Question in the New Year

Question in the New Year December 20, 2014

Often when as Corporate Chaplain or personal Spiritual Director I conduct a workshop, speak before a civic group, or receive an email inquiry candleabout inner wellbeing there is a direct or inferred question about the meaning of life, or lack thereof.

It’s understandable when you think about the injustice surrounding us whether poverty, homelessness, inequality, domestic violence, civil rights abuses, or some other social tragedy.

There’s also the lack of inner or spiritual fulfillment people experience despite obtaining social and professional success. Those who fall victim into believing there’s never enough (money or creature comforts) tend to harbor a deep rooted insecurity. Getting more never translates into contentment. Hence, what many incorrectly judge as greed tends to be a kind of insecurity.

Greed manifested this way is what I call “lost sense of self.” The ongoing failure of business ethics epitomized on Wall Street involves persons making major decisions who have a lost, or never found, a genuine sense of self because they cannot define themselves without their degrees, social status, corporate title, or generating more money for the sake of it. They lose part of their humanness.

Ask yourself in the New Year, “What does is it mean to be simply ‘Jane’ or ‘Steve’?” without referring to one’s self as a lawyer, teacher, doctor, or candlestick maker.

Be grateful for what causes you to long, seek, or question. It awakens. It deepens. It stirs the soul. It creates empathy for sisters and brothers, especially those difficult to like, but necessary to love if we are truly an extension of something good, grand and holy (I’m still learning).

There is a human need to find relevance in a cold, crazy and complicated world. There is a longing to transcend the mundane in our daily lives (like doing laundry, cleaning the toilet, or managing the office bully or nasty supervisor because bills must be paid). The mundane, if we choose to perceive it that way, is part of everyone’s reality and dwelling on it serves no purpose.

Consider getting into the routine of crafting better, more meaningful questions for 2015. Think about doing it every year and living the questions. Craft questions that are grounded in the here and now that make a difference for you and the world at large.

Bad things happen to good people. Bad people get away with bad things. It’s one of life’s harsh realities.

There is a story that’s been handed down about the Buddha. He lifted a flower. That’s it. The whole lesson. What did it mean?

Perhaps nothing. What is the wasp’s purpose? Does the tick who bites and infects have meaning? These irritants are part of everyone’s reality. They appear to be useless creatures.

You could draw from Jewish wisdom. The wasp and tick teach humankind humility since they were created before Adam and Eve. Or you may conclude it doesn’t matter. The reality is they exist.

The Buddha advises against getting too caught up with the why, the external, and got-to-know, failing to focus on reality. Lost focus distracts from caring for the soul. Think of your life as sacred. Does it really matter why the tick or wasp exists?

If bad luck comes knocking on your door, your free choice isn’t dwelling on “Why me?” but striving to find the inner strength to accept and manage the situation.

Only now matters. Take life, your life, as it exists. Make change where you can.

Ultimately, what counts is not the meaning of life, but the meaning of your life in this moment. To modify an old saying, yesterday is gone forever (don’t dwell on what you did or didn’t do), tomorrow is something you plan for with no guarantees, and today is your reality.

The question isn’t “Why does God (defined gender neutral) allow pain and suffering?” Or “Why did the Creator allow me to get into a car accident?” Whether the Governor of the Universe allows any misfortunate whether to you, a neighbor, or a community because of a hurricane is a pointless, academic exercise. It’s an endless conversation with one’s self, which Dante warned is hell of your own making.

The better question to explore is “How do I participate in my truth in responding to the tragedy or injustice I experience in my life or see in someone else’s?”

As you reflect on the past year and look hopefully on the new one, think about crafting questions unique to your sacredness. Don’t expect answers to hit you over the head. Instead, do what the poet Rilke counseled a young man wondering about his path in life. Live and experience practical questions as part of your life’s journey accepting realities you can’t change that confront all of us.

Crafting better, more meaningful questions in the months ahead might be one of the most important New Year’s resolutions you’ll ever make.

*Paul is an attorney, seminary trained priest and founder of, a firm committed to the spiritual wellness of professionals. He also is author ofLost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically”.

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