Sunday, 24 November 2013

What’s it all about, anyway?

The crow is pondering the Big Q, too.
On her Facebook page, Anne Lamott writes about a talk she gave to launch her latest book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair.

She says, “A woman in her late twenties raised her hand and asked, "What is the big picture? I do a lot of things that I love and value, but don't have a clue what it all means." Anne’s reply: “Welcome to the monkey house! ... We ALL think we missed school the day that the visiting specialists stopped by our 2nd grade classroom to distribute the pamphlets on what is true, who we are, how we are to live with the great mystery of life, how to come through dark times, how to awaken.”

What’s it all about, anyway? That is the Big Question (henceforth know as Big Q). If we are people of “a certain age” we should, by now, for goodness sakes, know the answer  – shouldn’t we? But no, in the last few weeks the Big Q has posed itself a number of times, as though the Universe is shaking me by the shoulders and saying, “Hey! Wake up! Got the answer yet?” Nope. (But I’m getting some hints.)

The Big Q came up in a conversation with a friend over lunch – she said she’d been “broodily pondering” about the meaning of life.  (“Broodily pondering” is a great phrase, isn’t it? Like a broody hen sitting on her nest, she’s expecting something, sometime, to hatch. Living in expectation is a good way to live, I think.)

Then, when I was cleaning out a drawer, I came across Seeking the Sacred, a book of talks given at a Seeker’s Dialogue in Toronto in 2006. These are the first lines of the introduction: “Over the course of our adult lives, most of us eventually choose, or are forced by events, to answer the questions ‘Why am I here? What is my purpose?’ ”

Even our national radio CBC got into the act on its comedy show This is That. With tongue firmly placed in cheek, the interviewer talked to a fellow – I’ll call him Bud. Bud said,  “Yeah, ya know, I’d had a horrible, terrible, painful break-up with my girlfriend of four months, and I just hit rock bottom and I was wondering what life was all about anyway. I just went outside and fired up the snow-blower and began clearing my driveway, and ya know, that gave me time to think, and I had an amazing revelation: I needed to go on a vision quest across Canada with my snow-blower. Maybe somewhere on the walk, blowing snow, the answer will come to me.” So off he went. For Bud, the answer came in Dryden where he met up with a most delightful woman who is fulfilling all his dreams.

The easy cheesy way out for me at this point in this post would be the Monty Python way. At the end of the movie The Meaning of Life, a character opens an envelope that supposedly answers the Big Q,  and reads, “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

However, I am beginning to believe that there is no definitive answer that will fit every person, and that answers change as we grow and mature. For some people – Monty Python? –  it’s pretty simple – you figure it out, and after that you carry on. Or we read something that makes sense, and use it to help us along. The Westminster Catechism tells us that “the chief aim of man (and woman) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In Seeking the Sacred, author Martin Rutte suggests that all the world’s great religious traditions teach that we are here to bring heaven – or little bits of heaven, as far as it is in our power – to earth. Anne Lamott shared some ideas on her Facebook post that are worth considering, as well. ( – Nov. 15 post.)

For me – and for you too? –  these answers are just a start. Looking for answers to the Big Q is a lifelong quest, and the quest leads us on a great journey from which we will return home, from time to time, a changed person. It’s a lifetime of wondering and “broodily pondering” – in hopeful expectation.
These days of my Sabbatical, writing and creating art, bring to mind the following poem by Hafiz, a 13th century Persian mystic. It feels -- for today, at least, like the answer to the Big Q.

"I am
a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath
moves through.
Listen to this

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