As I was making my way through the final book of the final series the other day, I came across some thoughts about what we deserve or don’t deserve and it set me to thinking about that whole notion of deserving. We have all said, at some time or other, he/she doesn’t deserve that or I didn’t deserve that.
In the book (quotes taken from The Last Dark, pages 187-189), the young boy Jeremiah says about Stave, a companion who was severely injured in an attempt to help save The Land, “He does not deserve this.”
“Ah, deserve,” sighed Kindwind [a Giant]. “The notion of deserved and undeserved is a fancy. Knowing both life and death, we endeavor to impose worth and meaning upon our deeds, and thereby to comfort our fear of impermanence. We choose to imagine that our lives merit continuance. Mayhap all sentience shares a similar fancy. A wider gaze does not regard us in that wise. The stars do not. Perhaps the Creator does not. The larger truth is merely that all things end. By that measure, our fancies cannot be distinguished from dust.”
We choose to imagine that our lives merit continuance even as we know the larger truth which is merely that all things end. That is such an interesting thought. But does it suggest that life has no greater meaning or purpose? What would it mean if we admit to ourselves that there is really nothing we deserve?
“For this reason,” Kindwind continues, “Giants love tales. Our iteration of past deeds and desires and discoveries provides the only form of permanence to which mortal life can aspire. That such permanence is a chimera [illusion or fantasy] does not lessen its power to console. Joy is in the ears that hear.”
Jeremiah protests – He thinks that’s exactly what his captors had been telling him. “Nothing matters,” he says. “It’s all dust. That’s why Lord Foul laughs – and Roger – and those Ravers. They agree with you. In the end, they’re the only ones who get what they want.”
Kindwind looked at him sharply. Like the flick of a blade, she retorted, “Then hear me, Chosen-son, Hear me well. There is another truth which you must grasp.”
“Mortal lives are not stones. They are not seas. For impermanence to judge itself by the standards of permanence is folly. Or it is arrogance. Life merely is what it is, neither more nor less. To deem it less because it is not more is to heed the counsels of the Despiser.”
“We do what we must so that we may find worth in ourselves. We do not hope vainly that we will put an end to pain, or to loss, or to death.”
There is so much here. Does it empower us to recognize that, no matter what we do, we will never put an end to pain, or to loss, or to death? Or does it create in us a kind of despair and an inclination to not even make the effort? The notion of the Giants that “Joy is in the ears that hear” is repeated a number of times in the novels. It suggests that joy is a choice, not something that is given. I like that notion.
And this whole passage suggests that we choose our own meaning and our own purpose for life. And that is so true. We just have to look at the diverse presidential candidates to recognize that. Do we find more meaning if we seek a purpose of helping all persons in the world (all of God’s children, if that is how we choose to put it) to find the best possible life? Or do we find more meaning in putting America first and foremost above all other concerns? Do we find more meaning in living for the sake of others, or do we find more meaning by trying to enhance our own welfare? These are the kinds of choices we must make.
Jeremiah finds little comfort in Kindwind’s words. Again he protests. “It’s not that easy.”
Her response was a snort. “We were not promised ease. The purpose of life – if it may be said to have a purpose – is not ease. It is to choose, and to act upon the choice. In that task, we are not measured by outcomes. We are measured only by daring and effort and resolve.”
What a fascinating idea. We are not measured by outcomes. We are measured only by daring and effort and resolve. If we could embrace that truth, we might be much more willing to take the chance to work for seemingly impossible goals. But, as Jeremiah reflects to himself later, “Some things were too easy. Accepting failure was one of them.”
I am convinced that not only joy, but truth, is in the ears that hear. And the stories we tell, whether they be biblical stories, fantasy tales, family stories, or stories about our congregations, convey to us the possibility of hearing joy and truth. That’s why we tell stories – to convey meaning and purpose, truth and joy. Are the stories, particularly biblical stories, true? They are to the extent that we hear truth in them. Isn’t that also the case with family stories? How often do we agree on all the details? Yet we hear the stories as a source of truth and joy about our families.
We were not promised ease. The purpose of life is not ease. It is to choose, and to act upon the choice. It is to find the courage to live for what we have chosen, not because it is easy or because we are guaranteed success, but because that is what gives our lives meaning and purpose, truth and joy.
We need to tell the stories that offer others the possibility of hearing truth and joy and that empower them to choose wisely how they will live.
Co-Pastor, Emmanuel UCC