Thursday, April 21, 2016
Almost all primal and traditional societies, which is most of humanity since the beginning of time, have believed that meaning is not created or manufactured by the individual; meaning is discovered, and because it is universal, it will be discovered by many others too. That is the basis for community and the good meaning of Tradition. It’s already there. All you have to do is recognize it and surrender to it. This essentially describes the contemplative worldview. The contemplative mind knows that I don’t create the patterns, nor do I have to understand them. I simply must be willing to stand in awe, readiness, and humility before the patterns of reality until they reveal themselves—because they’re already there, shared by other true seers or contemplatives. It is an enchanted universe fraught with meaning. This relieves the psyche of a great deal of anxiety and gives the soul hope.
Much of Western culture is saddled with the conviction that humans must rationally create and explain all meaning for themselves. But this task is impossible, and so the search for meaning inevitably collapses into nihilism. The seeker gives up, assuming, “Since I can’t figure it out, everything must be absurd and meaningless. There is no meaning, except what I manufacture, what I decide to believe.” No civilization or community can be founded on this individualistic worldview, because it is simply a collection of competing egos fighting for their dominant story based on private individuals’ experience, hurts, perception, and education. This is most of North America and Europe today.
Our lives must be grounded in awareness of the universal patterns, the big story. The best any community can do is align itself with the foundational reality that already exists rather than try to construct some new, artificial source of meaning. Shane Claiborne puts it this way:
God is doing something fresh and new, but it’s also good to be reminded that it’s not a fleeting trend. Renewals like the Franciscan movement remind us that we are not the first. My friend, Chris Haw, has an analogy that helps me. At first I thought I was in a kayak, riding the wild rapids of a river. Then I realized it’s more like being in a rowboat, facing backward as I move downstream. You have to look backward in order to go forward. 
If we look at the great myths of religious and secular history, we see that events, historical trials, and concrete circumstances are themselves the primary teachers. For the Jewish and Christian tradition, God is specifically encountered in history and relationships, not in analysis. Community and experiencing life together in the context of human history—which is longer and wider than our individual lives—help us trust reality and grow into fullness.
We must help people connect to The Story, the mystery of God and the universe, so that they can understand the significance of their lives as part of the body of Christ and the Great Pattern, what Jesus calls “the kingdom of God.” More than ever before, our species must discover a common meaning, a shared story, to give our lives purpose and harmony. Perhaps cosmology and science itself can help bring us all together toward a common meaning, saving our planet and ourselves, because most are in such reaction against the smaller Jewish and Christian readings of their own history. Wouldn’t it be humbling if the “invisible believers”—those not associated with religion—understood and lived the message at a much higher rate than the visible ones? God is used to operating invisibly.
Gateway to Silence:
We are one in the Spirit.
 Shane Claiborne, the Mendicant, Vol. 5 No. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015), 5.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Creating Christian Community (CAC: 1994), MP3 download; and Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 15-16.