My COVID-19 update, today, had a dark tinge to it. Shortly after I posted it, the shuffle on my music player produced (randomly, I’m told) a string of songs about death. As far as meaningful coincidences go, this was a pretty gloomy one.
Be that as it may, the coincidence made the moment timely to revisit my weekend post on Dust in the Light. In brief, I propose that, whether we are religious or not, our sense of meaning comes from our sense of a relationship:
One especially pressing question, these days, is how we can find meaning in a shut-down world. Shut off from others. Constrained in the unique experiences we can have. Perhaps struggling to make ends meet or keep alive that which we have labored to create — a business, an organization, a relationship.
That last is most on-point. One way or another, questions of meaning seem to come back to a relationship with God. Even those who disbelieve in the usual notions of a deity must find meaning in their relationship with reality. And what is a relationship? It’s an ongoing communication.
Having a sense that God or the universe is communicating with us is challenging, to say the least, because the messages are both inscrutable and also so fundamental to our lives that it’s difficult to distinguish them from something that just is.
Sometimes the messages we seem to be receiving contradict each other. Often, we can’t know whether they come from God or something else, such as the materialist world. On top of these sources of confusion, pleasurable feelings don’t necessarily mean that we’re on the right track, and suffering doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re on the wrong one. (This paradox is particularly prominent in Christian thinking.)
Ultimately, as in human relationships, what we most control is our own contribution. Thus, the important thing about material success isn’t that we are being affirmed, but that we have the opportunity to respond through our actions and how we use our gains.
Just so, it is our decision to try to understand what God (or the universe) wants of us and to respond accordingly that ensures the communication and the sense of meaning. When one’s playlist reinforces the morbid mood of a clouding afternoon, it isn’t a one-way clue about what you should expect; it’s an opportunity to ask how the moment can be made meaningful toward a positive end.