The dimensions of life

Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 10:04 AM.

They are words of belief in a power beyond human understanding, humanity without conditions, and a belief in self and community, in the intersection of us all, that still speaks to our times.

King wrote, “Many, many centuries ago, out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos, a man by the name of John caught a vision of the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. One of the greatest glories of this new city of God that John saw was its completeness. It was not partial and one-sided, but it was complete in all three of its dimensions. And so, in describing the city in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation, John says this: 'The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.’…

“Now John is saying something quite significant here … What John is really saying is this: that life as it should be and life at its best is the life that is complete on all sides.

“There are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth and height. The length of life as we shall think of it here is not its duration or its longevity, but it is the push of a life forward to achieve its personal ends and ambitions. It is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. The breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others. The height of life is the upward reach for God.

“These are the three dimensions of life, and without the three being correlated, working harmoniously together, life is incomplete …

“Now let us notice first the length of life … Some years ago a learned rabbi wrote a book entitled Peace of Mind. He has a chapter in the book entitled ‘Love Thyself Properly.’ In this chapter he says in substance that it is impossible to love other selves adequately unless you love your own self properly … So every individual has a responsibility to be concerned about himself enough to discover what he is made for. After he discovers his calling he should set out to do it with all the strength and power of his being … No matter how small one thinks his life’s work is in terms of the norms of the world and the so-called big jobs, he must realize that it has cosmic significance if he is serving humanity and doing the will of God.

“To carry this to one extreme, if it falls your lot to be a street-sweeper, sweep streets as Raphael painted pictures, as Michelangelo carved marble, as Beethoven composed music, as Shakespeare wrote poetry … In the words of Douglas Mallock: 'If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail; If you can’t be the sun, be a star; For it isn’t the size that you win or you fail – Be the best of whatever you are.'

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