What does it mean to be human? Are you just the most recent genetic iteration of the species – your birthday, nothing more than a commemoration of the year you rolled off the line? Are you simply an accident of genetic, behavioral, socio-economic, or geographic happenstance? Is sentimentality all that there is to your significance – the way you feel about yourself, or the way others feel about you, or perhaps the sentimentality that constitutes the most recent social contract of our current anthropological mores? Were you just lucky enough to have a mother who saw you as more than just a mass of cells? If you’re like me, such a quantifying data assessment strikes you as an empty reductionism . . . devoid of the most essential distinctive – the human spirit.
What if I told you that every work of art you ever experienced in your whole life has actually been asking you this very same question — what does it mean to be human . . . would that surprise you? If you’ll take a moment to allow this truth to settle in, it will no doubt, ring true. Everything from the most nuanced detail of perception, to the ever looming ontological questions of why we exist, are all found ruminating in the artistic disciplines. Whether the artist is keenly aware of his own philosophical underpinnings, or follows a far more unfocused muse, adrift — he can’t help but burn with a longing to reconcile who he is with the world in which he lives . . . which is the very practice of being human.
So just what is it about being human that has made it an enigma for the ages? I would say it resides in the mystery of imago dei (image of God). It only stands to reason that in attempting to ponder the inscrutable details found in the otherness of God, that being created in his image, we would discover an opaque lens filtering how we understand ourselves. It is in this indelible imprint where we find the source of our irrepressible longing – a longing to know who we are, intuitively believing there must be more. It is a longing relentlessly at work in our subconscious — incessantly asking of everything we do, whether it has meaning and purpose . . . and where is it taking us?
This longing is like an abiding and persistent homing device meant to navigate us back to where we belong — in this regard, what it means to be human is inextricably bound to our sense of belonging. Now, knowing that we belong to God may not solve the whole puzzle of what it means to be human, but it’s decidedly the best primer for how this mystery is solved. Because logic dictates, that if you have a question about the design, that the likeliest answer will come from the designer.
Therefore being human, by design, is largely about finding our way back home. You can hear it in every melody, in every story being told, in every image created and shared. So let us spend our days savoring what it means to belong – to the one who calls us beloved, calling us to abide in his presence . . . for me, this is what it means to be human.
. . . that’s what the lonely is for