I love this quote from the prophet Isaiah (51:1) because it points us to a contemporary crisis of meaning: where do we come from and to whom do we belong? Isaiah tells us that the answer to these questions is found in recognizing the Artist and Scientist who created us. We do not own the patent on our creation; we do not sustain ourselves in the complex networks that give us life. We are creatures who function with joy, love and meaning when we acknowledge our need of our Creator, “the rock from which we were hewn and the quarry from which we were dug”.
Michael Palin in his journal (about the Monty Python years 1969 – 1979) related attending the local parish church in Gospel Oak, London, for the christening of his son, William (Sunday February 28, 1971). He writes, “I was literally summoned by bells. It was a strange feeling, going into a church I did not know for a service that I did not really believe in, but once inside I couldn’t help a feeling of warmth and security … in St. Martin’s there was peace.” He was grateful for the 15 or so people who kept the church going and for the interracial choir and the vicar, but he was unable to specify what this feeling of gratitude was. “I was really moved by their faith.” I suspect that the service touched something in his soul about the meaning of life– was it a beginning awareness of his need of God?
A few years later (Friday November 9, 1979) he was preparing to defend the movie Life of Brian against unfair criticism from certain religious quarters (Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark). Sitting at his typewriter wrestling with the knotty question of whether he believed in God or not, he was about to type “I do not believe in God”, when the sky turned black as ink, there was a huge crash of thunder and a downpour of epic proportions. He never did complete the sentence!
It sounds to me that Michael Palin was raising questions about life’s meaning in both journal entries. The first encounter with the church was helpful in an indirect way, but no one seems to have followed up the nascent faith being expressed. In the second instance representatives of the church were antagonistic by completely missing the point of the movie, The Life of Brian, which poked fun at pompous and narrowminded people. The role of the Church is to help people find meaning in life in relation to God. This was precisely what Jesus did for the people he encountered and for millions since who have read the Gospel accounts. Humans are made for connection not only to other humans and the natural world, but also for connection to the One who is the source of all love and goodness. Michael Palin touched that source in the peace he experienced in St. Martin’s Church on the day of his son’s baptism.
People suffer from a lack of life’s meaning because as a society we have lost our sense of spiritual context. Isaiah puts it beautifully: “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (51:1) We are the beautiful living sculptures of God. An artwork is a child of the artist, just as a baby is completely dependent on her parents. In spiritual matters most of us are beginners. We desperately need to depend on and trust in God and to find a teacher who can help us. It is the job of the Church (despite all its failings) to be that teacher. Looking for a helpful teacher in the Church is part of the search for the buried treasure of the kingdom. Let our hunger for God energize our seeking and the door will be opened. I am grateful for the teachers who have encouraged and strengthened me through the years, most notably in recent years the Benedictine monks, John Main and Laurence Freeman of the World Community for Christian Meditation (http://wccm.org), along with Thomas Merton. Any of the books they have written are well worth reading. They have taught me about meditation and contemplation, which have helped my growing awareness of the meaning and mystery of my life. Who have been your spiritual teachers?