I was listening the other day to a lecture about hope from a hospital chaplain in my hometown. And maybe also a lecture about meaning. Or at least that was my interpretation of his use of the word hope. Hope that something will mean something again.
He was talking about his work as a therapist, about his conversations with people in sickness and despair. And he talked about the three sorts of trouble, or problems that he encountered. Something that also can be looked upon as three levels of despair:
1. The first level is “something is broken”, lika a flat tire or a broken arm. Something that can be easily fixed, not by talking but by doing something , by fixing the problem.
2. The second level is when “something is more than broken”, something that can’t easily be fixed. For instance, a disease that may not be cured. Where one can only hope for it to get better. Talking helps, but it doesn’t heal.
3. The third level is the deepest level of despair. This is when something is “utterly broken”, this is the dark night of the soul without the night light turned on, this is the level where there is no hope for things to get better.
And this third level is the existential level, where things get real and where all hope is lost. This is also the level of utter meaninglessness. Where basically nothing matters. Nothing has meaning. Which of course also is the most existential state of despair. The loss of meaning is the loss of hope in this sense, hope that something will matter again.
What you as a neighbour, as a fellow human being is tempted to do when you meet someone in this state is to say “It’ll be alright, everything is going to be fine. Something will eventually mean something again.”Now, what if I were to say that this is a problematic move? What if this state (and this is higly speculative I might add) of utter meaninglesness is our original state? In the bible, Genesis 1:1, we can read:
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
What is this darkness? The void? That which is without form? Is it not this deepest level of meaninglesness?
I don’t know where I heard this (but I got the idea after listening to the Freestyle Christianity-podcast so it’s probably hear somewhere) that the Jews, after the concentration camps and the Holocaust didn’t want to talk about what they have gone through. As if it was impossible to speak of something that devastating. Something that shatters your psyche – something that renders the bare meaninglessness of it all. As if it is impossible to speak of that which we cannot speak of: the loss of meaning in itself.
Now, living in a world with others they sooner or later had to speak about it. But maybe, say if they were the only ones surviving they never would speak about it again? And in a couple of hundred years when one of their great-grandchildren asks of how everything started and someone starts telling to story about how “…the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
What if there is a lost catastrophe right before Genesis, right before the creation of the world? A thing that we cannot speak of. As Peter Rollins have claimed, the story of creation reminds us of the story of our inner lives where we as infants move from a state of original bliss (connected with the mOther) and then, for no apparent reason is thrown out into the world. Separated from the original state of bliss. A disaster without meaning. A disaster we can’t comprehend and therefore we create meaning. For Adam and Eve the answer to the question “Why are we not in a state of bliss anymore?” is answered by their feeling of being punished. They take upon themselves the cause of the disaster, of the separation and admit a sin, a crime, they did not commit. For it is easier to live in a world with meaning than without, even if it means that a debt – that does not exist – is mine to pay. And the concept of meaning becomes our prison.
There is an famous quote from the french anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: “Property is theft”. In this quote he turns the tables and claims that it’s not stealing of property that is theft but the notion of property in itself. The thought that someone is entitled to own, land, houses, another man, money is the theft of our commons, of our world. Or, from a theological perspective, the notion of property is the theft of Gods creation. One person claims that he owns something which is Gods, and thus basically ours.
In a similar manner you could say that meaning is theft since the thought of “meaning” robs the meaninglesness from its non-content. The concept of meaning claims that everything must have a meaning to the level where we hurt ourselves in search of an non-existent meaning. Instead of looking at the world as empty, void, dark and utterly meaningless we have to find the hope to belive that there is meaning.
Now this may sound negative, but this is actually the point where true hope enters. If this is our original state, the bare trauma of living, the dark night of the soul, then so be it. The fact that the world in itself holds no hidden meaning for us to find, then that is in fact good news since it brings man into creative play with the world.
“Is that Gods big plan?”, one may wonder. “The big plan of God is no plan at all?” Well, maybe. One may look upon the creation of mankind as Gods attempt to create something that is able to explore, and find pleasure, in the world God created. It is up to us – not to find the meaning – but to explore different meanings. To find meaning, to loose it, and to attain new meaning again. And this creative, constantly moving, never fully attainable concept of meaning I would say can be found – to use a language often referred to here at Freestyle – in the catacombs rather than in the cathedral. The catacombs are moving, creative, unfolding. There is darkness and light, there is steps and turns and surprises. The cathedral is locked, it holds one meaning, one worldview and is in that way closed for humankinds creative space of play.
The first thing a dictator does when taking over a country is to lock up the artists, musicians, poets, priests, all of the people who stands in a creative connection to the meaninglessness. The dictator, like the cathedral, wants only one set of truth, one set of meaning. And so the dictator, the power, the law, the cathedral tries to cover up the meaninglessness instead of embracing it. It tries to lock down the concept of mening into a singularity, a set of beliefs or laws to uphold, instead of opening the concept up for a multitude. A multitude that is generated by the creative play of mankind taking part in, and exploring, Gods creation.