On Banana Muffins and the Meaning of Life

A friend and I recently had a conversation about what things in life bring us joy. The question echoes an excerpt from a book I’d recently read, issuing a question with much weight: what is saving your life right now?

This conversation was on the heels of a Friday, “what is life” conversation at the pub (over wine and nachos, of course). More specifically, we talked about our desire for our weekends to be shaped by meaning. It’s something that’s framed several conversations for me this week, several marked by the sharing of stories.

What made me realize the beauty of asking this question from a place of both pain and hope was over banana chocolate espresso muffins. Muffins accompanied by reading poems aloud with three other friends, a lovely happenstance that occurred after first reading one by Wendell Berry. An impromptu performance of speaking aloud words evoking meaning and grace by poets who wrestle with the same questions and more.

The night before, over tortilla soup, two coworkers and I discussed the grace and pain evident in sharing difficult stories, ones framed by both tragedy and resilience. One woman we recently met with shared about the rich relationships in her life – her children, grandchildren, and her elderly mother, whom she visits every day. She also shared about her daughter and son’s illnesses and the challenges of being able to remain consistent at work when she needed to stay home with them, a reality that impacted her ability to work full-time. She gives and gives and gives, even still. She remained unmoved in her belief that she is marked by grace. She would say cheerfully, unreservedly, “that’s just me.”

This fierce determination reminds me of Maya Angelou and her revered grandmother in I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a literary classic about her own story that I began reading this weekend. Her grandmother, after being imitated cruelly by white children in her store, sings aloud “Glory, glory hallelujah, when I lay my burden down.” A lesson in grace, dignity in the face of hate and mockery; hate and mockery that was a result of a larger and wider injustice, a sin that remains unequivocally evident today. And yet, the power of their taunting was overcome by her dignity. Even still, grace.

At a conference this weekend, I gathered with other women to discuss the topic of faith and to engage in the hard conversation of how we can live as if we truly believe God is real. One of the speakers described faith as a process and a discipline. And so I’m beginning to reconcile faith as not so much something to be had, something to own or disown, but rather a process.

Like the moon, it waxes and wanes, but it’s suspended in perfect space and perfect light. Not because of my own doing, but because He who holds it sustains it. My own view of it is subjective – from where I’m standing here on earth. But I can point to it and say it’s there, even if it looks different during the night than during the day. And others can point to it as well, and describe it in different terms – based on their own perception and experience.

So, maybe what’s saving my life right now—banana muffins.

Just kidding. At least not literally, of course (granted, they were the best banana muffins I’ve had).

Rather, I mean the safe spaces where conversations around meaning can be had. Where I can be surrounded by people who wrestle with doubt and meaning, and by people who express faith and resilience in ways I couldn’t imagine on my own. And it’s often through the sharing of stories and experiences – both by the people in our lives right now and the great poets and writers who’ve wrestled with these thoughts before us – that bring to light our own moons, waxing and waning and still marked by grace, unreserved grace.

One of my favorite authors says, “Since then, I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.”

There is real joy in that for me.

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