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Making Sense of Life

Reading Time: 6 minutes

It had been a long, hard day.

The mother and son were sitting on the back porch, sipping on cranberry juice and vodka. As the day came to a close in their part of the world, the rest of the world spun around them. There were wars in places not so far off anymore. There had been an earthquake in another, and for days now people had been pulling their loved ones out of the rubble. In a few days, a helicopter full of soldiers whose best intentions were to fight for freedom and felt safe being called to deliver hundreds of thousands of pounds of necessities to those earthquake victims as a relief from immediate war efforts, would die trying in a senseless crash.

But the mother and son, who both are very compassionate by nature, were concentrating on the rigors of their day. It had been a difficult one for both of them. Nothing as serious as carrying a rifle in the desert sand or wondering if you would have clean water to drink, mind you, but the truth of the matter is, you live where you live. Seven billion people or so on planet Earth go about each day, navigating the set of issues largely with their particular circumstance at the center.

“Did you ever hear the slogan ‘making sense of life’?” said the son.

The mother considered before she answered as she took a sip of her drink. She really didn’t like alcohol much, she thought. She had good reason. Alcohol abuse was rampant in her family and as she had gotten older it settled less comfortably on her stomach. Perhaps a strange twist in her own personal genetics for alcohol dehydrogenation that made it less palatable. Lucky for her. If you didn’t really want to drown your sorrows.

“Yes,” she answered him.

“Did you ever consider how self centered that desire is?” the son said.

“What do you mean?” she said.

Both Christians, in a nation that finds Christianity increasingly less relevant or necessary, the mother hadn’t really thought too much about the popular tag line for churches as being egotistical. She thought it, well, if she had to put a word to it, it was more of a non sequitur. It was her experience that making sense of the world wasn’t a legitimate pursuit, but she’d never considered it as actively self promoting, an egotistical endeavor, as her son was proposing.

“I don’t think anyone could give me a reasonable and logical explanation for why it makes good sense that my brother, a strong Christian, sharing the Gospel his life was tied to, died young in a senseless accident.” said the son as he looked out over the backyard fence to the neighbor as she went about her evening routine. Somewhere in the world, a baby was being born. Somewhere in the world someone was making love. Somewhere in the world someone was praying, while in another place someone was hoeing their garden. Somewhere someone was crying and somewhere else, someone had just died. Someone was contemplating suicide and somewhere someone was doing a sacrificial kindness for another.

“It is a strictly human desire to make sense of this world. Because man has that desire does not mean that it is one that we should expect to be satisfied to our mental satisfaction,” said the son.

The mother thought. The mother’s take on the son’s argument was the following: making sense of a world is a question that asks for the physical world to comply with some kind of sensible arrangement, that as a beings living in that physical world and all of its heartache, will satisfy the sensibilities that are inherent in our humanness, more than that, in each of our individual circumstances. The implication is that the question will be answered in terms of spiritual currency that will satisfy and reconcile the reason for those bad things now and evermore.

(By the way, she also thought, for non believers, the question really was inappropriate. This would require humanity fix the world based solely on physical terms. We could alter lifestyles to try and stop climate change and we could restrict access to alcohol and drugs. We could offer education to try and teach wisdom and responsibility and we could rid the world of most of its’ weapons. And with all that, you will never stop earthquakes from devastating a country and creating catastrophic heartbreak in the families of the 9000 people who died because the earth split at an active tectonic plate. But more potently and most telling, humanity will always provide those who  murder, thieve, rape, and pillage.)

“I think we can’t tell people this world makes sense.” said the son. “I don’t think that should be a goal of faith. I think that puts our reason for being, our joy,   around the limitation of purely man’s understanding of this world.

The mother, taking another sip, looked at him.

“Hmmmm. Interesting. ” she answered.

“I am saying that particular question is not worthy of the spiritual part of us.” he explained. “It prioritizes the human desire incorrectly.”

The mother thought again. This cut at the heart of what had been rummaging around in her brain the last several weeks – ever since she’d heard the news that the latest Pew Forum survey showed that in less than a decade, a decline of 8% of Americans were no longer identifying themselves as Christians. She’d read a slew of articles to inform herself better of what was going on, trying to separate the chaff from the wheat on the internet articles she Googled.

There was the one study claiming if young people stayed in church, they were likely adherents to something called ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’, an interesting concoction, that basically believes the following:

A god exists who created and ordered the world, with the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. This god wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, (which is taught by most world religions) and does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to resolve a problem. Also, all good people go to heaven when they die.

That not being really a satisfactory road to anything she knew to be true and sure, it hinted at a better understanding for the decline of those who no longer identified themselves as Christian. She Googled spirituality, brain, and joy. She did so because her observations had led her to believe that the desire for some kind of spiritual acknowledgement was part and parcel to humanity. She wondered what was replacing Christianity.

Google offered depression as an alternative search term for joy and added human evolution in the mix.

The mother created another, separate search involving use of antidepressants in America.

Summarized in an article in Psychology Today was a young evolutionary psychologist’s take on the recent spate of papers being published in reputable science journals that tried to assess the role of spirituality in our quest for joy (or the uptick of depression). The mother thought that at least one take away from the article was pertinent to her son’s arguments this evening. Since the dawn of man, however you choose to calculate that, man has wondered at our purpose beyond the physical world.

“We are spiritual beings,” said the son, as if he was reading the mother’s mind. “Our joy is in the quest of that side of us. That is what makes sense. Typical of American religion in the 21st century to try and promise this world will make sense.”

He let her think on that a minute.

“Want another?” the son said, moving from his chair, a soft smile of friendship born of their human spirit, their genealogy, and the love they had for each other, playing on his face.

“Nah. Not yet,” she answered.

When he came back, they sat companionably,  basking in a glow that had a small part in the beauty of the sunset, but mostly because of the joy in their souls.

For the mother, she soaked up the peace in her heart. She was grateful for her three sons who knew their place in the spiritual world of Heaven and this evening, as this son had talked past the trappings of his skin and eyes and blood and bone to the part of his soul where existence made sense. The son basked in comfort and peace as he too acknowledged the creator, His Grace and His Son, and the fuel of the Holy spirit to the mind of man. Their souls, inhabited with light everlasting, had joy sufficient for this moment and more.

So in their hearts and in prayer, they both wished the same for the other 6,999,999,998 people that inhabited their world.

IM_A0102Photo credit: Jake Siefert, Iraqi desert sunset, 2004

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