Let’s imagine we are walking down a city street. Looking down at the sidewalk we see a tiny flower growing out of the cracks in the concrete. The most inhospitable place is producing life and beauty.
Is this flower meaningful?
Some of us will say that it certainly defies the odds, but there is no significance beyond random, natural events. Others interpret the flower as a message from God or from the Universe.
What enables one person to see beyond or through the flower into a more poetic or spiritual experience?
Is it a left-brained/right-brained thing? Is it an art/science thing? Is it a faith or God thing? Chance or fate? Certainly there are larger world views behind this but let’s go deeper. At what point will we ascribe meaning to life events?
- A motorist who narrowly escapes death in an accident.
- The terminal disease has an unexpected cure.
- The barren womb brings forth life.
- A newborn grasping our pinky.
As I contemplated this I was not able to find a meaningless scenario. At some point we value a friendship, we mourn our losses, we want or long for something. And at those times we ascribe meaning, even if it is to preserve our own life.
So the discussion is NOT who ascribes meaning because we all do. The issue is our threshold required to ascribe meaning to something. The threshold is the level at which we determine the cause. The threshold is inversely proportional to our spiritual sensitivity.
High Threshold=Low sensitivity, Low threshold= High sensitivity
I think the main reason some have a high threshold (low spiritual sensitivity) for meaning is due to human suffering. If we accept that there is meaning in the flower, there must be meaning in the cigarette butt in the next crack. If God delivers in one accident then he destroys in another one. If the universe is opening a womb then it is tormenting another by closing it, and that just seems wrong.
Most people see suffering as meaningless. It’s easier to accept that Shit Happens than to accept that there is a purpose to all our pain. This happens when our ego lacks the categories to appreciate the downward path of suffering. Suffering looks like a detour to life when it is actually the path to it.
Meaning in the midst of suffering is precisely what spirituality reveals. The difference between us is our threshold for meaning. Low threshold people see the cancer diagnosis as the impetus to live deeply, high threshold people see it as a death sentence.
We all access bits of this truth in different ways. We all see the pattern of the universe is dying-death-renewal of life. The circle of life. Our delusion assumes we can have one without the other. Christian theology calls this the Christoform pattern. Dancing and mourning go together (Ecclesiastes 3).
This kind of analogy is precisely the snag that trips some of us up.
The ego says: “If God is love and all powerful, how can suffering exist? Since suffering exists, God is either not love or not powerful or not real, or God is an asshole.” The Christ story says that suffering is the centerpiece of true life. It teaches us that the very best comes by way of the very worst. Human suffering (man on a cross) is pointing to a God who designs and requires pain and loss if we are to awaken to our very life.
If that is true then suffering makes it impossible to go through life and miss God. Suffering also makes childish concepts of God impossible. Old frameworks have to go.
Suffering is how we discover a new framework for God, because God requires it of His only son. Thus meaning is in suffering, and meaning is in everything. That’s a bit of a pill for high threshold people. For some the flower in the crack is a bit easier to take in. Enlightenment (salvation) is our waking up to the story behind the flower and the cigarette butt. It is the definition of sober minded. True suffering then is the skimming over or sleeping through the meaning found in every crack of our lives.
May we all wake up to the depth that is our precious, suffering life.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the way of all mankind and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2