"The Never Ending Journey (excerpt) In the Absence of God—Dwelling in the Place of the Sacred by Sam Keen
In the desert nothing is exactly what it seems. A distant lake shimmers for a moment, promising relief and refreshment, but as you draw closer it vanishes. Sandstorms obscure the sun and cause the unwary traveler to walk in circles. Springs and oases that were once verdant dry up and disappear beneath the shifting sands. To live in the desert is to become part of an unending quest for water and wild game.
“Never Ending Journey” by Marianna G. Mills
In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred
by Sam Keen
In the desert nothing is exactly what it seems. A distant lake shimmers for a moment, promising relief and refreshment, but as you draw closer it vanishes. Sandstorms obscure the sun and cause the unwary traveler to walk in circles. Springs and oases that were once verdant dry up and disappear beneath the shifting sands. To live in the desert is to become part of an unending quest for water and wild game. To join any new quest we must challenge the values and concerns that have governed our lives to this time. Freud got it slightly wrong. True, many of us suffer from the thorn in the flesh of childhood wounds, but we suffer more frequently from a void, from what hasn't happened to us, from what we haven't found as a result of the questions we haven't asked.
Questioning is not something we do but something we are—an elemental force. Were you to dissect my brain, you would find that the neurochemical circuitry, the complex strands of cells that make up my brain and my mind, are as individual as my fingerprints. But beyond the wetware, what makes me Sam Keen rather than Rupert Murdoch are the questions that shape my life. Instead of spending each day asking myself how I could acquire more news media, I wonder about the vagaries of the experience of the sacred and the shape of future religion.
Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never dream of asking. Our minds, bodies, feelings, and relationships are literally informed by our questions. The defining essence of an individual is his or her quest print. The men and women who made an enduring mark in history, for better and for worse, ignored the accepted worldviews, values, and myths of their time and chose to pursue their own answers to their deepest questions.
Here's a random sample:
How can we put an end to suffering?—Buddha
What is eternal and unchanging?—Plato
What is the will of God?—Jesus Of what may I be certain?—Descartes
How is a falling apple like a rising moon?—Sir Isaac Newton -
Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains?—Karl Marx
What is the meaning of dreams?—Sigmund Freud
How can we create a master race?—Adolf Hitler
Does God play dice with the universe?—Albert Einstein
How is a woman unlike a man?—Betty Friedan
The questions we habitually ask determine whether we will be superficial or profound, acceptors of the status quo or searchers, creators of the peace between nations or the cause of its destruction. They reflect our values, needs, circumstances, and situation. It is the courage to ponder the great mythic questions that gives depth to human life. These queries form antibodies that protect us from the diseases of orthodoxy and ideology, although sometimes they lead us to create new pseudo religions, such as fascism or communism. But so long as we return again and again to the great unanswerable questions, we will never wander far from the endless sky and quickening winds of the spirit.
And if we don't?
If I don't ask, "What are my gifts?" and "What is my vocation?" I may spend my life working at a job that has little or no meaning for me. If I don't ask myself, "Am I willing to kill the designated enemies of my government?" I may join the military, and possibly be placed in a combat situation where my only choice is to kill or be killed. If I don't ask, "Should I compromise my values to serve the interests of my employer?" I am more likely to tailor my personality to what is demanded for advancement. If I do not ask, "Who am I? What is my story?" I am more likely to be informed by the myths, scripts, and stereotypes of my culture. If I don't ask, "What do I believe about G-d and the ultimate purpose of life?" I am more likely to live unconsciously, within either a profane ideology or an uncritical religious orthodoxy.
To be authentically religious is not to affirm any one creed or to have unwavering faith in a transcendent God. It is to be passionately concerned with the meaning of existence, and to linger with questions of origin, destination, and purpose, not because they are answerable but because we are swept up by our cultural myths when we cease to ask these questions.
These perennial, unanswerable questions send us forth on a philosophical quest that lasts a lifetime:
Origins: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the origin of life? Of my life?
Destination: What is the end toward which history and my life are moving? Who or what is the moving force?
Death: For what may I hope when I die? Is there life after death? Immortality of the soul? Resurrection of the body? Reincarnation? Complete annihilation?
Identity: Who am I? How do I become that unique self that fulfills my destiny? How do I win my freedom from biological necessity and from the myth my culture has imposed over my body, mind, and spirit?
Vocation: Does my life have meaning? If so, what is it? How do I contribute to life beyond my own?
Community: Who are my people? With whom do I belong? Do I have enemies? If so, who are
Authority: Who is in charge? Who is the author of my story? What are the rules? What am I obligated to do? Why?
Path of life: What is the map of life—the stages along the way? How should I conduct myself as a child, an adolescent, an adult, and an elder?
Evil: Why is there evil? Why do the good suffer and the evil prosper sometimes? Or vice versa? Is there ultimate justice? What can I do to reduce the power of evil?
Dis-ease: What is wrong with me? With human beings? Why does dis-ease exist? Pain? Why are we self-destructive sometimes?
Healing: What is wholeness, health? What nostrums, medicines, means of healing are available? Who can help, who can heal?
G-d: Are we alone in the universe? Is there a supra-human caring intelligence?
In the beginning, the prodigal son was comfortable in the household of his father. He accepted and practiced the ancient faith. But one day his spirit was disturbed by questions neither he nor his elders could answer. Leaving home on a quest for answers, he wandered in the desert and in the distant land of the skeptics and flesh-pots. Often on cold nights among strangers, he longed to return to the warmth and security of home and put aside his doubts. But his questions would not be silenced. They resounded in his mind like the beat of a great drum in a vast emptiness.
In time, haunted and exhausted by finding no path that led back to the innocent land in which he had once lived, he fell into despair and decided to abandon his quest. But some impulse encouraged him to keep going, and gradually he resigned himself to being an anxious pilgrim on a road whose destination he did not
know. Then, one night in a foreign land, he realized with the clarity of a star falling in a moonless sky that his agonizing questions had become his treasure, his joy, and his guide to a never-ending adventure in a desert, an oasis, and a wondrous world that had become his home.