“Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”

– From T.S. Eliot’s “The Rock”

Cassini, launched in 1997, will have plunged to a fiery death on Saturn by the time you read this. The Huygens Mission witnesses to humankind’s scientific prowess in choreographing a dance of numbers capable of binding a spacecraft to human purpose. Such an achievement is to be applauded. This scientizing of knowledge has routed us into one of the most scientific periods of history. But at what cost?

One observes our almost obsessive engagement with our contraptions – gadgets and smartphones and what advertising lionizes, submitting pleasurably to them unaware that they are treacherous and evanescent. The internet and its parasitic offspring have created a minefield endangering an intelligent assessment of human experience. One rightly muses how it is that social media though imitating the intimacy one seeks in a relationship is itself no guarantee of communion.

Further ponderings: Are we available, or at hand, for such calls made by life and circumstance? Is it possible that we are changing into persons who are no longer attentive to the flow of happenings except in the most cursory manner? Is it possible that despite having upon us the stamp of culture and worldly wisdom, we are in our imagination and purpose destined to remain on the surface of life … empty of serious intention? Is it possible that our lives are running down like a clock in an empty room?

Alfred North Whitehead in his “Reflections On Man and Nature” allowed that “The self-confidence of learned people is the comic tragedy of civilization.” In the face of our absurd trust in the adequacy of our knowledge we are, in the words of philosopher Gabriel Marcel, “being thingified.” Or as naturalist Loren Eiseley suggested, our tools are increasingly revenging themselves upon their creators, making it difficult to manage our tomorrows. We have come, he wrote, in our journeying to a region of terrible freedoms. Could it be that our age is feasting on the fallen fruit of the tree of good and evil? Would that we moved to the other end of the garden nearer to the tree of life. How much better the world would be were we less knowing and more able to look imaginatively upon the mystery of our own faces.

Thoreau may have been right when he wrote, “If we are to grasp the reality of our life while we have it, we will need to wake up to our moments, otherwise, whole days, even a whole life could slip by unnoticed.”

There is wisdom in becoming our own projects, minding the garden of our lives, reflecting upon what is within and ours as well as what is without and not ours, and knowing that these things will one day pass away. There is no higher praise to be spoken of any person than that life was not wasted on him and that he responded at every level of his being to the mystery of all those signs by which God acts and moves in the history of the world.

We have an unremitting need of God, which none of the experiences native to this world can satisfy and without which we suffer degradation. We were not destined to be C-major selves disconnected from the unescapable mystery of existence. I am indebted to Dr. Samuel Miller – a former teacher and later dean of Harvard Divinity School, for the following: In Miller’s book “The Dilemma of Modern Belief,” he referred to a moving passage in Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar.”

The man bent over his guitar,

A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied,”Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

Of this Miller wrote: The act of discovering who we are and what we are for entails our strumming this strange instrument of the imaginative self, expanding our internal being which we change upon the blue guitar. The reality of our being is forever in the process of being changed, transformed, turned in new directions and fashioned for new uses and possibly in the last made holy. In playing upon the blue guitar we may come to believe the mystery of our peculiar being.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus of First Parish Church in Saco. He may be contacted at [email protected]