or All Hallows Day. It follows All Hallows’ Eve and precedes All Souls Day. While these are Christian holidays, they have both cultural and spiritual counterparts worldwide. This November First always marks the end of our journey into the Psalms exercise, writing our own, and will begin a new experience – writing our own Proverbs. As I did with Psalms, I will attempt a heartfelt, modern version of the corresponding Proverbs chapter, loosely based upon the same subject matter as the original.
As stated before, today is the day designated as All Saints Day. Technically speaking, in the Orthodox and Catholic beliefs, all persons in heaven are saints. There are, however, those whose lives were felt to be so hallowed or holy, that they were designated as saints. This is not something relative only to Christianity. Many religions use the term and it is found in the Jewish Tzadik, the Islamic Mu’min, the Hindu rishi, and the Buddhist arhat.
The word saint originated from the Latin word “sanctus”, meaning faith. It was from the Roman pagan god Sancus who was the deity of trust or faith. The meaning however was taken from the Greek hagios which meant to make holy. Thus, a saint is someone who has been venerated because of their faith and the living of it and the effect it had on others. While they died have been very faithful to their beliefs, most of the saints began life very differently. Because of their faith, they believed in becoming something better than they were.
It may surprise you to learn the first manual about living and attaining personal success was written by a Roman known as Epictetus. Born a slave, he became free around the age of 13. Having studied philosophy while a slave, with his master’s approval, he began teaching and a much-sought philosopher. Living between the years 55 and 135 ACE, Epictetus actual name is unknown. His name is from the Greek word meaning “to acquire”, quite fitting since he acquired his name. Crippled by an unknown injury early in life, Epictetus lived quite simply and was an example of the beliefs he lectured about and taught.
Epictetus believed that successful living was achieved by recognizing what was in our power and what was not in our power. We have control over our work and our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions. The things he felt were not in our power were our bodies, our possessions, power, and glory. Confusion of these two categories, Epictetus felt, led to “the slavery of the soul”. He believed in good and evil and that every human beings was connected to every other human being. He believed the mind should be cultivated for good things and that the universe was designed for universal harmony.
The final entry of the “Enchiridion”, or “Handbook”, begins: “Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand”:
Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever thy decree has fixed my lot.
I follow willingly; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.
(Diogenes Laertius, quoting Cleanthes; quoted also by Seneca, Epistle 107.)
Whoever yields properly to Fate is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of Heaven.
(From Euripides’ Fragments, 965)
O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.
(From Plato’s “Crito”)
Anytus and Meletus may indeed kill me, but they cannot harm me.
(From Plato’s “Apology”)
American fighter pilot and Vietnam POW James Stockdale relied on the teaching of Epictetus to help endure seven-plus years of confinement as a POW. Stockdale quoted Epictetus as saying, “The emotions of grief, pity, and even affection are well-known disturbers of the soul. Grief is the most offensive; Epictetus considered the suffering of grief an act of evil. It is a willful act, going against the will of God to have all men share happiness”.
It is hard when life is throwing rotten apples at us to step back and so “That’s not my problem” as Epictetus would have us do. However, when we are bullied or the victim of someone’s behavior, we really do not have any power over it. What we do have power over is our reaction, our opinion, and our subsequent actions.
There will always be those people who lack self-confidence, who seek perfection, whose actions do not back up their talk. We need to realize that the will of God, of the Great Spirit, is love. There are those things or words that do seem to kill us but they cannot destroy or harm our beliefs unless we allow it. Knowing that there is a higher being means we still have lessons to learn, things to do. Give to Fate that which you cannot control and take charge of that which you can. Follow your beliefs and faith and be holy in your work.
After all, the saints were not celestial beings who came down from the stars. They were ordinate mortals who by their deeds and living, became one among them.
As Lesbia Scott wrote in her children’s hymn:
I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right for Jesus’ sake
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
And there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.
My Proverbs 1
Knowing there is something greater than yourself at this moment is the first step to a better tomorrow and greater living.