Nicolae Tanase: Father Jim, what is the meaning of life?
Jim Conlon: To understand the meaning of life, I believe it is important to develop a deeply sensitive interior life—a life that reaches simultaneously into the vast universe and into the recesses of the soul. Awakened in this way, we can be guided by the sacred impulses of our heart to live a meaningful life, which includes discovering what is most needed from us in today’s world. Our response to the needs of our time can been described as what Thomas Berry referred to as The Great Work of Our Time.
In our work, we embrace the gifts of evolutionary science, and feel the challenge to create a future that will move us forward. We become conscious that our gifts, story, and calling are uniquely our own. We cannot fulfill our purpose in life by imitating the other, even those we most deeply admire, because to do so would diminish our life and render it less true.
Thus, this approach to meaning is predicated on the conviction that:
- We are here on the Earth to put our inherited and developed talents to the service of the Earth and its people.
- We are able to assess the needs of our time and recognize of how we can best contribute to the healing of the Earth and its people.
- Achieving our life purpose requires that we develop a deep and meaningful spirituality that reveals the guidance needed for our lives.
- We cannot pattern our lives on the imitation of others, but rather must realize that each of us is unique; we cannot fulfill our life purpose unless and until we take up the challenge to express our unique contribution to the world.
- We are not here to inspire others or to be innovators for others, but to offer our unique gifts to the service of this world.
As we take up the challenge to become what we are meant to be, each day becomes a birthday, a moment of newness that continues to call us forward. As life unfolds, complemented by acts of surrender, we awaken to the hidden, mysterious trajectory of our lives.
As I contemplate the journey into the meaning of life, this poem flows forth:
Turbulence surrounds me,
Conflict, rage, resentment
Rule my soul.
Where is wisdom?
Is this not the place to find meaning—
Where peace, solitude and friendship lie.
May the quest and questions
Always to the future,
As the journey continues to become
All that is about to emerge
Into the ever-present NOW.
~Fr. Jim Conlon PhD, is professor emeritus of spirituality at Holy Names University in Oakland, CA. He was the 2013 recipient of the Thomas Berry Award and is the author of eleven books, including Invisible Excursions: A Compass for the Journey and Sacred Butterflies: Poems, Prayers and Practices. He has led numerous workshops, conferences, and retreats in the United States and abroad, focused on the dynamic integration of theology, social science, depth psychology, popular education, community organization, and evolutionary philosophy.
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