A World of Meaning
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness . . .
OK. Pay attention.
1, 6, 11, 16, 21, 26, 31... What comes next?
1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6, 4, 7... What comes next?
1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34... What comes next?
I, space, L, O, V, E, space, Y, O... What comes next?
You know the answers because you are paying attention to the pattern.
It becomes more obvious the longer you live that all life is full of patterns. Reality is trying to tell us something. Life is speaking to us. There’s lots of mystery out there, to be sure, and no shortage of chaos and unpredictability. But there’s also lots of meaning... messages trying to find expression, music inviting us to listen and sing, patterns attracting our attention and interpretation. The chaos becomes a backdrop for the patterns, and the mysteries seem to beckon us to try to understand.
Sometimes the universe feels like this: 71, 6, 2, -48, -213, 9... random numbers with no pattern. Or... G, M, B, O, I, space, Q, H, Z, space, P... random letters with no meaning. Or... 1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1... sameness or repetition going nowhere. But above and behind and beyond the sometimes confusing randomness of life, something is going on here. From a single molecule to a strand of DNA, from a bird in flight to an ocean current to a dancing galaxy, there’s a logic, a meaning, an unfolding pattern to it all.
'Like wood, reality has a grain. Like a river, it has a current.
Like wood, reality has a grain. Like a river, it has a current. Like a story, it has characters and setting and conflict and resolution. Like poetry, it has syntax and structure, so letters are taken up in words, and words are taken up in phrases and sentences, and they’re all taken up in a magnificent pattern of beauty and meaning that we can glimpse and savour, even if it’s too big and deep to comprehend fully. Creation reveals wisdom through its patterns. It reveals wisdom about its source and purpose, and about our quest to be alive... if we are paying attention.
Of course, we often struggle to know how to interpret those patterns. For example, if a tornado destroys our house, an enemy army drops bombs on our village, a disease takes away someone we love, we lose our job, someone we love breaks our heart, or our best friends betray us, what does that mean? Is the logic of the universe chaos or cruelty? Does might make right? Do violence and chaos rule? Is the Creator capricious, heartless and evil? If we had only our worst experiences in life to guide us, that might be our conclusion.
This is where the Gospel of John adds its insight to the creation stories we find in the book of Genesis. John had a special term for the pattern of meaning God has spoken or written into the universe. He called it Logos, which is often translated in English as ‘Word’. We find logos in words like biology, anthropology and psychology – the logic of life, human development or the human personality.
This Word or Logos, he said, was ‘made flesh’ in a man named Jesus. In other words, if we want to know what God is like and what the universe is about, we should pay attention to the logic, meaning, wisdom and patterns found in the life of Jesus. He communicated the logos, or logic, of God in his teachings. He lived the logos, or pattern, of God in his life. He showed the logos, or essence, of God in the way he treated others. From his birth to his death and beyond, John believes, Jesus translates the logic or meaning or pattern or heart of God into terms we humans can understand: skin and bone, muscle and breath, nerve and action.
'So, inspired by Genesis, we are guided to look for the pattern...'
So, inspired by Genesis, we are guided to look for the pattern, meaning, wisdom and logic of God woven into galaxies, planets, forests, fields, plants, animals, you and me.
In John’s Gospel, we are inspired to look for the pattern in a poor man travelling across the land with a band of students and friends, telling stories, confronting injustice, helping people in need. If we learn and trust the wisdom that comes in creation and in Jesus, we will live our lives in a new way, John says. We will discover God as our loving parent, and we will encounter all other creatures as our relations, our relatives, in one family of creation.
Of course, we have other options. For example, many of us live by the logic of rivalry. Under this logic, the cosmos is a huge battlefield or coliseum in which participants can survive only by competing, defeating, deceiving, displacing or killing their rivals. In this universe, the strongest survive, the ruthless are rewarded, the kind are killed and the meek are crushed. You’d better fight, or you’ll be trampled. Others of us live by the logic of compliance. Under this logic, the cosmos is a big organisation ruled by powerful bosses, and your job is to learn the rules and comply. Stay in your allotted place, do what you’re told, curry favour in the ‘inner circle’ of power, and the logic of compliance will work in your favour. You’d better play it safe, or you’ll get into a lot of trouble.
Still others of us think of the universe as a giant machine, and live by the logic of mechanism – action, reaction; cause, effect; stimulus, response. You can use the mechanisms of the universe to seek whatever pleasure, power and security you can during your short lives. But in the end, there is no meaning to the machine, so you’d better grab whatever moments of fleeting pleasure you can. That’s all there is or ever will be.
Clearly, the creation stories of Genesis and John offer us a powerful alternative to the logic of rivalry, the logic of compliance and the logic of meaningless mechanism.
They dare us to believe that the universe runs by the logic of creativity, goodness and love. The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge and meaning. It runs on the meaning or pattern we see embodied in the life of Jesus. In this story, pregnancy abounds. Newness multiplies. Freedom grows. Meaning expands. Wisdom flows. Healing happens. Goodness runs wild.
So here we are, alive and paying attention. We discern patterns in life. We interpret those patterns and we open ourselves to the possibility of a creative logos of love and wisdom that runs through the universe like a current and can play in our lives like a song.
Meditation and Contemplation
1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?
2. Share a story about a time when you lived by the logic of rivalry, compliance or meaningless mechanism. How did that work out for you?
3. Imagine and describe what your life would be like if you chose to live more by the logos of love than you do now.
4. For children: Is there one cartoon or film that you like to watch again and again? What about it makes you want to keep enjoying it again and again?
5. Activate: Share with someone this week – a family member, a friend, a co-worker or an acquaintance – the idea that we all live by a certain logos or logic. Ask them which logos they see to be most powerful in today’s world – rivalry, compliance, meaningless mechanism or love.
6. Meditate: Observe a few moments of silence to imagine yourself living more fully in the logos of love.