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The Meaning of Everything

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about meaning. You know, the big questions humans have asked since we first opened our eyes. The church woes and faith crises of late have brought this to my mind, as well as a series thoughtful conversations with a friend. It’s strange though how present a topic this has been for me, in the un-full moments of life where I’m looking out a car window or the full ones where I’m working on the Avid or wrangling chilluns. I’ve never really had cause to consider it deeply before; I always knew what I considered to be the meaning of life – something to the effect of living in a way that glorifies God and inspires others to do the same. Or something perhaps more biblical or Rick Warren-ish. No I take that back, I wasn’t a huge fan of his book (Rick’s that is, not God’s). Anyway, that core issue isn’t so cut and dry for me these days. I wouldn’t venture that I’ve discarded my philosophy necessarily, but it’s not as simple for me anymore. Perhaps my familiar explanation doesn’t quite address the question of meaning satisfactorily.

The trouble for me is this: meaning as I grasp it, while based on tenets and beliefs is inherently experiential, and my experiences lately have been against the grain of the meaning I’ve subscribed to thus far based on the beliefs I’ve come to adopt. Not contrary to it necessarily, but different enough to cause me to take another look at the bigger picture.

I realize entering into thinking about this that I’m toeing a strange and fuzzy line here. If I believe one thing, and my experience belies another, does it make the first thing untrue? If that’s the case then meaning in life essentially becomes meaningless, changing with every contrary experience, or else I pick the lowest common denominator among all my experiences, which would probably end up being pretty bleak. If however it’s a no, and the original thing is true despite any experiences I have, then the door opens for my beliefs to become more and more detached from reality, and my lifestyle to become either fanatic and abrasive or else reserved and internally conflicted.

That said, I’m banking on this not being a yes or no question. On the one hand, I think there are things about life that are always true regardless of individual experience, not the death and taxes sort of things, but laws of love and responsibility. On the other hand, the actual playing out of these things is rarely if ever so simple as fables or children’s books represent. Which renders most of life an inexplicable gray area where the things that are true intersect with the messy physical world of humans and our environment, and we’re left to sift through it all from the narrow perspectives of our individual slices of knowledge and experience and derive some sort of meaning from it. I call meaning the ultimate question because the why seems to answer it all, after the who, what, when, where, or how. You can’t convict without motive, and you can’t navigate life without some grasp of meaning, whether ethereal and grand or simple and straightforward (or both).

So if until recent years my meaning has been simple – love God and love other people – and the path to pursuing it has been clear – go to church, read the Bible, pray, and live my life accordingly – it’s become increasingly complex lately. The tenets and rules don’t work in such a straightforward manner. Or maybe it’s being simplified, I can’t tell yet.

I think life and the universe hangs on laws – the scientific kind, the interpersonal/societal kind, and the relational or spiritual kind – but these days I think those laws aren’t the point so much as the context, the structure within which the real stuff of the universe happens – relationship, or more specifically, love. I’m becoming increasingly taken with the idea that there is a person who is good at navigating all this mess, who is perfect at loving and knowing where to draw the lines or how to handle unpredictable situations, who is ultimately good, not in the sense of being more good than bad, but that everything, whether seemingly bad or good to me, is ultimately good. A person who is a verb, not a noun, someone alive and active and real, not a concept or theory or ideal. And probably most importantly, someone who is all these things to me, or at least can be. If there is no one out there who can do it right then all my efforts only contribute to that lowest common denominator life and I live among people who like me are only trying to make the best of a losing situation.

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  1. September 2, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    For me starting my day with the Bible, prayer, quiet times makes for a great day to look forward too..

    I had attended a nice beautiful church for the first time and I could not help but notice that there was very few people in it and i could not help but wonder why next too..

    And halfway through the service the pastor announced that the wednesday prayer meetings had been cancelled to allow more family times. Now I understood why the church was dying.

    http://witnessed.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/the-false-comforters/

  1. October 4, 2008 at 4:30 am

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