On Existence and Shit

My friend Krystal Lambert posed a pressing question in a text message tonight. She said, “Umm excuse me.Could you please tell me what it all means,” I asked for clarification and she replied, “existence and shit?” To be honest, I can taste her question. It is stale bread. It cracks and breaks in your hand and scratches your cheek.And it goes down airy and dry.

Krystal, I recently read this by Thomas Merton in a letter he wrote to a friend, “Can I tell you that I have found answers to the questions that torment the man of our time? I do not know if I have found answers. When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of “answers.” But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further into solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions. And what are the questions? Can man makes sense out of his existence? Can man honestly give his life meaning merely by adopting a certain set of explanations which pretend to tell him why the world began and where it will end, why there is evil and what is necessary for a good life? . . . I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts. An arid, rocky, dark land of the soul that is sometimes illuminated by strange fires which men fear and which men studiously avoid except in their nightmares. And in this area I have learned that one cannot truly know hope unless he has found out how like despair hope is.”

Krystal, as you know, I have a Bachelors in Biblical Literature. And with that I can tell you about how the Greek of 1-Peter is better than the Greek of 2-Peter. I can tell you about how small the Hebrew language is compared to the English language . . . and then tell you that it is more dynamic. As one author puts it, the Hebrew language is Volcanic. It erupts and explodes. It bellows and hovers. With a single syllable it can sear your heart . . . it can destroy your whole life and make your bones tremble. I can tell you about how Jesus is the most untouchable soul in the universe and at the same time about how he is the most touched. I can tell you about how I believe in miracles based on the fact that I believe in the Jews and how I am baffled that they survived the violent forceps of history (Where are the Hittites? Show me one Hittite in New York City–Walker Percy). I can tell you about how it is better to give than to receive. I can tell you that the Kingdom of God is absurd and foolish and that it is upside down and backwards. I can tell you the importance of conserving the earth, of promoting peace over war, of justifying the plight of the poor, of re-discovering the arts. I can tell you about how we are wired for community, friends and family. I can tell you about how man is the most despicable, base, arrogant and prideful creature on this earth and I can also tell you about how man is the most glorious, angelic and humble creature on this earth.

I can tell you a lot. But for some reason I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with my life. I can only say in a Robert Frost kind of way that two roads will diverge in a yellow wood and I suspect that I’ll be sorry in the end because I could not take both. And perhaps one will be better than the other but I can’t say with certainty at this point because up ahead both ways tapper off out of sight. And I know that the decision I make now will make all the difference in the end. But now I must be vulnerable and take one step in one direction. But I’m not sure which and that kind of scares me.

I’ve been a lot of places in this world and taken a lot of steps with a lot of people. But for the first time in my life I am alone. I have always had at least one solid friend around me at nearly every step in my life . . . be that Andy, Cole, Bryan, Tyler, Krista, Scott and most recently Solomon. I am deeply grateful for all of them and I am jealous of their lives. I don’t want to be sappy here but love is a big word and love is appropriate for what I feel for them. But now I am alone. My friend has just left, my apartment is empty, my job is unfulfilling and my bike is carrying someone else. I’m alone. In a big city. Eating stale bread. And telling you the things I know and the things I don’t.

Krystal, I didn’t answer your question. Like Merton, I used to know the answer but now I’m beginning to understand the question. And I suspect that your question ages much like wine. Over the years it will ferment and expand. Keep asking and you'll have a fine drink on your hands. Just promise that you'll pour a glass for two.


  1. Oh yeah.

    It's so simple yet so hard to learn that the right questions are more important than right answers.

    And this read like warm bread.

  2. So well said.
    And so unfortunately true

  3. First of all Eric, I just need to say that I love your writing.

    Second, I'd like to say that the fact that you don't know what you're going to do with your life isn't a big deal at all in my book. I'm 53 and I can only tell you what I've done, not what I'm going to do. Like you, I regret that I can't take more roads than one. I studied architecture, dropped out, studied music, went to seminary, became a pastor against my better judgment but in obedience to God's "call" (another story). I was in Georgetown earlier this month, and suddenly had this deep ache in my soul because the architecture is so wonderful there and I could have done that, but didn't. Why do I ache over this?

    I'd suggest, as one married for 30 years, with children, that in spite of the marvelous intimacy that ripens through the years, my sense of solitude has ripened as well, so that I'm finding the Psalmists question in the 73rd of those Psalms to be vital: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee?" It's a question for me... perhaps the question as I age. But I believe there's answer. And that, (with respect to Frost) has made all the difference.

  4. Eric,

    Thank you. First half of life we learn the answers and establish ourselves, like the rich young ruler. Jesus comes along and invites us into the second half of life, to sell all we've acquired along the way (which has got to mean more than material possessions) and step into the questions, where hope and despair and loneliness and joy and grief live...some follow, but some go away sad...from discipleship to discipleshit...

    I lit a candle for you and your friend this day.

  5. Eric: Thanks for this.

    Richard: perfect. Thanks for what you wrote in response. It will change my day.

  6. Thanks for the comments. You are all very encouraging.

    And John, "discipleshit!" is my new favorite word.

  7. Perfect. And right on time. Thank you.