Essays















On meaning and love

X: ‘When I look into the vast infinite extent of the sky, and see the thousands of stars and galaxies, I realise our insignificance; I realise that we are just animals, that we are nothing in the vast scheme of things.’

Y: ‘Nobody looks at the starry sky for any length of time, because it is meaningless and insignificant. People are much more important than the sky.’

Another way of saying that we are born with a world, and that it dies with us, is this: that the world’s meaning is given to it by the man who lives in it. At the most refined and philosophical level, which you may experience upon thoughtful reflection, your life is exactly as you made it, and how you are now is more or less exactly what you deserve. By the age of forty, a man has the life he deserves; just as Wittgenstein once remarked that at the age of forty, a man has the face he deserves.

It must be considered as axiomatic that the value and meaning which I assign to anything is more real than the actual thing itself. The thing, say, my cat, does exist; but its most real attribute is the meaning which it has. Its Logos, or the word and idea which I have about the cat, is its most important and absolute feature. The cat’s DNA, or its molecular structure and atomic mass, the amount of light it reflects (which for physical sciences are so important) are not as important as the thoughts about the cat which I give to it. This is an axiom for any consideration of what the truth of existence and things in life is.

Despite what we have learned in school and university, meaning is the highest reality which any thing possesses. So, you should notice as simple proofs of this that, when you enter into a room for the first time, unless you have reason to notice something, it simply does not exist for you. You do not even notice it.

Or, unless you find a reason for going on living, then life quickly becomes an intolerable burden which it were better that you got rid of. This is what John Stuart Mill describes, in his Autobiography, as having happened to him in his early twenties. He realised that his aim in life would disappoint him when he attained it, and instantaneously he fell into a chronic depression which lasted for years, so that he only found life bearable again when he had thought closely about how to carry on living and find meaning again.

Or, try this. See the effect of truth and thoughtful meaning in the value we ascribe to a son or daughter; or, if you prefer, the meaning of life lived in common with another person in marriage. The love for a child has no objective physical value as an experimental quantity. Love has no objective existence or reality. It only exists, or is ‘real’, as a thought, a complex of ideas. Because of the thoughts and meaning we give to another person, the meaning of a physical loved object is more important and real than the rest of the entire physical universe in total. How is a tiny portion of the world more valuable than the rest of it combined? Because of the meaning ascribed to something by love, it is right for somebody to say, on the basis of the meaning which the loved person has for them, that: ‘I’d rather die than stop loving my children, etc.’

We call the meaning of a thing its ‘truth’. When we work out what is important in life, and find meaning, we are working out and finding the truth. The truth, as Heidegger said, is what opens up the world as a place to live in. You make a clearing, you disclose the world, you shine light on it from amongst the darkness. A human being brings light to bear on the world by finding meaning in it, by thinking about it and judging it. And so, the highest most important aspect of any thing is the meaning it has, and the thoughtful and heart-derived meaning is its true essential character.

This, as Jordan Peterson has pointed out in some of his lectures, is also a facet of Darwinian or biological sciences, where the ‘struggle for existence’ means that an animal or man must find the truth and meaning, and that without these, he would not survive. Meaning is that without which we cannot survive, and is prior to and more important than, survival and life itself.

Everyone gives meaning to the things they need or want. This is not to say that they are always right to do so as they do. It is our contention that there is freedom to chose to value one thing over another, and to give or withhold meaning from things. But our integrally being able to hide or reveal life by thinking and giving meaning to things and people derives from the fact that Christ is the bearer and giver of all meaning, as the Son who was both flesh and spirit. The Logos is the light giver; and there is a true meaning to life, which is truer than others.

Maximos the Confessor, in the second volume of the Philokalia, in a section of that collection which approaches systematic philosophy, expatiates on Christ as the Logos of the universe. Christ, that is, provides meaning to the world. That is, the highest reality and the highest meaning of things is that God created them, and Christ, the Logos, is what allows meaning and truth to happen. The world has been constructed in such a way that love and meaning given by a man to the world are what makes it exist.

Despite romantic notions about love which say that it is concerned with something inexpressible and mysterious, love can be understood. It is a function of assigning meaning to somebody or something. Love is a subgroup of meaning; the highest form of love is intellectual, where we discover the meaning and value of existence, and recognise the Logos.

We discover this meaning of life and lived events and things only after the discipline of virtue, obedience, and communion with God. This can disclose life’s meaning. The path there, as the saints are frequently advising, is the soldier’s path of self-denial, service, and disdain for his own life. The Philokalia is a training manual.

Maximos also implies that seeing this meaning in existence, where all things are God’s creation, and that there is a divine Logos of meaning in them, which comes from the light inside us, so that we are the torch of light disclosing the Logos, is the closest we may come to seeing the Heavenly Kingdom. It is the world inside this one; finding the Logos is like taking the legendary ‘red pill’ which you take to see the real world.

Your thoughts, when they are engaged in the truth, are the most real thing in existence. You could also note, that some people ask for physical evidence of God, as if he were an animal or a plant. But this is to seek lower order truth, or to abuse yourself. The highest reality of a thing is its Logos, its essence; and God may be experienced, perhaps, as that Logos itself.

This is not to forget, that to take this path to purifying the mind and the body, and thereby coming to the state of seeing the meaning of things, involves taking a journey through silence and stillness. There is a strange paradox: in order to have clear thoughts and the truth, you must go by way of silence and no thoughts. I suppose it is like saving money in order to spend money one day.

The thought and meaning we give to God is God’s reality. That we can find meaning and love is proof of Him and his glory.

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These fruits are shaken from the wrath bearing tree.

Let us not live a meaningless life; a life which lacks meaning is a living-death!

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Thinking about the unresolved difficulty of understanding how Christ is both the Logos, and the meaning of life, and yet that people can chose not to see precisely Christ, I am irritated by my own vagueness. I think as follows:

That the Son is considered to have created the world on behalf of the Father. The world is therefore created in such a way that the world can be understood. It is made to be understood; it is meant to have meaning; it was made by a human and a divine mind. In this way, a human mind can understand it. And, secondly, we were created to have a part of Christ's mind in us; in this sense, the world and the Logos are what we are, and the one comes with the other. That is what we call 'life'. Third, if we choose, and prepare, humans can find the absolute meaning of the world. When a person is Christ-like, he experiences the world in the way which God intended it to be experienced and lived. Fourth, it is possible to perceive it in other ways, too; the Logos operates and allows us to find meaning, if we choose not to become Christ-like, because the Logos is dynamic: it is what allows meaning and the world to take place; it is the light shining into the dark of uncreation to allow life to happen. It is what we use in order to navigate through life. So, if a person tries to find meaning in things born of passion: like greed, or ambition, or the love of self-gratification and the hatred of other people, then that person does not have any real purpose or meaning in life (they are not fully alive). But that person (and most of us, including me, are usually of this kind), can still find meaning in the things of the world. How? By sharing in the Logos and finding meaning in a sinful or despairing way, so that they do not know who they are, or where they are.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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