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St Johns Southgate

06 Nov 2019

Vulnerability, conversation and meaning

How do you ponder or explore the meaning of life?

Do you do it internally, as you work your way through the literary canon or as you climb mountains and watch sunsets? Or do you go the other way – finding meaning by minimising self and maximising the other as you “give back” to the community?

There are all kinds of ways we might creep towards a sense of satisfaction, or even wholeness, in life. But there are some things – the things of deep personal meaning – that at some point on the journey of exploration need to be vocalised. In other words, ascending to great heights or grovelling in the virtuous valleys of humility, as wonderful as all of that might be, will only get you so far on the search for meaning. Some things need to be said – and said out loud in the presence of a genuine listener – to stop them from being avoided, glossed over, or denied. Certain notions can be flirted with by mere cognitive consideration, but a consummation can really only be achieved when one’s wondering can be measured in decibels.

I mention that because in my work as a pastor I’m often in the privileged position of being a sounding board for people pondering the profound. As such, I’ve witnessed the benefit of asking questions – even those for which I don’t have satisfying answers. But it’s not always the answers to the questions that matter anyway – it’s the asking of them that’s important!

When someone comes to me and asks, “why do good people suffer?” or “what happens when we die?”, it doesn’t do much good to regurgitate a pre-packaged theological answer. But what can be helpful is true listening – listening that honours the bravery it takes to become vulnerable like that. Because even if one’s admission that they’re troubled by the suffering of the innocent or untimely death comes in the form of a question, their asking it out loud is still courageous.

Being in conversation is a critical aspect to any search for meaning. We can’t figure out the meaning of life on our own. We need to talk. Yes, uttering (or spluttering) our hopes and fears can make us feel vulnerable, but vulnerability begets intimacy, and when we have intimacy with another human being, the meaning of life detector starts to show you’re getting warm, if not hot!

If you want to pop into St Johns and ask your questions, I’ll honour your vulnerability, and I’ll even try my very best not to give you any contrived answers. But yes, I have found meaning in my life, and if you’ll let me be vulnerable with you, I’ll happily tell you all about it.

Hint: it’s got something to do with a guy called Jesus.

Tom Hoffmann - Pastor

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