As a minister of religion, I frequently get asked “What is the meaning of life?” In the early days, I would reply with something enigmatic like “To find rest in God”.
Back then I had trouble with the future. Perhaps because I was so caught up with my own immediate issues as well as the immediate trials and tribulations of people coming to me for help. These struggles left little space for me to ponder anything wider than that.
Time is a teacher
Now though, time has taught me that I can’t fix all the problems of the world; it has given me a different perspective on the big question. Although I might have victories here and there, in the grand scheme of things as life moves ever onwards, problems simply morph from one generation to the next.
I have always liked a Buddhist comprehension of life or consciousness as being like a river and we humans are like whirlpools in that river. So like a whirlpool we are born within the river and then when we die, we merge back into the larger consciousness. In many ways, I see that idea as akin to Jesus’ description of the kingdom of God.
I meditate a lot; nowadays, for an hour and a half every day. I have found outside and inside myself a warm, loving, compassionate presence envelopes me. The sheer magnitude and awesomeness of it often takes my breath away. In that, there is no past, no future; there is only an instantaneous and endless now.
Interestingly, I am learning that in our relationships that same presence also exists within and amongst us. It is healing and enabling.
Does the meaning of life hinge on asking the right question?
I am also learning that perhaps the question about the meaning of life might be wrong. The right question could be: What makes life meaningful?
I think for most people it would be our relationships, but I think it’s more than that. What makes life meaningful has to also involve generosity, compassion – indeed loving-compassion, as well as responsibility.
However, there’s also something else, and that is sacrifice.
What do we need to sacrifice?
I have always been very moved by the story of Janusz Korczak. He was principal of an orphanage for disabled children in the Warsaw ghetto in Poland in 1942. Sadly, the Nazis ordered his children to be sent to the Treblinka Extermination Camp.
As they were being marched off to their deaths Janusz went with them. He went to his death holding the hands of his children so they wouldn’t be afraid.
He didn’t have to go. In fact the guards repeatedly tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t let the children he loved go to their deaths alone and afraid.
I often ask myself if I would be like that? It brings up deep, deep questions inside me. The sacrifice he made speaks to me about the very sacredness of life.
I now think that perhaps it is sacrifice – above all else – that makes life meaningful.