Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another odd Rotary Invocation

My Rotary Club assigns the job of presenting invocations to volunteers like most clubs.  Our club is larger than most and with a diverse membership representing many faiths.  So when the duty came to me I wanted to do something different that the 'stock' Christian invocation we hear nearly every week.

My first invocation was based on a Masonic theme.   My most recent was on Karma.  Another was on Stoicism.  

A recent blog posting by Tim Ferriss titled: On The Shortness of Life: An Introduction to Seneca really resonated with me.  I had read quite a lot about Stoicism but didn't know nearly as much about it as I did after I had read his post.  This is a 'must read' for anyone convinced that we are living in unique times, with unprecedented challenges and confronted by post-modern issues of meaning and relevance.  Get over it!  It's all been done before, thought before and reasoned before.  Our best course is to take advantage of this great work and benefit from it.

With humility, I present the invocation I delivered at the Indianapolis Rotary Club on January 29, 2008.

"In the third century BC a philosophical movement known as Stoicism was conceived in Greece by a philosopher named Zeno.  His teachings ultimately gained popularity thoughout Imperial Rome.  Much of what we know about Stoics today we have learned from the diary of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  

In those days, religion wasn't helpful to mark the path to a desirable "good flow of life".  Philosophers literally gave such lessons on porches - the Greek name for which is stoa - thus the first teachers became Stoics.

Stoics believe that all that is necessary to have a happy life is to 'live in agreement with nature'  This included practicing prudence, wisdom, justice, courage and moderation.  These are purely internal prescriptions.  Virtue is the sole good.  Humans can exercize their power of choice and decide to be happy.  Stoicism shows them how.  The way may be hard, but the rules are simple.  A person who achieved the pinnacle of Stoic virtue was called a Sage.''

Like our Rotary Four Way Test, a Stoic life emphasized Ethics.  In addition to truth, they believed that to conform our affairs with nature demanded consideration of the concerns of others.  Sounds like 'Fair to all' and 'Beneficial to all concerned' to me.  Over 2000 years before Paul Harris was born, Stoic philosphy anticipated the words 1.2 million Rotarians would use to inspire our thoughts and actions.

Least important to a happy life were external attributes that include wealth, possessions, status - even health.  They called these 'indifferents'.  As if, with the proper internal focus, these common measures of success were unimportant to true happiness.  So should we believe today.

Many of you may not have heard of the Stoics, or of their philosophy.  The agreement of their views with our Rotarian mottos should give us confidence in their timeless relevance.  But most of us *have* heard of this prayer that unmistakably encapsulate Stoic beliefs.  It's called the Serenity Prayer:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.  Amen."

No comments: