The human experience and the search for meaning, purpose, and belonging

Years ago, I was exploring the world of ideas and trying to distill the wisdom of religions, history, philosophy, and science into an understanding of reality and how best to find my place in the confusion of concepts, theories, and stories that shape our perceptions, motivations, and behaviours. The dominant story of fame, wealth, and power did not resonate with me. However, I was raised in a culture that was heavily influenced by an older story that involved the preeminence of the divine, the authority of written tradition, and the importance of individual and cultural conformity to commands and laws. I became inspired by the words I found in the sacred text of our community: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

At the core of human experience is the ongoing work of life: the search for meaning, purpose, and belonging. The only enduring answers to the eternal quest are faith, hope, and love. Here, I endeavour to ask, knock, and seek to discover how the faithful are finding their way. If God is love, the key to better understanding God is to better understand what love is. The concept of love, as much as the concept of the divine, and the enigmatic physical phenomenon of gravity, are virtually impossible to define. Yet, there are basic human experiences related to the concrete and physical that help us to better understand the abstract and spiritual.

Food

Love is the food that nourishes both the body and the soul

Food is our most basic physical human need. We need it for life, for energy, for health. For some, the question is “What will I eat tonight?” For others, the question is, “Will I eat today?” Every choice matters, since you are what you eat. This is where to find recipes for a healthy life and serving suggestions to meet the needs of a hungry world — to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Culture

Love is the culture that can transform the world from the inside out

Popular culture is becoming more homogenous through a sort of “cultural imperialism” — the globalization of American culture, a “dystopia of narcissism and social Darwinism” (Michael Adams, Sex in the Snow). Although our postmodern culture tends to reject the idea of universal truth, preferring to expand the boundaries of convention and acceptability, love can become the objective standard against which all actions may be judged, since love does no harm to its neighbour. Love is the opposite of apathy. It responds to opportunities and makes choices that go beyond selfish interests. Love is a decision to meet others’ needs, a commitment to something beyond ourselves, and the ultimate expression of truth in action. It is an idea that can transform our society and our world.

Clothing

Love is the clothing that covers our shame and reveals the beauty inside

Fashions change from season to season — it’s an industry that promotes style over substance, form over function. Remember the first piece of clothing ever worn was intended as a covering for nakedness and shame, concepts held in disdain by modern culture. Fashion is now a symbol of social status, and those who can afford to flaunt convention and advertise sexuality, pushing the limits of what is acceptable. Perhaps love could transform fashion into a means of elevating our social conscience as well as enhancing the beauty of the body.

Music

Love is the music that soothes the heart and stirs the passions within

Love is familiar territory in the world of music — and familiarity often breeds contempt. In the summer of love, the youth culture experimented with free love. It was a time of social revolution, and today we are living with the social consequences of those changes. Love in music is now a tired refrain, yet nothing is as universal as the search for true love between the sexes. What’s love got to do with it? Music communicates on the level of human emotion, with love being the most intense of all emotions. Love expressed in music can go beyond putting us in the mood to encouraging kindness and the wonder of the divine.

Shelter

Love is the shelter that provides a safe place in the midst of the storm

“Home is where the heart is.” These days, we’re faced with the problems of physical and spiritual homelessness. We wander in search of a place to call home, a shelter from the storms of life. How many people feel at home with themselves before they reach their final resting place? Love is the place to find rest for body and soul. It is a safe haven in the midst of a storm; a refuge from a war-torn world; a place of warmth and security enfolding around us like the wings of an eagle. Love is what turns a house into a home.

Art

Love is the art of finding truth and beauty in creative expression

Art is about finding meaning in life, our most basic spiritual need. However, much art these days is an expression of the absurdity and meaninglessness of modern existence. Art should illuminate the soul, not darken it. Art has the power to awaken latent passions and open our eyes to the beauty of the love — to give sight to the blind. Love goes beyond mere individual expression to the physical expression of universal spiritual truths. Many artists, working together with single-minded passion, could bring us out of this dark age of division and nihilism to a dawn of a new and enduring hope in the human capacity to transcend evil through creative acts of love.

Work

Love is the work that fulfills our longing for meaning and purpose

Do we work to live or do we live to work? The life of work has become far removed from its original intent of meeting our most basic human needs. For some, work is a means of achieving personal fulfillment. For others, because of chronic unemployment, work is luxury they cannot afford — an unachievable symbol of economic status. As the chasm between rich and poor widens, the inequalities create an almost unbridgeable social rift, setting the stage for greater social unrest and anarchy. Love is a return to both personal freedom and personal responsibility as the best means of creating wealth and distributing wealth.

Literature

Love is the wisdom that knowledge should be put into practice

Philosophy is the love of knowledge and wisdom. The term “university” is derived from the concept of unity in diversity. However, most universities consist of departments of knowledge that rarely communicate with each other, and postmodernism champions the fragmentation of knowledge because it rejects the possibility of a unity of knowledge. When we bring all the disparate areas of knowledge together — philosophy, art, music, literature, religion, cosmology, physics, biology, sociology, psychology — we can make better sense of the whole when we relate them to each other instead of treating them as separate entities. Love brings a unity to everything by establishing a meaning and a purpose for all that exists.

Relationships

Love is the character and commitment that holds relationships together

Human beings are the most vulnerable of all mammals at the moment of birth. They require a level of care not observed in most species. This has been attributed to the mental complexity of learning language as well as the physical complexity of walking upright and of manual dexterity. Language and the ability to communicate are amazing faculties that we, as humans, tend to take for granted. Relationships are extremely fragile, and require a very high level of care to be maintained successfully. Love is the goal of any relationship — the mutual fulfillment of deep personal needs.we can make better sense of the whole when we relate them to each other instead of treating them as separate entities. Love brings a unity to everything by establishing a meaning and a purpose for all that exists.

God

Love is the theology of the divine sacrifice that brings salvation to the world

Since the death of God, the world has learned how much it needs God.

Love is the essence of who he is and Jesus Christ is the real world expression of God’s love. The abstract idea of love was given perfect physical expression in the flesh and blood of a young man named Jesus from the Galilean town of Nazareth. Through his life and death, he modeled commitment, sacrifice, generosity, empathy, servanthood, perseverance, goodness, patience, forgiveness, joy, faith, hope, and love. Jesus did not come with a list of rules or a detailed indictment of our offenses. He came with a call to action: to love God and to love others. Love casts out all fear, including the fear of surrendering our lives to the Creator of us all. This is the good news.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Francis Schaeffer and his book, The God Who Is There, for his ideas about the direction of cultural drift as ideas spread through our modern literate society. Ideas begin in the minds of the philosophers, who inform the artists, including the musicians, who popularize ideas among the general public, until, finally, the theologians recognize the cultural shift and the church reacts in opposition and protest, or through acquiescence and assimilation.

So, we have the essentials of human experience, physical and spiritual. Physical needs are ordered from basic to complex. Spiritual knowledge is ordered here in terms of cultural medium of information diffusion, beginning with the source of all existence and knowledge.

Physical

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Work
  • Relationships

Spiritual

  • God
  • Wisdom
  • Art
  • Music
  • Culture