Q: And if you wanted to share something that people could do to help in this reclaiming the sacred, this reconnecting to the mystery of life, is there any advice you could give?
Sister Miriam MacGillis: Well, there is no one answer for everybody, but I do think each of us at our core longs to matter. More deeply than anything, we want our lives to matter. And to matter, we need to be making a contribution towards the whole. Our culture doesn’t help you interpret that except in very few ways. So, to me, the identity issue, the identity of who I am–the authentic person–is core to all of this, and I’m not sure in this moment that we can understand that at the depth needed without the Universe story.
Q: You mean that we are part of the Universe–we have to reclaim our knowing as part of the Universe for our lives to have meaning.
A: Yes. Then it opens up our personal meaning and we matter. It really matters that we exist. Not to be shoppers or professionals or this-that-and-the-other–those things are secondary; but what really matters is this deep, deep, deep identity and meaning.
Q: So what you are saying is that we have to reclaim our deeper knowing that we are part of the oneness of creation, of the world?
A: Yes. And a part of this time when the Earth is going through such terrible devastation, which is being caused by the society, and culture, and a way of life we are all implicated in. We’re not redeemed out of this. We’re implicit, we’re in it.
Q: Right, we’re in it, yet we have to reclaim the wholeness, which for earlier cultures was a perfectly natural way of living.
A: So we need all the wisdom, all the support we can get. We need each other, we need the past. We need the whole. We also need this capacity to see that the present moment is not the final word, that there is always the possibility that we can transcend our own limitations–the planet, the Earth, the society can do that. It’s possible to believe that, and work toward it. That’s all we can do.
Q: And can we also believe in the greater wisdom of the Earth–of the Universe?
A: Yes. It hasn’t abandoned us.
“If, however, existence truly does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, the first effect of existentialism is to make every man conscious of what he is, and to make him solely responsible for his own existence. And when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.”
–Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism.”
I love it when a movie gives you ideas for what to read next beyond the incentive to check out the original novel it is based on. “Blue Is the Warmest Color”–a French flick touted here as a lesbian sex film–did just that. In the opening scenes, we see Adele–the main character–reading La Vie de Marianne (an eighteenth-century novel by Marivaux) in her high school literature class. Later on, she and her potential boyfriend stuff their faces with gyros and discuss books. Adele forces the boyfriend to name a book he has read for pleasure. Under duress, he confesses that he enjoyed Les Liasons Dangereuses, but only with the clarification his teacher provided. This is a clear turnoff for Adele.
It is no mistake that when Adele meets up with blue-haired Emma–an older woman she first talks to in a gay bar–it is Emma who talks books, and with a savvy authority that makes the boyfriend character seem childish. Emma tells Adele to read Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism.” Emma is a forceful, offbeat character–all art and sensual power and intellect. The French title of the movie–“La Vie d’Adele”–mirrors the name of the Marivaux novel Adele reads in class at the outset, when her life hadn’t become her life yet. At the end, she carries herself down the street, her back bent from experience. Adele, who lacks any of Emma’s artistic ambitions, actually fashions her life like an existentialist–one act at a time. Her life is her work of art.
A long prelude to address the words of both Sister Miriam MacGillis and Jean-Paul Sartre.
They seem to agree on one point: in order for our lives to have meaning, we must look beyond ourselves–whether to the Universe or the wellbeing of our fellow human beings. Perhaps the most absurd thing is that just as we are on the point of losing everything, we have the opportunity to find ourselves.