Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

But now, Dorothy wondered: What was failure? What was success? Ribbons swirling in a cold tank. Life was not a story that ended on a resolution or a revelation. It was like this puppet show—a gentle, ongoing state of ups and downs that contained moments of illusory transcendence and ultimately built to nothing, no epiphanies, or so many epiphanies that they ran together and were forgotten. Maybe it breathed like a paper flower, expanding and contracting. Maybe it was something you did just to pass the time.

Christine Smallwood, The LIfe of the Mind (Hogarth, March 2, 2021)


Photo: Lily

Lightly Child, Lightly

Life should carry more meaning than the facts would bear. Which facts were these: we occupied a tiny corner of the universe, minor planet orbiting a minor star, in an even tinier corner of cosmological time. Still we wanted all of it, the sun and the moon and the firmament that held them, to be about us. This want had been bred into humanity, selected by nature, so it must have served some purpose once, but it had long outlived its usefulness… What was needed now was to know.

— Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts: A Novel (Tin House Books, May 5, 2020)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

When poet Donald Hall met with sculptor Henry Moore, he dared to ask if Moore believed that there was a secret to life. The response astonishes: “The secret of life,” Moore answered without flinching, “is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is- it must be something you cannot possibly do.”

Imagine the courage behind these tasks. By what sacred story are you living? What task have you set for yourself? Can you tell your life story, accomplish your task, from where you are?

If you’re uncertain, turn over in you mind philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s reflection that “religion is what we do with our solitude.” Where your heart wanders during those chambered moments will show you the direction of your true longing. We speak of God and geniuses and heroes and sacred sites, but these are only names for the ineffable mystery of the force behind something our souls long to be in touch with. No practical philosophy explains this urge. It is a force from the mysterious shadow world that may in turn long for us.

~ Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred


Source: Thank you Make Believe Boutique. Portrait via Phil Cousineau

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven


Notes: Quote – Thank you Beth @ Alive on all Channels. Photo: Scientific American

Sunday Morning: Perhaps, that is enough.

While not a believer himself, Mr. Ruse harbors a great deal of sympathy for those who find ultimate meaning in the universe and their lives through worship. Taking his cue from his own Quaker upbringing, he argues that three things remain deeply satisfying in life, even if philosophically one ends up on the side of Epicurus and his denial of design: family; a life of service to others; and, not surprisingly for a philosopher, the life of the mind. For many people, there is indeed purpose in each of these, and perhaps, Mr. Ruse suggests, that is enough.

~ John Farrell, from his “Review: To What End is All This?” where Farrell reviews ‘On Purpose’ by Michael Ruse


 

Photo of Dr. Michael Ruse via Strange Notions

(My) Ordinary Life is Good

…Mr. Landau dismantles common myths and offers strategies to help people find greater purpose in their own lives. Systematically, he refutes the usual arguments as to why life is pointless: Since the universe is so vast and we’re so tiny, nothing that we do matters … no one will remember us; everything we do and treasure will one day perish from the earth. None of these deters Mr. Landau from his rational, philosophical argument for why each individual’s life is meaningful…

Mr. Landau notes that all such concerns are animated by the same mistaken belief: that a valuable life must necessarily be a perfect one. “According to this presupposition,” he writes, “meaningful lives must include some perfection or excellence or some rare and difficult achievements.” Those who despair of life’s meaning can’t see the value in the ordinary; only lives of greatness such as Michelangelo’s or Lincoln’s can be worthwhile.

As Mr. Landau observes, such perfectionism sets a standard for meaningfulness that is nearly impossible to attain. He mentions a talented biologist he knows who considers her life wasted because she didn’t reach the very top of her field. Perfectionism’s other, more odious, problem is its elitism: It assumes that some lives have more worth than others. Though clearly wrong, a version of this idea is deeply embedded in our secular culture. A meaningful life, we’re constantly told, lies in worldly success: going to certain colleges, landing certain jobs and living in certain communities. Mr. Landau doesn’t spell it out, but he seems to understand where this flawed assumption leads. Does the life of a child with Down syndrome have less value than the life of a healthy child? Is a retail clerk leading a less meaningful life than, say, Elon Musk? A perfectionist would have to say yes and yes. But Mr. Landau wisely points out that it’s cruel and misguided to hold ourselves or others to this standard for meaning, because it neglects each life’s inherent worth. […]

In “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World,” Mr. Landau presents a much-needed lesson in humanity and compassion. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail to achieve your lofty goals, he urges; instead, celebrate the value of an ordinary life well lived. In the same way you don’t have to become a monk or nun to be a good Christian, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare or Rockefeller to lead a good life. Holding your child’s hand, volunteering in your community, doing your job, appreciating the beauty around you—these are the wellsprings of meaning all of us can tap.

~ Emily Esfahani Smith, in her book review titled “Review: Redefining a Well-Lived Life” of “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World” by Iddo Landau (August 1, 2017)


Photo: Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya, Thailand via Eclecticitylight. Thank you Doug.

 

It’s been a long day

wind

I don’t know. Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven: A Novel


Notes:

Miracle. All of it.


If someone set fire
To the whole night sky,
Would you ask “how?”
Or would you ask “why?”

~ the-real-void


Notes:

Why?

harry-belafonte

“I often look at the journey, and I don’t get it…I really don’t. I have lasted longer than I understand why. I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do… This is not modesty. This is part of a bigger search for me. What was all this about? Why?”

~ Harry Belafonte, Harry Belafonte Knows a Thing or Two About New York. The city native, about to turn 90, looks back at a glorious past and wonders what his next act will be. He was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr., and dropped out of school in ninth grade, frustrated by what was later recognized as dyslexia. He was working as a janitor’s assistant when a customer gave him tickets to an American Negro Theater production, and when he volunteered to help as a handyman, he soon found himself onstage with Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis and Mr. Poitier.


Photo of Belafonte from Kate Wolf Music Festival

Every morning, even before I open my eyes

simone-de-beauvoir

Every morning, even before I open my eyes, I know I am in my bedroom and my bed. But if I go to sleep after lunch in the room where I work, sometimes I wake up with a feeling of childish amazement — why am I myself? What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about? What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other.

~ Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) in her autobiography, All Said and Done 

 


Source: Brainpickings – Simone de Beauvoir on the Constellation of Chance and Choice That Makes Us Who We Are

 

There is a hole inside of you (Part III – The Grand Finale)

Dr. Craig Barnes

This is Part III of The Reverend Dr. M. Craig Barnes sermon at Wake Forest University’s Baccalaureate service on May 15, 2016.  Part I can be found here: There’s a Hole in You (Part I) and Part II here: There’s a Hole in You (Part II).


And over against that temptation, stand pastors in churches all around the world, right in front of the altar, holding up the sacrament.  And one after another, their parishioners come forward to them with lives that are far from whole and complete.  And there is an extraordinary moment when a pastor and a parishioner meet at the altar. The pastor is holding the broken body of Christ, the parishioners come up one after another, and then there is this moment of spiritual intimacy when the Pastor looks the parishioner in the eye.  We remember the job that was lost.  Or the diagnosis of cancer. Or the prodigal son. Or the dream that is never going to come true. Or the cherished old lover who was left behind in the grave.

[…]

A Savior who commissions us…who gives us not what we were itching for, something far better.  A glorious mission and purpose to lives, lives that can make a world of difference. There is a glorious mission for your life. You weren’t brought here by accident…Don’t try to get your life just right before taking up that mission.

In the words of John Calvin, All Rise.

Leave the garden better than you found it.

That’s your mission.

To leave our society better than you found it.

But you’re not going to be able to do that unless you know how to steward that thing that is missing. This is what gives you freedom actually that thing that’s missing. You’ve got choices as to how you respond to it.

One of the beloved members of my family is a hairy sheep dog. His name is Esau. Religion majors will get that. Esau is not just beloved, he is a good dog. He is obedient.  He is well trained. But if you were to show up on our front porch with a hot dog, he will follow you anywhere.  The beast that he is, he is driven by his appetites. Part of what it means to be made in the image in God, is to have the capacity to rise above your appetite, to make choices that are worthy of you. To use your life to for something that will make a difference even if doesn’t feel good along the way.

[…] [Read more…]

There is a hole inside of you (Part II)

Dr. Craig Barnes

This is Part II of The Reverend Dr. M. Craig Barnes sermon at Wake Forest University’s Baccalaureate service on May 15, 2016.  Part I can be found here: There’s a Hole in You (Part I)

When my daughter graduated from college, I was amazed to hear the commencement speaker peddle the exact same drivel when I graduated from college. He looked out over 5,000 graduates and said to them: you are among the brightest and best we have ever seen. Set your goals high, dream your own dreams, chase your own star, and you can be anything that you want to be.

Really?

He might of well have said: I’m sorry we have nothing for you. It’s all out there, go put it together the best you can. 

And that’s really the assumption that we have that life is something we self-construct, not something we inherit. Not something that comes upon us with glorious mission, but self-construct. And the way we think we self-construct our own life is through our choices.

Anyone who has done parenting in the last generation knows that all good parenting advice has been about helping Johnny make good choices. So when Johnny throws a rock through the window, you’re not supposed to go out and spank him.  You bring Johnny in, you show him the glass on the floor and the rock and ask Johnny: was this a good choice? Johnny’s who a smart young man says: I’m thinking no. Right. Good choice. Good choice. [Read more…]

There is a hole inside of you

Dr. Craig Barnes, Wake Forest University

There is a hole inside of you.

It has been there for a long time, but by the time you graduate from college, you are acutely aware of this thing in your life that is missing. I don’t know what that is.  It may involve a relationship, it may involve something regarding your health, or something troubling in your past. Trust me it does not matter how many degrees you get, you are never going to have a better past.

Or, maybe the hole in your life is a dream that just seems to keep alluding you. It’s not the same thing for all of us. The only thing that’s the same is that we are all missing something.  Trust me on this, your future success depends completely on how you handle this hole in your life.  [Read more…]

It’s been a long day

release

You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers.
You will have to live them out – perhaps a little at a time.’
And how long is that going to take?’
I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.’
That could be a long time.’
I will tell you a further mystery,’ he said. ‘It may take longer.”

~ Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow: A Novel


Notes:

When Breath Becomes Air

paul-kalanithi-book-cover-when-breath-becomes-air

In his foreword, Dr. Abraham Verghese closes with: “Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way… But above all, see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. In a world of asynchronous communication, where we are so often buried in our screens, our gaze rooted to the rectangular objects buzzing in our hands, our attention consumed by ephemera, stop and experience this dialogue with my young departed colleague, now ageless and extant in memory. Listen to Paul. In the silences between his words, listen to what you have to say back. Therein lies his message. I got it. I hope you experience it, too. It is a gift. Let me not stand between you and Paul.”

And here’s Janet Maslin in her NY Times Book Review where she quotes Verghese and continues: “Dr. Verghese suggests not only reading “When Breath Becomes Air” but also listening to the overwhelming response it prompts in you. I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.”

I completed Paul Kalanithi’s memoir this weekend and agree with Verghese and Maslin – waves of Kalanithi’s words are still lapping my shoreline. And they won’t let me go.

The book is a selection of Amazon’s Best Book of January 2016“At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.  Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“The morning commuters began to animate the distant South Lake Tahoe roads. But craning your head back, you could see the day’s blue darken halfway across the sky, and to the west, the night remained yet unconquered— pitch-black, stars in full glimmer, the full moon still pinned in the sky. To the east, the full light of day beamed toward you; to the west, night reigned with no hint of surrender. No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, “Let there be light!” You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur.”

And another: [Read more…]

And, it was “game over”

Eric-Metaxas

[…]

Mr. (Eric) Metaxas pushes back against what he calls the “lie that faith and science are somehow opposed to each other.” He thinks the two work in tandem. As he wrote last year in these pages: “There are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart.” In sum: “Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident?”

This resonates with people. “They say: ‘You know, it didn’t make sense to me that the universe made no sense.’ ” In his book about the miraculous, Mr. Metaxas cites the Christian scholar C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his 1952 book “Mere Christianity”: “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” […]

While he “floundered,” he was influenced by a good friend who was a Christian. Mr. Metaxas’ initial attitude was: “Don’t come too close. That’s all that weird stuff I’ve been trained to avoid. On the other hand, tell me just a little bit more.” The friend gave him “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor from a prominent family who stood in solidarity with the Jews in World War II, publicly denouncing the Nazis at his peril. At age 39 Bonhoeffer was murdered by Hitler’s henchmen two weeks before the Americans liberated Flossenbürg.

This story laid the groundwork for Mr. Metaxas’ “dramatic” conversion experience, which he says happened overnight, in a dream. It was “game over.” He said he knew he believed in Christianity and his only question was: “How do I reconcile my life to this?” […] [Read more…]

One note, low as a base drum

drum-splash
Someone or something is leaning close to me now
trying to tell me the one true story of my life:

one note,
low as a bass drum,
beaten over and over […]

~ Marie Howe


Notes: Photo: Sprogz – Water Drum. Poem: Prayer via Spirituality & Health

 

Good Friday

woman-sleeping-Laura-Schaeffer

I woke up in the morning
and I didn’t want anything,
didn’t do anything,
couldn’t do it anyway,
just lay there listening
to the blood rush through me
and it never made any sense, anything.

Richard Siken, excerpt from Straw House, Straw Dog from Crush.


Source: To escape from the commonplace of existence. Photo: Laura Schaeffer via eikadan

I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for

whale-heart-of-the-sea


Notes: Image from movie In The Heart of the Sea via splitterherzen.  Post title quote: Norman Mailer.

 

Great Question

solitude,wonder

…the world did not have to be
beautiful to work.
But it is.
What does that mean?

~Mary Oliver, in an NPR Interview – A Thousand Mornings


Notes:

%d bloggers like this: