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  • Reverend James Squire

Homo prospectus

We refer to our species as Homo sapiens which literally means “wise man.” However, we are so much more. The name Homo prospectus points to our singular element or quality. We remember the past. We act in the present, but our unique quality is that we look to the future. In fact, we often do all three of these actions at the same time. I described this best in my memoir, The Times of My Life, like driving a car. We pay attention to what we are doing in the present moment. We also look through the front windshield to see where we are going, and we glance into the rear- view mirror to see where we have been. These actions happen in such a manner that we sometimes perform these functions without even realizing that we are acting at once simultaneously among all three. All three are bundled into the realization that they are necessary to live out the words of the writer of the wisdom literature in the Book of Proverbs that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) Vision implies looking to the future.

I have written about “if you didn’t know when you were born, how old would you think you were?” There is a corollary to that. “If you didn’t know when you would die, what is your vision for your future which is guaranteed to no one? You can only answer that question when you have not forgotten where you came from and when you have tried your very best to honor the unforgiving minute in our lives, the present. Our past is fixed. It is permanent. Our present is our pivot. Our future is temporary for we have to live into all of its possibilities. We trust that our future will contain Robert Browning’s vision that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.”

As someone once said, “Do we feel the moral imperative to not to let the story end with us.” Our past is investigated through the field of psychoanalysis, our present is experienced at the highest level by the guidelines of positive psychology founded by Dr. Martin Seligman who gave us positive psychology now the most subscribed course at Harvard and Yale.

But Marty is someone who never rests on his contributions as the last word. He and three over researchers wrote a book, Homo Prospectus, pointing to the importance of living into an active future that would raise the bar for our happiness and meaning. Dylan Thomas may have captured it best, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age (and young age) should burn and rage against the close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Seligman puts it thus in his recent work, “We believe that the unrivaled human ability to be guided by imagining alternatives stretching into the future – the prospection – uniquely describes Homo sapiens. In the game of life, life must win every moment of every day, where death has to win only once.”

We remember our past, live in the present, but forget how often and important our future decisions are part of our collective whole no matter what our age. Like the champion pool player with cue stick in hand, he is thinking of the placement of the next shot even as he strikes the ball. His past is defined by his past practice, present execution, and the knowledge of always thinking about that follow up strike of cue to knock that next ball into pocket on the table. Our work as Homo prospectus is not done until we look to the future with a vision defined by decision making.

Victor Frankly discovered this when he reflected on his days in Auschwitz and those who survived. Survival became a thriving to survive when he realized that thoughts of his past love, present memories of those that he loved and, in turn, loved him was incomplete unless he and his fellow prisoners could see a vision of the future. The requirements for wholeness were a sense of identity and destiny. Those who had those two ingredients survived. It formed the basis of logotherapy, his gift to the world. In Judaism identity and destiny is phrased as “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the bondage of Egypt.” Exodus 20:2

In the Christian tradition there is a verse from the Gospel of John that describes our identity and destiny. “And this is eternal life, that they should know thee (now), the only true God, and whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) There is a word missing that captures the full extent of the Gospel message. The word missing is the implied “now” between “thee” and “the” which points to the Christian as Homo prospectus. God is the alpha and the omega where eternity is described as since the dawn before time, the present, and the future.

You don’t know your time of death. You could be young or old in years, what is your vision? Your answer is just as important as your past and present. It completes your touching the eternal. Recall that prospectus (to look forward to something that is coming) is the root word for prospector as someone who looks for the precious metal of gold, a precious metal for a precious time where past, present, and future become one. This is where we experience the living God and know that peace that passes all human understanding.

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