Milton: Relying on the wise gifts of others

One of my favorite things to do when driving around the North Fulton area is to take notice of all the different churches and houses of worship.

Anglican, Apostolic, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian Science, Coptic, Episcopal, Latter-Day Saints, Evangelical, Non- and Inter-denominational, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Metaphysical, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Primitive, Reform, Restoration and everything in between — it’s really an amazing array.

First I think: What a country! The freedom our constitution affords us to worship as we wish results in so many options, including the right not to worship at all.

But then I wonder: Why are there so many disparate beliefs? Aren’t we all just humans looking for meaning and purpose in our lives? Can’t we use human reason to explore our faith at the same time as we use science to alleviate human suffering?

It occurs to me that this week Christians celebrated the story of the Wise Men, Magi, or Three Kings, who are said to have followed a star to visit the “new King” named Jesus — just a baby still in a manger in Bethlehem.

I know not every religion subscribes to this story, though for Christians it has profound significance. The reason I mention it is more for its symbolic and unifying meaning. Here we have three exotic men, traveling from far-flung locations (some say Africa, Persia and India), relying upon their belief in the science of star-reading (they were probably Zoroastrian priests), making a long, arduous journey to see a little baby. They even brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

What a great account of tolerance and good will, of courage to make a bold move to learn about someone very different. Some might say that the kings were moved to visit Jesus out of suspicion, but it sounds more that it was out of respect. They later defied an official request in order to protect the babe’s life.

It’s just a little reassuring to me during this distressing economic time, when most folks I know are focused on getting or holding jobs, on making sure their kids are tended to, on doing their best to help their own family and friends through health scares and difficult decisions, that we can look back on a story like this one and find inspiration.

When we’re the most down, the most at loose ends, the most hopeless, we really need to know that we aren’t alone.

I often think of Viktor Frankl’s account of survival in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, written in 1945 after surviving the Holocaust. “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in suffering,” he wrote. He remained hopeful that despite the fact of our suffering and death, it is in our ability to love, to believe in higher truths, to maintain a sense of beauty and even grim humor, that we are able to transcend our condition and weather our human storms.

Fankl is very different from me — of a different time, a different religion, a different gender, country and experience. And though I believe myself a strong person, I can’t imagine getting through difficult times without relying upon the wise gifts of others.

Veronica Buckman, a writer, has been a resident of Milton for six years.