If Unitarians were to have a mantra – a repeated phrase by which we could help give meaning to our lives – it may be “Living the question” – to recognise that life is a full engagement with the sacred mysteries that shape our lives; that burning bush within our hearts that can guides us by conscience but elusively responds “I am” when asked about its name. Our knowledge is limited, but to appreciate this, to explore and learn about the world and ourselves, is the blessing of our being.
There are times, however, when not knowing can be immensely frustrating. Ignorance is not always bliss. This was captured by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, in his book “Repetition”. The form is a letter written by a young man who has recently abandoned his fiancé and seeks advice from his mentor:
“Who am I? How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations and just thrust into the ranks … ? How did I get involved in the big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn’t it a matter of choice? If I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager-I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?”
A second opinion on questions, which perhaps implies angst as well, is issued by the French artist Paul Gauguin in his well-known painting, Where Did We Come From – What Are We – Where Are We Going. Gauguin may have been drawing from his school’s catechism, which asked similar questions, though amplified to embrace humanity. Like a creed, the title is not posed as a series of questions, but instead written as if by rote, a matter-of-fact observation where the question commends not an answer but a state of being.
Gauguin’s painting features people in all stages of life. Perhaps one interpretation is that as individuals, we are simply living on this planet, and as we are “going through life” it is not the where, but the who that is important. With whom do we share life? How do we treat our neighbours, colleagues, friends, not to mention strangers and the rest of creation – the wilderness of anonymous faces in the city and life hidden in the countryside?
May we always seek to know, and when the mystery refuses to surrender, let us still count ourselves as blessed.