I had similar experiences last weekend too as I drove down to Bridport in Dorset to attend the wedding of John Harley and Lizzie Hornby. It was a lovely weekend in a beautiful part of England. As I drove I remembered stepping into this river almost exactly two years ago. I am certainly not the same man I was then, so much has changed. The journey was a long one, the traffic was appalling, as it had been two years before. I travelled then to my nephews wedding in nearby Devon. That weekend was beautiful, but it was also one of suffering and proved to be a breaking point in my life. It was a physical breaking point in the sense that my car broke down. That said it was also a mental, emotional and spiritual breaking point, as from that moment of my car breaking down in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere in dark nameless country lane in Devon, something new began to emerge in me. It was a moment of re-birth, as during the week that followed a new version of myself began to be born. Yes as I drove down and got stuck in traffic on the M5 around Bristol I realised the truth that I was not the same man stepping into the same river. It was a wonderful experience in a beautiful part of the country.
Oh by the way I cannot go anywhere, twice that weekend strangers came up to me and said “You are that slimmer of the year bloke aren’t you.” Funny I know, I didn’t correct them.
Yes no one steps in the same river twice. This is because the river is not the same but then neither is the person. Life is constantly in flux, is forever changing, ever flowing on.
Other aphorism of Heraclitus were on the “Logos”. He stated “The idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos” and “The Logos is common” The Logos was understood to mean the reason, the word, the meaning of everything. For Heraclitus the Logos is eternal and the source of everything, the problem is though that we humans fail to fully understand the Logos because we do not fully engage with it, although he believed that we human beings are capable of doing so because we have an element of the Logos within us. The reason we do not is that we rarely fully examine our true nature.
It is also claimed that he said something like “Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.” He spoke in riddles, in paradox, but then isn’t this the nature of life? I have certainly found it to be so. That which destroys, is what ultimately creates. In losing ourselves we are found. To know the deepest truths, to the know the kingdom now, is to become almost like a child playing, didn’t Jesus say this in the passage relating to discipleship from Mark’s Gospel? Maybe this is how the meaning (The Logo’s) comes alive in human form in our very human lives.
The beginning of John’s Gospel speaks of this, of the Logos coming into being and dwelling among us and bringing light into the darkness of our lives. How many times have new truths, new meanings, new light come into being in our lives? Everything changes, everything is flux. Perhaps when we are humble enough to be as little children, to have the beginners mind that the Buddhist speak of, we enable new truths, a new word, a new meaning to emerge and in so doing the Logos once more becomes flesh in and amongst us. For this to happen though the old self has to end, to be destroyed, and this often involves suffering, although not despair as it becomes a suffering from which meaning can emerge and come into being.
It’s interesting how this homilectic consciousness comes alive, but while I was driving around thinking of change and meaning the work of Viktor Frankl came into my mind.
In “Man’s Search For Meaning” Frankl gives an account of his struggle to find meaning when held as a prisoner in the Nazi death camps of the second world war. He lost most of his family and friends in the camps and yet he never lost hope in humanity.
Frankl saw a spiritual dimension beyond the biological and psychological. He saw the suppression of this spiritual dimension as the root cause of our human malady. Therefore the task of “Logotherapy” was “to remind patients of their unconscious religiousness”; to uncover the spiritual dimensions of their lives; enable them to recover the capacity to choose those values which give our lives worth and meaning.
Now this meaning is of course is different for everyone. As Frankl said himself:
“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” He did not suggest that there wasn’t a universal meaning, he was not a true existentialist in this sense. What he suggested was that we ourselves seemed unable to uncover it as individuals, here I believe echoing thoughts of Heraclitus.
Frankl claimed that meaning is discovered through creative and worthwhile activites, by creating something beautiful or doing good – I believe that one of the greatest sadness’s of our age is the fact that the phrase “do-gooder” has become a term of mockery, that it is somehow seen as wrong and suspicious to do good - Meaning can be found through experiencing and sharing in the beauty of art or nature or through loving or ethical encounters with others.
Even in the most horrific and terrifyingly hopeless situations we still have the capacity to choose our attitude towards whatever circumstances we are faced with. It is our response to life’s events that shapes our souls. Remember Frankl developed his theory during the utter despair and horror of the Nazi death camps.
As Frankl himself said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
My life seems to echo these ideas constantly, new meaning has often emerged through the transformative nature of walking faithfully through suffering and the belief that something beautiful and meaningful can emerge once again from the ashes of life.
This is the mission for all people I believe. This is how we build the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now. This is how we transcend whatever suffering we experience in life and not sink into despair. The meaning emerges by giving from our own lives for the good of all. We are all part of the ever changing river of life we each of us have an aspect of eternal love within us.
So let’s keep on stepping into the eternal river of all life.