Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 289
April 6, 1998

"The Low, Vast Murmur of Life"


The conversation was not unique. Still, for the person involved, it was anguishing. Trying to comprehend the tragic and senseless death of a friend, the person found the religion and morality she had been taught a flimsy structure collapsing under her. The props removed, the abyss of bitterness and cynicism was clutching her.

Certainly not unique for, to a greater or lesser extent, this is the story of each of us. Growing up, our parents and society attempt to provide us with a secure world, protecting us from hurts, tragedy and moral ambiguities. The stories we are told reward virtue and give genuine effort success. Religious knowledge and pious platitudes make us comfy in a neat, well-ordered universe. We delight in the simple idealism in a child's eyes and are genuinely sad to see wary calculation replace it.

At the moment, I did what I could: commiserate with her on the miserable and tragic world of which we are a part. Later--as the raw anger subsided and a moral lassitude began to set in--I could talk about the lives of those who raged at the night of death and still affirmed life, the absolute need to reject corrosive cynicism and, as an adult, affirm faith, hope and love, and the deeper, adult meanings, of the Bible stories learned in Sunday school.

I also shared my own thoughts which are expressed well by the writer D. H. Lawrence who, in a 1907 letter to the Reverend Robert Reid Lawrence, wrote:

I believe that people are converted when first they hear the low, vast murmur of life, of human life, troubling their hitherto unconscious selves. I believe that people are born first unto themselves--for the happy developing of themselves, while the world is a nursery, and the pretty things are to be snatched for, and pleasant things tasted; some people seem to exist thus right to the end. But most are born again on entering adulthood; they are born to humanity, to a consciousness of all the laughing, and the never-ending murmur of pain and sorrow that comes from the terrible multitudes of brothers and sisters. Then, it appears to me, people gradually formulate their religion, be it what it may. A person has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one's religion is never complete and final but must always be undergoing modification.

As children, we learn the stories that have come out of adults who have struggled with their own tragedies and demons. When we "hear the low, vast murmur of life, of human life, troubling [our] hitherto unconscious selves" and find our own tragedies and demons, then we begin the shaping of our own religious understanding.

Now, I could only silently bless her on her way.

--Robert H. Tucker
6 April 1998


© Robert H. Tucker, 1998.
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