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Faith Forum: The meaning of life

Shana Lynngood Where do you find meaning? I have thought recently about the formative lessons of my years in “higher” education.
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The search for meaning in life, and the belief that one's life has been of value, has been part of the spiritual journey since time immemorial.

Shana Lynngood


Where do you find meaning? I have thought recently about the formative lessons of my years in “higher” education.

I have noticed that the lessons that have stuck with me most and I have referred to most often are those that offered lessons in living (and not abstract concepts alone).

When I began taking courses in religious studies, a whole world of exploration opened up to me. Rather than telling me there was a right path and set steps that one must follow in order to be a person of faith or spiritual seeker, my professors revelled in the ways people had wrestled throughout human history with questions of meaning.

The question of how I could live a meaningful life drew me to deeper study and ultimately to ministry. Scripture and wisdom texts from the world’s religions are full of stories of people trying to make sense of life and loss, of the natural world and its cycles, and of what it means to live in a way that is aligned with the highest ethical aspirations of which we are capable.

Putting my life in conversation with the decisions and mistakes of the characters and historical figures of religious history was fascinating and frustrating and, at times, illuminating. What would it mean for me to give up everything, including my family, to pursue a path of enlightenment like the Buddha? If Moses didn’t think he was qualified to lead his people to freedom and yet managed to pull it off, what does that mean for the rest of us? Why are parables so lovely and so opaque?

The biggest questions of existence were laid before us. Why is there something rather than nothing? What happens after death? does God exist? What is the meaning or purpose of life?

It is this final question that has kept me company and goaded me on ever since my first year in university. This quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke stood out to me, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them … Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Several decades into living the question of meaning, I have found some guideposts if not outright answers. I have found that people of all faith traditions and no faith tradition share this quest for meaning. We all want to live lives that we believe in. We all want to live in such a way that when our last day arrives we will feel good about who we have been and how we have lived.

Where do you find meaning? On your worst day, what keeps you going? What adds colour and beauty to what might otherwise be monochrome days? When is a solitary source of meaning enough and when do you need company?

As different as we can be from one another, I would guess there are some common answers to these questions. Let me conclude with the words on Robert Mabry Doss in an affirmation we sometimes invoke in our Unitarian Universalist congregation: “For all who see God, may God go with you. For all who embrace life, may life return your affection. For all who seek a right path, may a way be found … And the courage to take it, step by step.”


Rev. Shana Lynngood is co-minister of First Unitarian Church of Victoria. She has lived and served in Victoria since 2010.