Reverence for Life

Albert Schweizer, Image by Wikipedia

The holidays are fast upon us and I had the good pleasure of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my sons after dinner last evening. At one point in the show, Linus mentioned that Albert Schweitzer’s dislike of Christmas stemmed from the fact that he did not take kindly to writing thank you notes. I hadn’t heard that name in a while, so I did a little digging…

As you may know, Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence of Life,” which is translated from the original German phrase “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben.” The compelling ethical philosophy was best summarized by Schweitzer himself in his book Civilization and Ethics: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.”

The idea came to him after a period of deep thought in Gabon in 1915 as he was developing the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. Again, Schweitzer tells it best:

But what is civilization?

The essential element in civilization is the ethical perfecting of the individual as well as society. At the same time, every spiritual and every material step forward has significance for civilization. The will to civilization is, then, the universal will to progress that is conscious of the ethical as the highest value. In spite of the great importance we attach to the achievements of science and human prowess, it is obvious that only a humanity that is striving for ethical ends can benefit in full measure from material progress and can overcome the dangers that accompany it…” “The only possible way out of chaos is for us to adopt a concept of the world based on the ideal of true civilization.” “For months on end I lived in a continual state of mental agitation. Without the least success I concentrated – even during my daily work at the hospital, – on the real nature of the affirmation of life and of ethics and on the question of what they have in common. I was wandering about in a thicket where no path was to be found. I was pushing against an iron door that would not yield.

In that mental state I had to take a long journey up the river…Lost in thought I sat on deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal concept of the ethical that I had not discovered in any philosophy. I covered sheet after sheet with disconnected sentences merely to concentrate on the problem. Two days passed. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase : “Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben” (reverence for life”). The iron door had yielded. The path in the thicket had become visible.

You would think that breakthrough moments like that are unforgettable, but I have known many people who have “seen the light” or put in different terms, recognized their life’s purpose and then for one reason or another have turned their backs on it. Fortunately we have the example of Dr. Schweitzer (among many other great leaders), who never gave up on his passionate quest to discover a universal ethical philosophy.

A passionate, thoughtful, purposeful life is a life worth living. Anything less is a compromise, a deliberate refusal to let the vibrancy of life course through your heart and mind and out into the world through your expression.

The will to live is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Life has a magical way of finding expression through even the most limited and barren places. If given the chance, a literal or figurative womb, life will spring forth abundantly.

Take time this holiday season to renew your reverence for life. Magnify its blessings by extending blessing to the world around you. Remember this always: your fulfillment is directly proportional to your reverence for life.

Der Friede sei mit dir. Peace be unto you.

7 thoughts on “Reverence for Life

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Reverence for Life « Gregg Hake's Blog --

  2. jaymorrow

    Through the ages you can see when a civilization started to decline one of the first things to become evident was how little they valued life. I do think this is one of those ideas that has to start “grass roots”. We learn from one another.
    Living vibrantly is a matter of choice, so thanks for your continued posts on this subject. I find what I fill my mind with has a huge impact on the choices I make. Life is precious and worth giving it all I’ve got.


  3. Joshua

    ….And good will toward man.
    Stillness and Patience come immediately to mind, and I greatly appreiate the crystal clear example you have lived through your life, providing a faith and a centering where one who turned, for whatever reason, can be still and return to.
    Bringing out the greatness within others despite themselves, can be a challenge but one to which I aspire, devote, and deticate the rest of my life to learning. Leading by example and persevering despite past failure and persecution, even if deserving. Acceptance is the first step to recovery from a failure, no matter how large a failure we seem to think it may have been.
    Thank-you for this today, may my world be a brighter place in the days to come, as my reverance for life deepens.
    Best Wishes.


  4. Colin

    Once again, this is something that every person has direct and total control over, regardless of circumstance. I have reverence for life. Life is valuable, and it saddens me to see people who waste theirs by compromising on the important things. I will use this post as a reminder to remember my reverence, even during tough times. Thanks!


  5. My husband and I were just talking about civilized behavior this morning. He had watched a “Black Friday” video of people behaving in the worst possible manner. What does the rest of world think of the United States when they view videos of Black Friday?

    The presenter of the video said “This is not us! We don’t want to be lumped in with the uncivilized behavior depicted on Black Friday and we don’t partake in the insanity.”

    Where is the reverence for life, thinking of and wanting the best for others in this? All this, the day after celebrating Thanksgiving and beginning the Christmas season.


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