Meaning and purpose

I am feeling better this morning. (I always feel better after a good shit! [It was suggested by an early reader that I shouldn’t say this. This is probably good advice which I have chosen to ignore. Spirituality, if understood as the life though which we become more and more transparent to God, more than anything else, is about emptying out.]) I am looking forward to going home, to writing, to reading, to work. But lurking not too far away is a sinking of heart: what’s it all for?

An immortality project is difficult to shake. I want to have evidence of ultimate meaning and purpose. I want to know that what I do will build into a body of work of lasting worth, whether that be this writing, the teaching and listening I do, or the raising of my children. I love writing, listening, teaching and raising, but the reality is that I have no idea where they will lead.

I can never know. Writers (artists, composers, scientists, fathers, lovers – any who try to create) keep going because we have to, because it feels meaningful and purposeful, because we believe in what we do, with no assurance of worth.

I feel my way into my sinking heart. It is related to recognising the unattainable wish for an impossibility – an imagined future where everything is worked out. Ignatius would call this an ‘evil spirit’ – an inner or outer voice that leads to a loss of trust.

This body tells me the antidote is centring and presence – coming home to myself – inhabiting this body. Presence is about now: it is felt in this body, or rather it is to be this body; it is to stop thinking about life, to stop planning for life, and to live. Let go the mistakes of yesterday. Consign the wish for ultimate meaning to the Cloud of Forgetting. Pierce the present with the dart of loving presence.


When I worked as a hospital chaplain, each week I visited a ward for the elderly mentally ill in which there were a number of folk with dementia. (I will refrain from ranting about the inadvisability of mixing people with depression and psychosis together with those with dementia, and the negative effects they had upon each other, but maybe you get the idea.) I loved them and was terrified in equal measure. When someone can form no new memories, and has trouble accessing old ones, there is little point in planning for an ungraspable future or reminiscing about an unravelling past.

In many Christian circles, a lot of emphasis is placed on understanding, on assent to beliefs, on growth in knowledge: to be a good Christian involves the formation of a solid theological foundation. But what if you cannot learn? What if your theological rock is now running though your fingers like sand? If you have dementia and have forgotten all your theology are you no longer loved by God? If you can no longer remember God will you be unable to enter heaven?

Clearly this is absurd.


God is here. Heaven is now. Relationship can only be in and about the present. The only way to relate with a person being dismantled by dementia is as two bodies meeting now. The connection with my life and your life is that we grasp but fragments of the truth and can only make faltering plans for tomorrow. But we can be present as this body.

You cannot know the greater meaning or purpose of what you do. That’s God’s province. You can only know when what you do feels meaningful and purposeful – not any old good feeling, but discerned inner knowing, when this body is content with now.

So there it is: all I can do is my best to remain centred and present and mindful, and proceed.

Only the present has meaning and purpose.

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