I first came across this phrase when at an event hosted by the irresponsibly heretical Peter Rollins in Northern Ireland. It comes from a poem written by an insightful Irishman named Pádraig Ó Tuama:
“Then I said, ‘will I ever find meaning’?
and they said, ‘you will find meaning where you given meaning”
When I first heard this, especially in the context of messieurs Rollins and Tuama, I took it to mean that really, there is no meaning. There isn’t some deeper significance to find in reality. There is only what you ascribe to things. There is only what you say there is, and nothing more. But that there is power and value and goodness in the things that you give those to. There is darkness, fear, and evil in that which you ascribe it to.
It made total sense to me at the time.
Recently though I’ve found a different understanding of it. Perhaps it’s more akin to the idea that you can only find the epitomes of reality when you actually invest in an interaction within that reality. Shane Claiborne puts it a lot less loftily than I ever could when he tells stories time and time again about how he felt like he finally found Jesus when he looked into the eyes of the homeless fiends he made on the streets of Philadelphia.
Perhaps we find a deeper sense of self, a belonging, “meaning”, when we are prepared to engage fully with the world around us, rather than experiencing it through our comfort zones and mobile phone screens?