Rev. Jim Middleton
For most of my life I have been on a quest, a quest to find meaning in my life. After serving in the army in World War II during which I experienced a side of life I didn’t know even existed I entered Bucknell University. Soon after arriving there I began to write a novel which I entitled “The Pilgrim’s Quest”. I never finished the novel but the title has continued to describe my journey through life.
One of the books which had a very great influence on my life has been a book called “Markings.” It was written by Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. In that book I came across the following words: “What I ask for is absurd: that life shall have a meaning. What I strive for is impossible: That my life shall acquire a meaning.” Most of what Hammarskjold wrote in his book I agree with wholeheartedly but I disagree strongly with the particular statement just quoted. I don’t believe it is absurd to desire to find a meaning in life. In fact, as I see it, it would be absurd and ultimately debilitating to have to conclude that life has no meaning. To succumb to such a feeling would be to deny the basic dignity of our creation. I have come to the place in my life where I know only too well that I do not have all the answers, but I think I do have some great questions which have helped me to find a degree of meaning and significance in my life. I treasure a comment made by comedian Sam Levenson: “You don’t have to be in Who’s Who to know what’s what!”
So for me, life has been a search, a kind of constant quest. It has been a search to find meaning in what were often seemingly meaningless events; a search to find significance in a series of seemingly insignificant occurrences. I have not been and am not now concerned to find answers to what might be called “why” questions. You know how they go: Why did this happen to me? Why did that occur? Why, why why? My Grandmother taught me that why is a crooked letter. She was right. Why is a crooked letter in shape and it twists the mind into all kinds of intellectual torments and it twists the heart into feelings of recriminations and bitterness. So, I hope to a large extent, I have ruled the why questions out of my vocabulary and hopefully out of my heart. Life, constituted as it is, will inevitably bring more than its share of misfortunes and defeats without my adding to the burden by constantly asking, why?
I have concluded that at those times when misfortune and defeat occur it does no good to asky, why. At such times the path of wisdom and the path to healing is to ask how. How can this misfortune be handled in such a way as to make the happening positive rather than negative? How can this defeat be dealt with in such a way as to make it helpful rather than hurtful? How can I approach a particular disappointment in such a way as to see God’s hand in it and God’s guidance through it? How can the dark, negative events of everyday existence be used to bring about a feeling of life and hope? We will be dealing with such questions many times in this column.