In today’s episode, things get existential. This is a unique convo within the context of what we do here at Love Good. While our mission focuses on the transcendentals, today’s conversation dives into chaos and order–within the universe and within ourselves. It speaks to the mysteries of life. If we are living life beautifully, artfully, and authentically, it becomes really hard to live it dogmatically. While there is objective truth, the way that that truth changes us and forms us changes person-to-person, season-to-season. And somehow this is analogous to dark matter: listen on/read on to find out how, and why.
Jimmy and Alanna open up by commenting on how much they enjoy their discussions, and then Jimmy states solemnly: “If we believe beauty is universal, we should have a thought process on everything.” Jimmy then laughingly remarks on how serious he gets, and expresses gratitude over Alanna’s earthiness. “It would be pretty intense to have to have a thought process about everything,” Alanna laughs. She then brings up how certain Asiatic languages have completely different concepts than those of the Western Hemisphere, making the point that in some respects, we’re not able to have a thought process on everything, after all. Certain things really are completely outside of our realm, as Americans, to consider in exactly the same way as other cultures do. There are certain constants that cut across cultures – murder is reprehensible, as is taking advantage of the weak – but many essential aspects of culture are expressed with nuance across humanity (beauty and modesty, for example).
Jimmy brings up Aquinas. He said about God that at any given moment, he could say something that could be true, but it will always be less true than true, because life is a mysterious. Alanna says she lives in that spot – she loves that idea. “That makes sense,” says Jimmy – “You’re an artist!” Jimmy comments on his tendency to travel from continent to continent, and that he’s more black-and-white, more entrepreneurial in his thoughts. Jimmy wonders aloud if we’re the ones who make things more complex, if we’re the ones who overthink the ambiguities of life.
Alanna then brings up dark matter, and reads out a definition to Jimmy, sourced from National Geographic. Alanna asks what Jimmy thinks of this–the idea that the world as we apprehend it, physical forms–accounts for less than 5% of the existing universe. “Joy,” he says.
“Here’s the other part of that question,” she says. “It’s also considered chaotic.”
“More joy and adventure,” Jimmy replies.
“Me too,” Alanna says. “I find it somehow consoling.” Dark matter, like time, is nearly impossible to describe. But Alanna brings up how she and a friend were discussing dark matter within the context of human suffering. After hearing the definition, Alanna found that it gave her room to stop digging at areas of confusing suffering in her own life: “I don’t have to keep doing mental gymnastics to find out why it occurred. You can get so hung up on wanting to pray an answer or solution into something that it begins to suffocate. You’re trying to squeeze the life into something. Yes, I believe there is an inherent meaning. But when I’ve heard that there’s this counterpart to the order and meaning, it allowed me to relax a bit. I realized: Oh, this is so much bigger than anything I could try to make it.”
Jimmy agrees. “We are constantly trying to fit our reality into a narrative. Few people go through life truly receptive. If 95% of the created order is actually chaos instead of order, that actually resonates with my interior life. This isn’t nihilism, or a denial of the truth of things: it’s a proper position of ourselves in light of the truth. Which is a cause for humility and joy. “
Alanna comments on how the fact of one’s own existence as a being that is composed is that much more astounding in light of dark matter. “No matter how alarming this concept is, it doesn’t answer the question of my own existence. I am not chaotic. I am here, speaking and thinking. That’s really compelling.”
She goes on to ask Jimmy what he thinks of the idea of agnosticism existing at the heart of Catholic metaphysics, “negative theology,” so to speak (our ideas of God are less similar than similar to what God is – we infer who God is based on what God is not). “How does that strike you?” she asks. “Would that have bothered you at any time?”
“It would have bothered me in an era of my life,” he says. “I was struggling in a lot of ways, and I coped with extreme religiosity and moralism. I was attempting to put a framework on my life, and I’d occasionally get a slap on the back for that. I had a second awakening somewhere around age 20.” He brings up how seeing joy mingling with poverty is what allowed these boxes and classifications to crumble. “I’ve been trying to tap into my five-year-old self ever since,” he says – trying to recapture the joy and wonder. The more he hears about science unfolding these wonders about the universe, the more he finds himself standing in awe.
“I’ve had a similar experience,” Alanna says. She says that the many boxes she used to hoard in her mind were the result of seeking after human approval: “which is such a strawman,” she says. “It just doesn’t get you very far. Living in this space of appreciating mystery – and not being threatened by it – and not being threatened by my own humanity – is a very freeing place to be. And belonging is a more frequent feeling than ever before.”
“It’s certainly an antidote to perfectionism,” says Jimmy. The order is as much to stand in awe of as is the chaos. “The fact we carry on this conversation, the fact that we carry on a friendship after seven years, there’s order to that, a certain predictability to that, a certain sense that this is ‘right’. But the other moments, the ones filled with chaos and uncertainty, are also cause for joy.” Alanna brings up how one of her favorite words is “potential,” because of how accurate it is when considering our humanity and the creation that surrounds us. She shares about a friend who loves to use the phrase “possibly, maybe, never certainly” when faced with existential questions.
The conversation moves over to a discussion on some of those more difficult questions, the ones without tidy answers, the ones that seem more chaotic. “Natural disasters, children suffering: how do you make sense of that? If you are a Christian person, does it make you better understand the love of God if you read meaning into everything? I think some people suffer terribly, and they don’t find meaning it. Do we all have the same means to find meaning in our suffering? I don’t have the answers. But I do think music and art are manifestations of those difficult questions – what is the syntax that will bring meaning into my experience of suffering? I think the best music is the kind that allows for question marks, where nobody has this prescriptive, pontificating, ‘I know the answer’ kind of stance. It’s more dynamic than that. Humans are beautiful beings – the way that we express and try to make contact with the Divine, out of what we have: the good and the bad.”
Jimmy brings up the relativism that flavors the zeitgeist of today: “People don’t really seem to hold up truth as something real and objective. What does it look like to embrace the mystery and live in the tension?”
“Nobody really lives as a relativist,” Alanna says. “Everyone worships something.” She brings up David Foster Wallace’s well-known essay “This is Water,” which explores this idea. We are made to respond to the impulse to worship; what we choose to worship–how we understand the chaos, the order, and everything in between–makes all the difference.
Listen to The Gray Haven’s song “Three Birds in Babylon” and Lindsay Clark‘s song “Little Dove” on Love Good’s Exclusive Fall Sampler!
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