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Long Journey Home: A Guide to Your Search for the Meaning of Lifeby Os Guinness
Long Journey Home is a seeker’s road map to the quest for meaning./i>
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Have you woken up to the journey of life? Have you reached a point where you long for “something more”? Have the things you have striven to achieve turned out to be far less than enough? Do you desire to unriddle life’s mystery and pursue a life rich with significance?
Long Journey Home is a seeker’s road map to the quest for meaning. Rich in stories and profoundly personal as well as practical, it explores the great philosophies of life and charts the road toward meaning taken by countless thoughtful seekers over the centuries. Written for those who care and those who are open, “it assumes no faith in the reader, only the recognition that the humanness of life as a journey is something we should all care about enough to seek to make sense of it and to make up our minds for ourselves.”
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Long Journey HomeA Guide to Your Search for the Meaning of Life
By Os Guinness
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Waking Up to the
* * *
"I'm at a point in my life where I realize there has to be something more."
The speaker, a man elegantly dressed, had come up to me after a dinner near San Francisco at which I'd been asked to give some remarks on the modern world's search for meaning. He cut straight to the point, and there was an intensity in his voice that immediately set him apart from the surrounding small talk.
"Like many of my friends around here," he continued, "I've learned a lesson I wish I'd known when I started out: Having it all just isn't enough. There's a limit to the successes worth counting and the toys worth accumulating. Business school never gave me a calculus for assessing the deeper things of life."
Many of the guests at the dinner were eminent names from the world of high finance in the city and the world of high technology in Silicon Valley farther south. Their conversation was flush with the success of the twentieth century's last two decades, a period that witnessed the greatest legal creation of wealth in history, much of it in that very corner of the world.
In my remarks to them, I hadn't uttered the phrase "something more." But in separate conversations with me afterward, no fewer than four people-each with a very different story-used those very words to express their sense of longing. As it happens so often in life, the very things they had striven to achieve turned out to be, once achieved, far less than enough.
I've had many similar conversations in living rooms, classrooms, cafés, pubs, airplanes, and trains across the world. As G. K. Chesterton wrote: "We all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. The mystery of life is the plainest part of it." Nothing is more human for people of all backgrounds-for all of us-than a desire to unriddle our life's mystery.
It's often said that there are three requirements for a fulfilling life. The first two-a clear sense of personal identity and a strong sense of personal mission-are rooted in the third: a deep sense of life's meaning. In our time especially, many people are spurred to search for that meaning because they're haunted by having too much to live with and too little to live for. But there are countless other spurs.
This book is for all who, by whatever prompting, long for "something more," who desire to unriddle life, who are pursuing a life rich with significance, who want a seeker's road map to the quest for meaning.
Does that describe you?
For Home, for Love
When rock star Janis Joplin was a small girl, her mother one night found her sleepwalking outside, moving away from their house.
"Janis, what are you doing?" she shouted as her daughter kept walking.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"I'm going home," Janis said, still farther away. "I'm going home."
Even as a child, Janis Joplin seemed to realize that her parents' house and "the great nowhere" of the ugly oil refinery town where they lived could never be her real home.
Restless, always restless, she later was devoured by a loneliness so great that neither success nor her friends could assuage it. Like a force of nature she blew aside conventions and rode the storm of her passion to the pinnacle of rock and roll. But even on top of the world, she felt she was sitting by herself. Crisscrossing the country, she and thousands like her lived as nomads in an alien world. In Tom Wolfe's words, they were "sailing like gypsies along the service center fringes" of America.
After Janis Joplin overdosed on heroin at the age of twenty-seven, a close friend described her as the "best publicized homeless person of the sixties."
Dying that same year, 1970, was Bertrand Russell, who at first sight appears less like Janis Joplin than anyone. Lord Russell-the English Voltaire, Cambridge educated, child of privilege, renowned philosopher and mathematician-lived ninety-eight full years, rather than a short twenty-seven, and was famous for his aquiline, patrician profile and diamond-sharp intellect. No one, it seemed, lived a life more rational, more calmly chiseled by the dictates of the mind.
"I like mathematics," he once wrote, "because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe-because, like Spinoza's God, it won't love us in return." Russell's powers of analysis were so formidable that one friend called him "The Day of Judgment." Russell wrote to another, "I feel myself so rugged and ruthless, and somewhat removed from the whole aesthetic side of life-a sort of logic machine warranted to destroy any idea that is not very robust."
Was this the whole story? Far from it. Orphaned at the age of three by the death of his parents, and orphaned philosophically at the age of sixteen by his atheism, Russell was no logic machine. He was literally ravenous for home, for love, and for children of his own. All his life he was torn-torn between his parents and his grandparents, between his atheism and his mysticism, between his four wives and his many mistresses, between his life of scholarship and his life of public activism, and above all between his keenly analytical mind and his wildly passionate heart.
"He seemed detached in mind and body," one mistress wrote, "but all the furies of hell raged in his eyes." Or as Russell wrote to Lady Ottoline Morrell, another mistress and his deepest love: "The root of the whole thing is loneliness. I have a kind of physical loneliness, which almost anybody can more or less relieve, but which would be only fully relieved by a wife & children. Beyond that, I have a very internal & terrible spiritual loneliness.... I have dreamed of a combination of spiritual & physical companionship, and if I had the good fortune to find it, I could have become something better than I shall ever be."
Companionship, love, home, and the search for purpose and fulfillment in life-for all their differences, Janis Joplin and Bertrand Russell speak for us all. Our deepest human yearning is to know a sense of meaning and belonging in this journey that is our life.
Have you felt that longing?
Life as a Journey
As far back as there have been human beings, there have been stories. From the bard weaving word magic around the fire, to the troubadour singing in the great hall, to the celluloid myths of the grand Hollywood mythmakers, nothing is more human than stories and story-telling. And no stories are more resonant than those that tap the deepest reservoirs of what it is to be human. But one theme is almost universal-the picture of life as a journey.
"Midway on our life's journey I found myself in a dark wood." So begins Dante's famous metaphysical adventure story, Divine Comedy. Life as journey-from the Hebrew book of Exodus to Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, Jack Kerouac's On the Road-the examples go on and on, and these are only Western ones. The picture is everywhere in every century. Life is a journey, a voyage, a quest, a pilgrimage, a personal odyssey, and we're all at some unknown point between the beginning and the end of it.
Dictionaries tell us that an odyssey is a long wandering marked by many changes of fortune. The word, of course, comes to us from Homer and the epic age of Greece. But it aptly connotes the progress and setbacks, the twists and turns, the ups and downs of our human experience. "The soul is an exile and a wanderer," Plutarch wrote, following Plato.
"Midway on our life's journey," Dante had written. He was then thirty-five, at what turned out to be the exact halfway point in a life that lasted precisely the biblical "three score years and ten." If our human lot is to journey that long-give or take a few years-at some point we ask, What will they all add up to? Where have we come from? Where are we going?
Usually we raise such questions in the idealism of our youth, only to have them shouldered aside by the busy importance of midlife, then gradually cowed into silence by the tolling bell of our mortality-in deepening wrinkles, graying hair, shortening breath, thickening waistlines, and more of our sentences beginning "In my day ..."
War, sickness, accident, or natural disaster can always break in early, of course. But not for most. Most of us feel immortal in our teens and twenties, then move through life so fast in our thirties and forties that we lose sight of the journey and think only of our careers. Even in our fifties we barely hear the roar of the rapids several bends down the river.
Part of the conceit of the modern age is that we can arrest the flow of time with our science and technology. But time and death remain unstoppable. For some the end comes before they've even begun to think. For others the shock of realization is a bracing, just-in-time reminder. Lee Iacocca, the legendary carmaker, wrote in his autobiography: "Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it's all about.... I can tell you this, fame and fortune is for the birds."
Making Sense of a Short Stay
Journeying and movement are bigger themes than ever in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, when travel has become so central that ours is literally a world on the move. The restless journeying in the past of pilgrims, explorers, conquerors, and colonizers has been over shadowed by the restlessness of modern nomads such as immigrants and exiles, businesspeople and tourists. For one reason or another, more and more people have been uprooted and made to feel at home nowhere. But the deepest meaning of journeying is still the oldest one-the sense that the journey is the best metaphor for life itself.
"What is life," George Santayana asked, "but a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world?"
In his famous speech "My Credo," delivered in Berlin in 1932, Albert Einstein put it this way: "Our situation on this earth seems strange. Everyone of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore."
For journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, this theme became the motif for his entire life. "The first thing I remember about the world-and I pray it may be the last-is that I was a stranger in it. This feeling, which everyone has in some degree, and which is at once the glory and desolation of homo sapiens, provides the only thread of consistency that I can see in my life."
Actress Jessica Lange felt the same. "The main thing that I sensed back in my childhood," she said, "was this inescapable yearning that I could never satisfy. Even now at times I experience an inescapable loneliness and isolation.... Oh, God, how I remember that feeling, though. Sitting on the front steps on a summer night and hearing a lawn mower in the distance and a screen door slamming somewhere. It would actually make my heart ache."
One day, a few years ago, I suddenly woke up again to this live sense of journey. Facing the prospect of a suspected brain tumor, I was in a hospital in northern Virginia ready to undergo a brain scan. A nurse entered the room briskly and said, "Excuse my asking, but are you claustrophobic?"
"No," I answered.
"Good," she said. "Some people can't take the scanner. Our nickname for it is the 'coffin machine.'"
"Thanks very much," I replied lightly.
Five minutes later it was hard to get her words out of my mind. Both that session and the next turned out to be an unexpected time of personal review. Just as a drowning person sees his life flash before his eyes, so I saw the years of my life scroll across my mind as I lay in my "coffin."
I was born in China during World War II, grew up in the midst of a terrible famine and plague in which millions-including my two brothers-died, and lived to witness the reign of terror that climaxed the revolution of Mao Zedong. Since then I've lived on three continents and in a score of cities. Movement and uprootedness have been a staple of my life. And in the coffin machine, the memories of that life came to me not like an archaic black-and-white documentary but as reality. Each memory was alive with sights and sounds and smells. I shivered at the still-unrealized potential of hopes, dreams, and fears.
It was during that extraordinary life-review that I felt again what I first felt in my twenties-the wonder of this brief but glorious journey of life. As Winston Churchill said in the last days of his life, "It has been a grand journey-well worth making once." I, too, saw vividly the sense I had made of this journey since my youth. And I thought of many I know who seek now to make sense of their lives as a journey.
This book comes from that experience. Written for those who care and those who are open, it's a seeker's road map to the quest for meaning. It charts the road toward meaning taken by countless thoughtful seekers over the centuries and shows how it can be found today.
To be sure, I argue for some choices, not others, and challenge readers to choose a definite path rather than the vacuousness of a perpetually open mind. But the road, the choices, and the thinking are set out openly. The invitation here is to "come and see." It assumes no faith in the reader, only the recognition that the humanness of life as a journey is something we should all care about enough to seek to make sense of it and to make up our minds for ourselves.
* * *
Have you awakened to the journey of life? Or are you among those drifting down the years? Are you among those so caught up in the project of themselves that they choose not to hear the flow of time? Are you open to care, to think, to seek?
Let your mind and your heart run deep. Come, join the seeker's path on the long journey home.
Excerpted from Long Journey Home by Os Guinness Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Os Guinness was born in China and educated in England. He did undergraduate studies at the University of London and postgraduate work at Oriel College, Oxford, where he earned a D.Phil in the social sciences. Formerly a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Os is currently Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum in McLean, Virginia. Widely traveled, he has written or edited more than twenty books, including The American Hour, Time for Truth, and The Call. He makes his home in northern Virginia.
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