Carl Jung wrote about “meaningful coincidences,” which he called synchronicities. I opened my laptop to write on John 17—the action of eternal life, how we become one. How is it that we form authentic relationships, meaningful relationships, relationships where we treasure one another and treasure our togetherness?
As I opened my laptop, there appeared on my screen a photograph of red deer in Richmond Park in London. This was a meaningful coincidence. Thom Hartmann talks about how scientists wanted to discover if the world of nature is primarily competitive, or if nature is also cooperative. To gather data, a group of scientists set up video cameras where red deer graze in the wild. They wanted to discover how red deer make the decision as to when to go to the watering hole, and which watering hole to go to.
These two decisions are critical for the deer—a matter of life and death. They need to go to the water together for protection. If they wait too long, deer that are weak will be in danger of dehydration and being left behind. If they go too early or to the wrong hole, they will be more vulnerable to predators. The red deer need to go to the right place at the right time, and they need to do so together.
What did scientists observe? When the deer begin to get thirsty, they will start pointing their noses in the directions of different sources of water. Let’s say that there are 100 deer in the herd. When the 51st deer points its nose in the same direction, the entire herd will spontaneously take off together in the direction of the source of water to which the majority is pointing.
This is a decision that they make together. It is not a decision that they make hierarchically. It is not the decision of the alpha male. The deer make this decision as a community—as one.
My students love this story. As a matter of fact, so do I.
In the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John, he gives us an image of the action of eternal life. John doesn’t define eternal life; he does something much more powerful: he shows us the action of eternal life. Why does John show us this action? Because it is an action that we can put into action—an action that we can act upon.
As Jesus and God are in dialogue, Jesus says, This is eternal life: that others may know us—our relationship, our one-ness, our communion. Why? So that you and I may become one as Jesus and God are one. So that our togetherness may be enfolded into the togetherness of Jesus and God.
This is not a concept to be defined. It is a mystery to be explored and lived.
The action of eternal life involves Jesus and God as they are enfolded into one another. This action continues as we are gently enfolded into one another. The action of eternal life comes to fulfillment as our enfoldment is enfolded into the communion of Jesus and God.
John even shows us that this is not a top-down action but an action that begins at the bottom and moves upward. Resurrection is a movement upward.
This means that the action of eternal life is not something that powerful leaders impose on their subordinates or inferiors. That is because the action of eternal life knows no inferiors. In the action of eternal life, there is no such thing as a subordinate. Eternal life is the action of deep communion.
Where do we begin? By treasuring others. By honoring their humanity. By asking what others need from me?
Viktor Frankl was once asked to summarize the meaning of his own life. In response to this question, he asked students who knew him well what they thought Dr. Frankl regarded as the meaning of his own life. They wrote: “The meaning of your life is to help others find meaning in theirs.”
They nailed it. That was exactly what Viktor Frankl embraced as the meaning of his own life.
Viktor Frankl was not in the business of imposing meaning on other people. He had too much love and respect for the human dignity of each person. Instead, he challenged and supported people as they developed their own meaning for their own lives—ways in which they would be connected to one another. This is the action of eternal life.
That is the way Jesus treated others in the Gospel of John. His first miracle was at the Wedding at Cana. Jesus didn’t show up with a truck load of wine. He allowed the people in charge of the wedding to ask for his help—to specify their needs. This is true for his second miracle, the healing of the son of a Roman official. In the third, Jesus didn’t impose his will on the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years; he simply asked, “Do you want to be well?”
When Lazarus died, Jesus did not immediately go to Lazarus and his sisters and impose faith on them, he gave them space that would make it possible for them to come into the action of faith and embrace eternal life on their own.
The action of eternal life doesn’t involve heavy-handed top-down dominance. Eternal life is not about imposing our wills on others. The action of eternal life involves gentle action that emerges from deep respect. We can be enfolded into one another to the degree that we kindly honor and deeply treasure both the humanity of others and the privilege of empowering and supporting others as they embrace the responsibility and privilege of making meaning out of their lives.
The action of eternal life is is a treasure.