Opinion: Finding Meaning

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The Search for Meaning Has Spiritual Roots

By Skip Hellewell

It hasn’t escaped my notice you can get rich writing about “finding meaning.” Hah. Viktor E. Frankl, noted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, made it big with his 1946 best-seller, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” With millions of copies sold in dozens of languages, it’s still in print. Though initially derided by his peers, Frankl argued that meaning had spiritual roots and millions of readers wanted to know more.

Sir John Templeton, the clever fellow who popularized mutual stock funds, agreed. Taking umbrage with the failure of the Nobel Prizes to acknowledge spiritual contributions, he founded the Templeton Award, setting the cash prize above the Nobels. The Templeton Award recognizes contributions of a spiritual nature and was first given to Mother Teresa in 1972. Fifty years later, the 2022 Templeton went to physicist Frank Wilczek who previously won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on forces within subatomic particles. It’s thought that Wilczek’s findings might lead to insights into the creation of the universe and mankind’s purpose.

A life with meaningful purpose is tricky; like Thoreau at Walden Pond, we don’t want to get to the end and realize we haven’t really lived. But life is predominantly a physical experience; the spiritual gets lost in the hustle and bustle of daily living. Maybe that’s the genius behind setting aside one day—Sunday—as a day of rest, a day we can set aside our cares and tend to the spiritual. This brings us to those good men and women who lead our churches—the priests, pastors, ministers and bishops of Laguna’s fourteen congregations.

Is there a tougher job in Laguna that leading a congregation? On the surface, it looks easy: be nice to people and deliver a Sunday sermon. But to make a meaningful difference, they have to convince us we’re not yet good enough, give some inspired guidance on how to improve, and motivate us to come back for more. This just might be the toughest job in town.  

Taking all this into account and thinking locally, Laguna’s Interfaith Council created an award to recognize contributions with a spiritual dimension. The first year, 2018, the prize was awarded posthumously to Ann Richardson, well known for years of quiet service, especially to the homeless, whose names she knew. When Ann went downtown to the bank, she would pick up the complimentary water bottles and share them with the homeless on the street. Ann was a unique person: though meek on the surface, inside she was hard as a rock. The last Sunday of her life she passed out little papers with tasks that needed to be done, then, with the last details tied up, went home and passed away a few days later. A well-lived life, replete with spiritually guided purpose.

The award to Ann Richardson’s family was well received, so the plan was to give this “award for contributions of a spiritual dimension” annually at the Interfaith Council’s Thanksgiving service. Last Sunday, the award was given to Rev. Lynn Francis of our United Methodist Church. Under Pastor Lynn, United Methodist has supported Laguna’s uniquely successful programs for the homeless, held Easter sunrise services at Main Beach, promoted a Community Partner Series of speakers from our community, presented talks on the Dead Sea Scrolls by Dr. William Yarchin, and the recent nine-week World Religion Series, etc.

Many people in Laguna are spiritual contributors. I think it is the hidden force in the uniqueness of our town. And I love this practice of recognizing, thus encouraging, contributions of a spiritual nature. We can be thankful for Rev. Lynn Francis, and all those who lead our churches. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]

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