By Dr. Jim Ferguson
Another week and another story/essay. I often ask myself if there is an end to this journey. And as I sit down and begin this reflection, I wonder if it will be worthy of my time or your interest. And is either consideration a valid purpose?
Though I start my weekly column/reflection with some perspective, I seldom know where that thought will take me or how my essay will end. I suspect my readers often wonder the same. In English classes I was taught to make an outline for writing assignments. I was told that “from a good outline the paper will then flow.” I guess I’m a contrarian in this regard. I have always hated outlines so I don’t use them.
Some years ago I came upon a saying by the Cuban revolutionary and poet, Jose Marti. He said that every man should plant a tree, have a child and write a book. Similar perspectives are attributed to Picasso and notably Ernest Hemingway, who added you should also fight a bull (I guess to make your mark on society or insure a measure of immortality). When I read Marti’s admonition, it made me think of a passage in Jeremiah (29:5-6) who, speaking for God, advises the conquered Hebrews in Babylonian captivity to build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children. Talmudic teaching (sotah 44) changes gardens to vineyards, but the thought is the same, and I suspect most cultures have similar slants on human endeavors and purpose.
Hemingway was a great American writer, but I consider fighting a bull both ridiculous and foolish. However, I’ve checked the boxes on other wise admonitions for worthy living: I’ve planted lots of trees and tended vegetable gardens; I’ve been married for forty-three years this September; and Becky and I raised two beautiful daughters. We’ve built three houses together, and I’ve written two books. And now we’re harvesting grapes from our own vineyard. However, I believe these accomplishments and my professional career are insufficient to justify any cosmic purpose for me or sustain the memory of me once I’m dead and gone. Even ten years of weekly essays in The Knoxville Focus will fade away with the sands of time just as Ozymandias did in Shelley’s poem. (Google it if you’re unfamiliar with this analogy.)
There are two fundamental questions which have confronted humans all of recorded time. The first is “where did we came from?” and the second is “what is our purpose?” Both science and religion help answer the first question, but only religion takes a stab at purpose. Some people might say our purpose is to be fruitful and fill the earth (Genesis). Others might think stewardship of the earth and helping others is our purpose. I might identify with the Cuban poet if we take it a step further and wed life’s endeavors with an overriding purpose.
We know that approximately 13.8 billion years ago something happened. And since Aristotle concluded logically that something cannot come from nothing, the Big Bang of the Creation must have had a Creator. Aristotle had no notion of quantum mechanics which reveals that something can seemingly come from nothing. This boggles the mind, but humans are inquisitive creatures and designed to explore distant horizons. We see farther than we once did, but we still can’t see over the event horizon of Black Holes or fathom the quantum singularity of the Big Bang’s Genesis point.
Science cannot even begin to explore human purpose. Social researchers such as Maslow might define human purpose as self-actualization where each human reaches his/her full potential (see my essay of July 16, 2018). I believe no degree of success, fame, fortune or notoriety can make us complete or define a human’s ultimate purpose apart from a relationship with God.
As an internist I am repeatedly driven to ask the question “why” something happened. I see the “what” as people become ill, and I often understand “how” their problem came to be. I recently asked a group of fellow Christians how someone without a “sense of the sacred” can function in our reality of joys and tragedies. This question has mystified me for a long time and I have never been given a satisfactory explanation. But, there’s a lot of things that I don’t understand.
I don’t understand why someone wants to be President or run for the Senate or Congress. Are they seeking fame or fortune? Are they seeking to help others or bored in retirement? I guess there are still some “Mr. Smiths who go to Washington,” but the skeptic in me questions old retreads who come out of retirement and again seek the pomp and circumstance of the Senate to define themselves.
Perhaps the world is now passing me by, and I no longer care. No, that’s not true. Though my time has come and mostly gone, I still care deeply about my country, perhaps more than some others. Or, perhaps “others” have just been marginalized for so long by their leaders and the media – who don’t consider them except during election cycles – that these “deplorables” have just gone under cover. We now observe them mostly by their tracks in the voting booth (or Trump rallies). And now “statists” even discredit and disparage the sacred American voting system.
So, in this reflection I’ve posited our origin – as best I can envision. And I hope I’ve challenged you to consider your own purpose. Mine is to support family, church, friends and country. I am to use the talents given me by God and to speak the truth in love. And of foremost importance, I am to seek The Great I Am all the days afforded me, trusting that my essence will be remembered by the Master, forever.