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Species of Genius

I know an old Trappist monk who sometimes uses an odd phrase in talking about people.  In conversation, he’ll refer to someone or other as “a species of genius.”  At first, I was amused and a little confused by the expression.  Eventually, I came to understand that he wasn’t necessarily talking about the person’s intelligence, but rather about the unique giftedness that the particular individual possessed.  If you or I were sitting with him, he would see each of us as a species of genius.

My monk friend recognizes that in every person there is a convergence of genetics, history, experience and temperament that make up the personal genius of that person.  It’s one reason that every life is so precious and irreplaceable.  Maybe this awareness is a Trappist thing – the fruit of their contemplation.  Thomas Merton once felt overwhelmed by the luminosity of everyone passing by him on a busy street corner in downtown Louisville.  Of the experience, he wrote, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

We don’t need to be monastic, though, to get occasional epiphanies of how wondrous the people sharing the “L” car with us or sitting across the table from us are.  Maybe those moments are glimpses of heaven.  They say spirituality is matter of waking up to reality.  How would it change my relationships if I were to see others as the species of genius that they are?

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