Volume 6, Issue 2, October 1996


One of the most difficult tasks we have in life is knowing what matters most. It is not hard to determine what matters. Many things matter. But determining what matters most is the hard task.

The English poet, John Oxenham wrote:

"To every person there openeth
A way and ways and a way;
and the high soul treads the high way;
and the low soul gropes the low;
and in between on the misty flats
the rest drift to and fro;
But to every person there openeth
a high way and a low;
And every person decideth
the way their soul shall go."

I hear a lot of younger people declaring today they cannot find meaning in life. When one feels this way it is hard to make the important decisions of vocation, goals and ends.

The meaning of life is not found by improving our means, but by clarifying our objectives. We have improved our means through our amazing techniques. All areas of work and labour are now much less physical and time consuming. In my own life I have seen dairy farming progress from driving cows into the barn from the back pasture, chained to their stall and fed, cleaned and milked by hand, to present day milking parlours, milking machines, computerized feeding and cleanout equipment. The only thing the same is that the farmer who produces this necessary product is ill paid for his work and investment.

Today in our information technology millions of jobs will be destroyed, but, perhaps, it will also create millions of new ones.

Our present swing to place an utilitarian emphasis in education obscures cultural values, and there is a distinct aversion to spiritual values. But as John Naisbitt points out in his book, "Megatrends 2000", as he speaks of the vast and rapidly increasing technology of our time, "We must evolve spiritually if we are to handle the responsibility of manipulating life itself."

Thoreau, the American essayist, poet and naturalist predicted that our scientific inventions would be improved means to unimproved ends.

We are building a technology and chaining ourselves to it, and our opportunities for feeling and being are fewer than ever. Today there is a growing shortage of purely feeling experiences. Aspirations need to be balanced by bliss.

The meaningful purposes and goals of life involve religion. "What shall I do in life?" is essentially a religious question. Religion is concerned primarily with the transformation of ones inner nature and only secondarily with ones outer fashion and behaviour. To those who judged only by superficial standards, Jesus said, "For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly." (St. Mark 7:21,22).

There are those like Benjamin Franklin who said that honesty is useful because it assures credit. This may be true, but it is not religious. The greatest reward for being honest comes from the inner satisfaction of being truthful and candid. If that assures credit, well and good. If it does not assure credit, well and good. Living our principles is its own reward.
Religion and ethics belong together. Without ethical concern religion becomes a sterile formality, an empty form. Without religion ethics loses its meaning.

St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians (4:8) closes by urging one who wishes to know what matters most to calculate or think on "whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable." He adds, "if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

The trouble with many of us is that we are eccentric, and we live in a society of eccentric people. That is to say, we are "off centre," not living in harmony or equilibrium with the sacred in life. Because we are self-centred and not attuned to the Holy, we are not a centred society and miss the true meaning of life.

Let me point out to you that many times in the days to come in your life you are going to have to make hard decisions regarding what matters most. The decisions you make will be the most important that you make.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.