'Meaning' & the Epiphany

Sometimes, we just don’t know when to be quiet and let beauty take its course. Today, I’ve realized that twice now—that I’ve tried to express something that ultimately couldn’t truly be expressed in words. The first time was in talking to a friend about a book I’ve been reading, and the brilliance of the story (which cannot be conveyed through a summary, no matter how hard you try); the second was in reading a book by Avery Cardinal Dulles and attempting, even in my head, to consider what he was trying to say about the fullness of revelation in Christ (which I could hardly do without somehow tainting the purity of what he had written in the first place).

Obviously, I was lead to consider: why do we try so hard to express that which is inexpressible in simple terms? Why, as human beings, are we driven almost crazy when we can’t articulate something we find meaningful? Why do we keep trying, even though we constantly fail? What is so special about this deep meaning that prompts our continued and often painstaking efforts at sharing it?

I’m not sure how to ‘answer’ these questions, but at the very least they should spark a little further reflection. First off, the idea that finding ‘meaning’—whether it be in books, our thoughts, human interaction, etc.—can be so vital to our personal fulfillment is something really noteworthy. People are constantly seeking fulfillment, that’s just human nature; we were created like that. But do we always realize that this fulfillment inevitably comes through some sort of ‘meaning?’ Moreover, if we do, is there a sense of what that ‘meaning’ is really has to entail? In my post on “Leisure & Meaning,” I talked a bit about the eradication of meaning from many formerly meaningful activities. In fact, it seems that this reality is far more pervasive than most are willing to admit.

If we’ve become increasingly unaccustomed to ‘meaning,’ in a true sense, in recent decades, and that decay has been the result of our high-paced, instant-information society, what can we learn from it? Primarily, it seems obvious then that ‘meaning’ is not something quickly obtained or easily transferable. Conversely, it comes only through total saturation in an experience (i.e. a complete donation of self to a given activity) and is almost impossible to communicate in its full integrity; both characteristics are absolutely contrary to societal norms. For this reason, the ultimate human meaning, which is found in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Teacher, is almost completely inaccessible for those with a modern mindset; how can we reach a meaningful relationship with Christ if we cannot first attain some smaller level meaningfulness in the rest of reality? The current trend of ‘contemporary religion,’ which seeks meaning in flux, is a direct abomination of the very truth rooted in Christ that we are all called to experience. It is, to be sure, a bold manifestation of modern culture as overtly contrary to the message of the Gospel.

We should use this time after the feast of the Epiphany (“Manifestation”) of the Lord to further consider where we seek meaning in our own lives. The Holy Father, in his homily at yesterday’s Mass for the occasion, gave a beautiful reflection on how the three magi truly represent the incessant quest for God (and therefore his ‘meaning’), which must lovingly guide our rational faculties in order that we might someday be completely and utterly fulfilled by the same Lord in heaven.

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    # by Anonymous - January 7, 2008 at 12:06 PM

    Great thoughts. Trying to express beauty and meaning to each other is the greatest joy and deepest frustration of being human! I think that's why we can say something is "painfully" beautiful and the desire to "capture" meaning and beauty in words and pictures is so strong. We want to nail it down and make it ours but it stays just beyond our reach most of the time. Men and women long for such moments of transcendence where they can catch a tiny bit of God's truth, or beauty, or meaning...Makes heaven sound like fun, doesn't it?

    Mary