Making meaning. This motif seems to have woven itself through the last few weeks as a through-line, a metaphysical basso continuo.
It first was voiced in my response to a friend who has come through a most remarkably challenging life with love and determination. I shared the following:
“It is difficult, or perhaps impossible, for us to understand why we have the lives we do. But, what we make of what we’re given is where the redemption happens. Not to mention the learning and the beauty and the gratitude. At least, this has been my experience.”
A week or so later I was speaking with a soul friend who was examining his motivation for reconnecting with a significant person from his high school days. His discernment led him to conclude that he was attempting to make meaning from the past.
And, then, just this past weekend, I had the good fortune to be in a day-long seminar with Don Bisson on being an intentional pilgrim. In the opening remarks, he spoke about the journey of finding meaning in what has been; and that meaning is both a gift and a search.
Part of making meaning can be asking “Why”…
Why was I born into this family?
Why am I genetically predisposed to heart disease?
Why do I have addictions?
Why was my child so difficult to raise?
Sometimes, we ask ”why” in order to understand that it wasn’t our fault; that we could have done nothing to prevent it. Sometimes, therefore, it is to learn to forgive ourselves, or to forgive God, for what seems so unfathomable and unfair.
Sometimes, it is to arrive at a more therapeutically-based understanding of family dynamics, or our own shadowy motivations. And, alongside those, to unlearn old patterns, and practice new ways of being in relationship with others.
Sometimes, the question “why” leads us to the brick wall – the conclusion that we may never know. And, then the question becomes “what does one do with the wall?”
In the face of the unknowable, it can be transformational to ask
“How, then, shall I live?”
This, for me, echoes into acceptance. There is so much about my life that I cannot understand or change. To fight against those immutable truths is fruitless, exhausting. And, I find, the more I focus on the impossibilities, the less I focus on the available path.
In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer recounts the wisdom he received from an elder in his Quaker community. When “way closes behind” you, it’s just as telling and useful as when “way opens” in front of you. Perhaps it is saying “this was not to be your path”, or, “this is not your path any longer.”
This puts me in mind of the “narrow door” of the New Testament. And, the separation of wheat from chaff. There is a certain helpful winnowing, if we allow it…
Casting off who we are not, and cannot be.
The welcoming and refining of who we are and can be.
Then the unfolding of who we are meant to be.
Ah, and now we come back to meaning. When we say that we are “meant” to be something, or someone, we imply that our lives have purpose. Part of my life’s purpose is to deal with my own “brick walls” in a constructive way. To turn my attention to what makes me feel most truly alive. To nurture the longing as it tugs me along.
Like Parker Palmer, I cannot do this in isolation. It is in community that I become who I am. It is from others that I see a refection of my value. It is in telling my story, and hearing those of others, that I can see the life arc more clearly and begin to make meaning.
Thanksgiving is a time of meaning. Here are some questions as this holiday approaches.
- What does it mean to be part of this Earth-bound life and receive sustenance from Her?
- What does it mean to be in relationship with family? Or, not to be?
- What does it mean when some have, and others do not?