No Meaning to Express
What if the title of this inspirational essay were really true, namely, that there was no meaning to express. That would be sad! It would be sad because that is a key distinguishing feature of what a human does: make meaning. In fact, that is one way I like to talk about religion and spirituality; they are ways people make meaning. Of course, they are not the only ways. But they are key ways.
So if there were no meaning to express, then I would have serious questions about why we are living? If there is no point to life, then why go through the motions? Sure, there are some short-term pleasures. If we are lucky, nice things may happen to us along the way. But at some point, life usually brings some share of suffering and, then, death. Hopefully these are not the point in life!
I wandered into this reflection when I read parts of an old book that I had not thought about for years. The book is entitled, Behold the Spirit, by Alan Watts. It was published in 1947. I could not believe it was that early in the last century. Watts was quite the guy! I actually met him in the early 1970s before his death in 1973. By then, he was world-famous. He was one of the early introducers of Eastern religions into this Western world. He was audacious, provocative, and very entertaining. In some ways he anticipated and, then, represented the 60s in very significant ways.
The thing that really floored me when I looked at some of his words from that 1947 book is just how contemporary it seems. He could have written it last year. In his usual fashion, Watts was offering a critique of an institutional church that sometimes misses the boat in its dealing with people. Listen to his words. ”Today, in Church and out of Church, there are thousands of souls who realize in varying degrees of clarity that what they want from religion is not a collection of doctrinal and ritual symbols, nor a series of moral precepts. They want God, by whatever name…” I still think this is true in our own time.
This kind of sentiment very much characterizes the attitude of many of the students who show up in my classrooms. Many of them are not very involved---or not involved at all---with the institutional church. But a high number of them are looking for some kind of experience of God. Or they may be searching for meaning in their lives. And for many of them, to find meaning is to find God---or to find God is to find meaning. If this search is unsuccessful, then there will be no meaning to express.
The insightful Watts continues to note what he thought people in 1947 wanted. I submit this is what folks today still want. He says they “want to be filled with God’s creative life and power; they want some conscious experience of being at one with Reality itself, so that their otherwise meaningless and ephemeral lives may acquire eternal significance.” I admit that I really like this sentiment.
I, too, want to be filled with the Divine creative life and power! I can’t imagine any who would say, ”nay, I prefer my own uncreative, impotent way of living! No meaning is fine with me!” I would love to be at one with Reality itself. That would mean I was so in touch with myself and the world around me, that the point of living would be crystal clear. And I would have shining clarity about my role in life, so long as I shall live.
And then comes the ecclesiastical critique of Watts. He says the Church has a way to the “purest gold of mystical religion.” I know only too well the idea and language of “mystical” scares some people. And it can be very scary for those who are in charge of ecclesiastical institutions. Maybe I don’t find it threatening because my own tradition has used that kind of mystical language. Without going into in any depth, let’s simply take “mystical” to be that kind of first-hand, direct, immediate connection with the Divinity Itself.
And let’s assume that every woman, man, and child can have this kind of experience. There is no inherent need of an intermediary, although they can be very helpful and useful. But that’s not the real issue.
The real issue is to experience this Divinity---this God---and begin the process of gaining meaning in our lives. It is not instantaneous. It is a process. We connect, develop, and grow into a relationship, which will fill us with creative life and power. And as that process grows and deepens, we inevitably will be given the key to being human. We will be given meaning and purpose. We will know why we are alive and what we want to do with our lives.
Never again will we have to say there is no meaning to express.