It seems that there is a stream of limitless meaning flowing into the life of a man if he can but patiently entrust himself to it. There is no hurry, only the need to be true to what comes to mind, and to explore the current carefully in which one presently moves…
I have always struggled to find a way of figuring out what life actually means. The different world religions offer multiple answers to this question, whether it is by following a guru or holy person, or worshipping God in particular ways, or studying sacred texts and trying to put their lessons into practice. I appreciate the value of all these things, but sometimes I look around at the natural world, with all its beauty and all its problems and I really wonder what it all means. The concept of “fluency of meaning” which Bugbee mentions is the key insight that made me stop and think about this passage. On its own this is an abstract idea that is hard to grasp. In connection with the image of the river, and the skilled boatman enjoying the challenge of guiding his craft through the water, this concept makes sudden sense to me. Rivers are always moving, always changing, and yet in another sense they are constant features in the landscape. Seeing life as a phenomenon that takes place in a flowing river gives meaning to every thought, every action that we do. I now think of the meaning of life as something living and in the present, rather than as some distant absolute, and I am happy with the thought that maybe in the past I have tried too hard to figure things out with my head. This little passage shows me that sometimes it is enough just to live, using the physical and mental and emotional faculties altogether, just as the boatman does when he steers his craft. The men who talked were talking very low. Someone in a steady, quiet voice began to sing, and there were soon others singing with him. In the closing light of that day, riding to the endless swells, they sang the song of men in our position. And it was Christmas in the wilderness. (Bugbee, p. 72) This passage was important to me because it reminded me of a time when I was under a lot of pressure from various negative influences in my life. I felt that I had lost my way and that the people who were closest to me had abandoned me. Everything seemed pointless, and I had no real faith in anyone or anything. This is a kind of spiritual wilderness, and although on the outside things were quite normal, on the inside I was in a very dark place. The passage above describes the experience of a crew of men on a boat in the middle of the ocean. They could see very little because the weather was bad, and there was nothing fixed that the men could focus their attention on. It was Christmas time, but Bugbee and his colleagues no doubt felt very far from home, and somewhat lost in this watery wilderness. What happened in the passage above is that just one person took it upon himself to start singing a Christian song. I guess it was most probably the hymn that contains the lines “for those in peril on the sea”. When one person started, then others joined in. I had a similar experience during that time of doubt when I walked through a shopping mall and saw a group of security staff singing Christmas hymns. They all looked happy and I remember wondering who was looking out for the criminals if they were all singing carols. Then a young woman came up to me and asked me to join in with the singing. I did not feel at all like singing, but I took a hymn sheet and joined in. Singing with the other shoppers and staff released some of my negative thoughts, and I really enjoyed the ...
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