Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve. You don't have to have a college education to serve. You don't even have to make your subjects and verbs agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace."
When you enter the path of service, know that large numbers of spiritual people have gone before you. Volunteers are helping in almost every sector of our societies - soup kitchens, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, community gardens, thrift shops, and countless other settings.
The call of service is not always easy or uplifting. There are hazards that come with the territory, such as misunderstanding, exhaustion, and burnout. Nonetheless, young and old continue to be buoyed by their experience of community while providing service and by the personal fulfillment of doing something worthwhile for others.
In their classic How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service, Ram Dass and Paul Gorman conclude: "Service is an endless series of questions, puzzling and insistent. It not only raises questions, it helps to answer them. Service is a curriculum."
Here are 20 of our favorite quotes on this curriculum.
- "How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?"
— Vincent Van Gogh in Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence G. Boldt
- "Service is a sign of our active connection to Life."
— Kabir Helminski in The Knowing Heart
- "When we serve others, we gain more than hope. We gain energy."
— Margaret J. Wheatley in Turning to One Another
- "All acts of service are meaningless unless they are given with love."
— Sai Baba in Wisdom from World Religions by Sir John Templeton
- "He who serves God should be full of awe."
— Swami Ashkananda in Shafts of Light edited by Sister Gargi and Shelley Brown
- "Take note: Everything can be a resource for serving God."
— Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in The Empty Chair edited by Moshe Mykoff
- "I shall merely try to help God as best I can and if I succeed in doing that, then I shall be of use to others as well."
— Etty Hillesum in God-Birthing by Michal Dwinnell
- "Small service is true service."
— William Wordsworth in Full Esteem Ahead by Diana Loomans and Julia Loomans
- "If you ask me for a motto: Here it is: SERVICE"
— Albert Schweitzer in Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence G. Boldt
- "Service was as much a part of my upbringing as eating breakfast and going to school. It isn't something that you do in your spare time. It was clear that it was the very purpose of life. In that context, you're not obligated to win. You're obligated to keep trying, to keep doing the best you can every day."
— Marian Wright Edelman in Open Mind by Diane Mariechild
- "Gandhi was once asked by a friend if his reason for living in a village and serving the people there was purely humanitarian. Gandhi responded, 'I am here to serve no one else but myself, to find my own self-realization through the service to these village folks.' "
— Mahatma Gandhi in The Fruitful Darkness by Joan Halifax
- "There is a ripple effect in helping another."
— Kathleen A. Brehony in Ordinary Grace
- "Service has a life of its own. A single act of kindness may have a long trajectory and touch those we will never meet or see. Something that we causally offer may move through a web of connection far beyond ourselves to have effects that we may have never imagined. And so each of us may have left far more behind us than we may ever know."
— Rachel Naomi Remen in My Grandfather's Blessing
- "Whether I notice or not, I continue to benefit from the efforts and accomplishments of those whose bodies have long since disappeared. Their services remain and should be received and appreciated as granted."
— Gregg Kretch in Naikan
- "A rabbi I know devotes one day a week to simply being of service. She gets up in the morning and dedicates the day to God. She then leaves her home for the city close by and wanders about looking for ways to be of service to others. 'I have no plan for the day, other than to be present to what needs doing and to do those things I can without pride or prejudice. Sometimes I will find myself helping someone move into or out of an apartment, or sitting with the homeless, or walking tourists to their destination. The idea is to be free of any idea other than to serve, to befriend, to be kind.' "
— Rami Shapiro in The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness
- "The highest truth cannot be put into words.
Therefore the greatest teacher has nothing to say.
He simply gives himself in service, and never worries."
— Lao Tzu in The World's Wisdom by Philip Novak
- "Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of the world."
— Joanna Macy in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection
- "When I say that you should work hard,
All I really mean is that you should enjoy
Doing good things for others."
— Shantideva in The Tibetan Book of Yoga by Geshe Michael Roach
- "One who lets slip by the opportunity to serve another misses one of the richest experiences life has to offer."
- Pali text in Frederic Brussat's Twitter Collection
- "Take a few moments to contemplate the question 'What gifts do I bring to share with my Earth family?' Go within and take an emotional scan or inventory of all the qualities that make you who you are. Be sensitive to the feelings of joy and passion that will accompany any authentic gift you have come to share. Today, commit to seeking new ways to open up the gift you are by sharing it with others."
- Dennis Merritt Jones in The Art of Being