May 2, 2016

Finding Meaning in Everyday Work and Love

Rose of All the World
by poet D.H. Lawrence

I am here myself; as though this heave of effort
At starting other life, fulfilled my own;
Rose-leaves that whirl in colour round a core
Of seed-specks kindled lately and softly blown

By all the blood of the rose-bush into being -

Strange, that the urgent will in me, to set
My mouth on hers in kisses, and so softly
To bring together two strange sparks, beget

Another life from our lives, so should send

The innermost fire of my own dim soul out-spinning
And whirling in blossom of flame and being upon me!
That my completion of manhood should be the beginning

Another life from mine! For so it looks.

The seed is purpose, blossom accident.
The seed is all in all, the blossom lent
To crown the triumph of this new descent.

Is that it, woman? Does it strike you so?

The Great Breath blowing a tiny seed of fire
Fans out your petals for excess of flame,
Till all your being smokes with fine desire?

Or are we kindled, you and I, to be

One rose of wonderment upon the tree
Of perfect life, and is our possible seed
But the residuum of the ecstasy?

How will you have it? - the rose is all in all,

Or the ripe rose-fruits of the luscious fall?
The sharp begetting, or the child begot?
Our consummation matters, or does it not?

To me it seems the seed is just left over

From the red rose-flowers' fiery transience;
Just orts and slarts; berries that smoulder in the bush
Which burnt just now with marvellous immanence.

Blossom, my darling, blossom, be a rose

Of roses unchidden and purposeless; a rose
For rosiness only, without an ulterior motive;
For me it is more than enough if the flower unclose.

While the above is poetry by the famed novelist D. H. Lawrence; the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, another important literary figure, also suffered similar questions about the meaning of life.
Both men had strong religious and spiritual experiences in their boyhoods. Tolstoy's novels include War and Peace and Anna Karenina, translated from Russian into English, standing out as some of his best.  A deeply spiritual man, Tolstoy, often wrestled with questions about the meaning of life. A scion of a well to do family, he received an excellent education; he married a beautiful woman, fathered 13 children, possessed considerable inherited wealth, and he suffered from periods of serious depression. At times thought he might kill himself.

Writing in a book he titled,  A Confession, Tolstoy chronicles his long search for the meaning of his life. He writes of a desire to bury himself in writing to avoid these other issues in his life; unsure and sometimes conflicted about his life’s deeper meaning, Tolstoy fell in and out of depression. Life events often were the trigger for his depressive episodes. Living through these times was deeply challenging to him. As he aged, they became more severe and longer lasting.

Pondering what he saw as possible meaning, he contrasted this awareness with the knowledge of sure death, the end of mortal life. He recoiled from the thought that all that he was in the world would be annihilated at the moment of his death. Eventually he stumbled upon the “Sermon on the Mount” and was deeply inspired by it. He came to see that his deepest, truest purpose was to forge a living relationship with a loving, creative god.

He now saw his purpose in doing the work of illuminating the Kingdom of Heaven on earth (Both men in fact often write about the kingdom of heaven, using representational symbols). This revelation relieved and changed him; he viewed himself and others in this new light. For the first time, those who had served him and his family, for as long as their lifetimes, were treated with kindness and respect for their efforts. He gave to the poor in his community and dedicated his remaining years to the improvement of the lives of those less fortunate that he. Leo Tolstoy, novelist, wealthy heir, landowner, found peace and a deep, abiding love in the life of service, through following the Christ.

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