The weekly email in which Vice President Dooley links this reflection claims that I am helping us make meaning. That may be true for you but be sure that I am certainly trying to help myself make meaning too. I hope that you have perceived this—that I write for myself and hope at times that you have a glimpse of something you also need there. Some of you have written to say that these reflections are a place of breath, quiet, and a calm moment in the week to receive a blessing, and I have gratefully received your feedback and sharing.
Some days are harder to make meaning, I’ll be honest. As the weeks go by the strain is more obvious on all of us. The pace, what can begin to feel like a grind, is already quickening. Here we are on the brink of April, which is always hard, even in pre-Covid days, when we just had to get through it. And all the while the world brightens, daffodils emerge to cheer us, the sun is warmer and longer, hope springs forth inexplicably.
Then, the news of gun violence in two cities, with 8 and 10 dead, has rendered us speechless again. the lovely natural world and the brutality of human behavior is maddening, horrifying, confusing. Again, we are strung between avoidance, disconnection, and the poles of human living—hope and despair, beauty and horror, stretched to make sense of non-sense. In moments like this meaning eludes me.
When I do not know how to make meaning, it becomes even more important to know how I want to live. Do I want to be defined by the circumstances, or do I choose the great virtues of my faith and practice? Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
In the coming week, Christian communities will observe Holy Week and Jewish communities will celebrate Passover. They will again, as they do year by year, make meaning of events, emotions, and a world that do not fit neatly together--suffering and hope, captivity and freedom, what has happened to us and what we want to make of it. Some days the effort toward meaning requires nothing less than grace. And sometimes the miracle is that we deign to feel the pain of the world, the anguish of our brothers and sisters, holding—even for a moment—the despair of racism and violence, while simultaneously asking for a vision of what could be, facing backwards and forwards at the same moment, to take in at once the devastation and glory.
We do the best we can, holding it all together, seeing what is wrong and what might become right about it. Sometimes we offer it all up in our familiar confusion and pain, and then get about the work we know to do. Sometimes, that is meaning enough. Tomorrow we may see more clearly.
The Rev. Dr. Jan Fuller is University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement and can be reached at email@example.com