From the dawn of human history, humanity has been seeking the answer to life’s most pressing question: What is it all about? There have been variations of this question. Does life have a purpose? Is there meaning in life?
There appears to be an answer that has dubious origins. Some say the answer came from the Shakers in the celibate religious communes in New England in the late 19th century. Others say it was discovered after a brutal battle in the midst of the Second World War in England to cheer the troops. And still others say the answer refers to the ice cream street vendors selling ice cream in wax paper before the invention of ice cream cones.
The answer to this pressing question is this: You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about.
Okay so we had some fun with the question by doing the Hokey Pokey. But we humans are a serious bunch and not so easily given to such frivolity as song and dance. It has its place, we serious ones might declare and some have even dared to declare that song and dance was the work of the evil one. Some of us in the human race when trying to answer this question of what’s it all about received answers that life is very serious and must therefore be lived with a sort of prudence and decorum.
There is the ancient thought that human life served purposes of the gods who were rivals of each other. Our part in the scheme of things was some sort of chess match being moved about as pawns. Greek and Roman mythology is filled with stories of the gods having their rivalry and human life being the means in which their rivalries were to be played out.
This thought is also found in the Hebrew Scriptures in the story of Job. In this story, God and Satan are having a conversation. God is bragging about his faithful servant Job. Satan responds with ‘but of course he is faithful, look at all you have given him—a fine home, healthy and strong children, riches and comforts beyond compare—take all this away from him and Job will curse God and the day he was born.’ God accepts the challenge and within days Satan has all of Job’s good fortune wiped out.
‘What’s it all about?’ Job cries out. His friends all tell him it is because of some grievous sin that he committed. For his friends life is about seeking the good side of God, of pleasing God; and those who please God will be rewarded with a comfortable and good life. Therefore his friends insist, Job must repent of his sin and get right with God. But Job knows of no sin in his life or in the life of his family who have been taken from him. His friends however, argue that His life is out of his control and his sin is that he piously thought it was his to decide its course. Job does not accept that answer either.
The premise is that God is wise and the creator in all things. His friends construct this syllogism: Suffering comes from God. God is Just. Therefore Job is guilty. Job constructs this syllogism: Suffering comes from God. I am innocent. Therefore God is unjust. According to Stephen Mitchell, a translator of the Book of Job, a third syllogism is not even imaginable: Suffering comes from God. God is just. Job is innocent. (no therefore.)
So according to this, what it’s all about is humanity humbly accepting the fate that God has bestowed. Even in the final syllogism that Mitchell suggests, God is still the author and director of life. God is still in charge and his ways are just and good. There is yet another syllogism that even Mitchell does not consider. Suffering does not come from God or Satan. God, and here I will also insert the non-theist Universe, is neither just nor unjust. Job is an innocent bystander in a series of events that he had no control over. His attempt to make sense of these seemingly unrelated events is a futile exercise.
Yet we all try to do this, don’t we? We all try to understand why a sequence of events have occurred, that there must be some fate, some master plan that we are unable to see in the present moment.
Some religions have taken these random events, both on the personal intimate level and on the national and global level and try to fit them into some sort of schematic. We want a plan to be there. We want there to be a purpose to answer what is it all about?
So religions have created these narratives. One such narrative suggests there is this cosmic spiritual battle occurring in the heavens between good and evil/ between God and Satan. We are all in this conspiracy of this huge battle being waged whether we want to be in it or not. Events like tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and even human made events like terrorist attacks, both domestic and foreign, become part of the battle plan in this cosmic war of good versus evil. God or Satan, depending on perspective, allowed or created these events to punish the sinful or tempt the chosen to fall from grace.
And just like in the movie the Matrix, at any moment, if we are not awake to the truth, our actions could become the actions of Agent Smith to fight against those who are enlightened about the matrix and seek to expose this delusion. There are those behind the scenes of the matrix who are watching and controlling what happens, trying to keep balance between those who are enlightened and those who are still asleep in their delusions.
We see it in the current dualistic political landscape, regardless of which party one subscribes to, the other side is an evil interloper out to destroy all that is good, all that is sacred and Mom and apple pie, too. What it’s all about is to become one of the chosen, one of the elect that will reap in the rewards. Choose your political party carefully. Even in politics, there are the elect few who will be saved and the rest is refuse for the fires.
What if all this seriousness is not what it’s all about? What if there is no god who is waging a cosmic battle with the forces of evil? What if there is no magic in the universe that if we speak our intentions and let go into the unfolding process things will merrily go our way? What if there is no hidden plan for our lives that we must strive to uncover? What then? Does that mean there is no answer to the question: What is it all about? Perhaps.
But then I consider our lives. I consider those who have lived their lives as if it had purpose, as if they had a reason to be here in this time and place. I think of people like Phyllis Ward, whose memorial service I officiated this past week. Here was a person whose life had purpose. What’s it all about?
Her life seemed to answer this question with an affirmation—to live life as fully as possible, to love others as fully as possible, and thereby make a difference to improve the lives not only for those in her immediate circle but also those far off. She enjoyed all that life offered her and she sought to live that life as brightly as she could.
The teacher Jesus said his presence and teachings was so that others could have life and have life abundantly. Phyllis seemed to be saying the same thing with her life as her presence and teachings made a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of her students. She inspired others in finding their hearts path. I heard repeated over and over how she inspired her students and friends to follow their dreams and how grateful they were that they did.
What is it all about? To love and be loved in return.
In the eulogy I gave for Phyllis I quoted Ric Masten’s poem End Line with these words:
I ask God: “How much time do I have before I die?” “Enough to make a difference,” God replies.
Phyllis certainly made a difference in this world, she made the world a better place for those who knew her and helped shape towards the positive our collective future. The only way she could have done this is by jumping her whole self into life.
Jump with our whole selves into life. Enjoy the heart and marrow of it. All that comes our way good, bad, or indifferent is there for the tasting and it can spur the development of love and compassion in our days of living and love and compassion to and from others.
Even in the struggles we face in our lives requires nothing less than our whole selves. Our friends on the Undocubus [no papers no fear ride to justice] made such a choice to live life with their whole selves. This is living with integrity. They are deciding that they will not just passively accept their destiny as dictated by someone else’s rules but rather engage their destiny with their whole lives–with integrity. They are declaring that their life matters and will make a positive difference to others in their living of it.
Begin slowly if you must with just a hand or a foot but at some point all must jump in with our whole selves in order to reap benefits of living a full and abundant life.
All that silliness of the Hokey Pokey may really be what it’s all about.