Have you ever had periods of time in your life where you seem to be hit by a certain theme, repeatedly, and from all directions? And so you decide that maybe the universe is trying to tell you something?
The first time I really remember this kind of thing happening to me (although I’m sure my memory is failing me), was back in college. I was a double major at a fairly conservative Christian university whose foundation was in the Churches of Christ. One of my majors was Missions, so on top of the requisite Bible classes that every student had to take, I took alot of theology and ministry classes. As a side note, after I graduated and people asked me what I majored in during college, I would respond: “Biochemistry and Missions”. For those who didn’t have a church background or did but weren’t paying much attention at the time, I would often get confused looks and questions as to what a “Missions” major was. I used to be so amused because they would frequently think it was some kind of education track for people wanting to go into intelligence or security. I guess one could make the argument that it was …..stealth intelligence missions for how to bring people to Jesus in ways that didn’t come across as flat-out proselytizing or manipulation. Anyway….moving back to my first point…..
When I was in college, the theme that hit me relentlessly from every angle was, of all things….baptism. Looking back now, I guess it makes some sense because the issue of baptism is one big point of contention that separates the Churches of Christ from so many other denominations. But at the time, while all the Church of Christers seemed to be talking about nothing but baptism, all the Baptists in my life (the denomination I grew up in) also seemed to be talking about baptism.
Whether or not the Lord actually was all that worried about me learning the soundest theology surrounding the practice of baptism, and which version would actually get me saved….I have no clue. Ok, I completely doubt that any deity was behind me being pestered with baptism rhetoric. Either way, I was paying attention to all the coincidences and I took it upon myself to do a deep dive into baptism theology and determine what I actually believed about it.
But…..you didn’t start reading this post to find out what I think about Christian baptism, and it is absolutely NOT the point of me writing today….nor is baptismal theology anything that keeps me up at night anymore. Thank God for that….looking back, the how’s and why’s of baptism are such a small, silly matter to base our entire understandings of eternal destinations on.
Does the universe actually coordinate efforts to inundate us with a particular message that we need to hear? I don’t know. Answering that with certitude isn’t so important to me anymore. However, it does seem to me that the same lessons will keep coming back around to us repeatedly until we learn them. One could make the argument that we are attracting these situations to ourselves, and once we get the lesson or receive some healing in that particular area, we stop attracting them. But I don’t know….sometimes it feels completely uncanny about how I run across the same themes or topics from seemingly unrelated sources.
One theme that has been coming at me again and again over the last year and a half?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And more specifically…that 42 is the answer to everything.
I never read the series, didn’t know anything about it, and had only just heard of the title before last year. The first time I ever learned anything of substance about it was when I was in a relationship with Shithead the Narcissist. He brought it up in a conversation, most of the content of which I don’t recall, and for the first time I learned about this magical number, 42. I made a mental note to get a copy of the book, but it slipped my mind until just a few months ago.
One afternoon, I randomly thought of the book, and the fact that I am currently 42. So I ordered it on Audible and stretched out on my deck couch to listen to a few chapters. After that afternoon I got distracted away by other audiobooks and didn’t get HHGTTG finished. But, within a month of buying the book, I met two new people, who were completely unrelated to each other…and both brought up HHGTTG during my early conversations with each of them.
Well, I thought to myself….that is either the most bizarre coincidence ever, or the Universe somehow thinks that reading this book will be a game changer for me, or I somehow attract a particular breed of literature fanatics, or the number 42 is on a mission to teach me something, or I’m suddenly paying attention to patterns where I hadn’t before, or……meh, who knows?
Whatever the reason that this book keeps popping up in various areas of my life, I am paying attention, and it has actually really been the inspiration for some deep thinking on my part.
I’ve been on this earth, as far as I can tell and as far as my birth certificate indicates, for 42 whole years. It feels like I’ve lived a few different lives within that timeframe, and yet in the grand scheme of things, 42 is just a mere blip in the lifetime of this planet and humanity in general. I’m not at all the same person I was even a decade ago, and yet in other ways, I am more of that person, in a “realer” way, than ever.
Back in my college days, while a Missions major taking a bunch of Bible and theology classes, I first learned about how people groups throughout history, including the Hebrews, dervied alot of significance, meaning, and understanding about how the world operates, from numbers and numerology. I recall learning about some important Jewish numeric concepts that were woven into Jesus’ stories in the Gospels, and being delighted over the discovery that all the details included in the texts were there for a reason….they MEANT something. This is especially true in the book of Matthew, the Gospel text that has the most “Jewish flavor.” Certain numbers show up over and over in the Old Testament and Gospels, and carry mystical qualities with them. 3, 7, 12, and 40 are just a few examples that are huge themes in the texts. Equally fascinating to me, although admittedly I don’t know much about it, is how the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are each assigned numerical values in a system called gematria. This system is very important in Kabbalah, the mystical tradition of Judaism, and is used as a method for interpreting the sacred texts.
But apart from Jewish mysticism, even good old Evangelicals sometimes take a stab at understanding the workings of God by appropriating these ancient tools. Biblestudy.org notes multiple occasions where the number “42” shows up in the Bible. They point out that the number 42 is strongly linked to Anti-Christ themes, but also incidentally note that the phrase “little children” appears 42 times in the Old Testament. Maybe the writer considers kids to be spawns of Satan, I don’t know.
A quick Wikipedia search lists a plethora of other interesting facts about the number 42, from the realms of science and technology, to literature, music, sports, mathematics, and astronomy. Here are a few of my favorite facts from the list:
- With Windows 10, the default timeframe in which you had to change passwords was 42 days. Super random.
- 42 is the atomic number for molybdenum, which is an element required in trace amounts by a set of enzymes in our bodies that are crucial for metabolizing and breaking down certain toxic materials.
- 42 is the sum of the numbers on a pair of dice.
I know what you’re thinking. “Julie, just because a number shows up alot doesn’t mean it is extra special or of more importance than the other numbers. Data bias can totally make it seem like 42 shows up in life in a much greater proportion than other numbers.” To which I would say, right on. Although, 42 still has a much longer Wikipedia profile than, say, 63. (I also looked up the number 522, which sadly does not boast its own Wikipedia page. BUT, according to numerologynation.com, if you see 522 alot in life, it’s a good sign that your angels are trying to pass on encouraging messages to you to stay the course and believe in yourself. Do with that information what you will.)
My 42nd year, and now this year where I am officially considered 42 years old, have been among the most formative and life-changing for me. Several of my biggest demons have been mostly laid to rest. Some of the puzzle pieces I’ve been searching for, forever it seems, have finally appeared. I’ve grown tremendously in my ability to hold my ground, set up boundaries, walk away from toxic people, and hang tight to those I love dearly even when the holding tight is painful and uncertain.
Most importantly, this has been the year that I’ve finally grasped that I am fundamentally OK, that I belong in this world and don’t have to ‘deserve” my existence, and that all I need is within myself. At first, I only believed these things for a few short seconds at a time, held within the passing knowing of brief mystical encounters or in the moments when I could accept into my heart what my therapist said was true of me, and not just my head. But as this year has passed, I can believe and hold onto those beliefs for a little longer each time, and as a result, the way I move through the world and respond to the world is changing….slowly but surely.
One thing that I’ve learned this year doing trauma therapy is that I’m a magical thinker. I’ve always known that I believed in the possibility of miracles and crazy shit to happen in the universe, but I never realized until a few months ago that magical thinking is based way more in trying to survive and and as a coping mechanism than it is solely being way more in touch with the inner workings of the universe than the general masses.
Along the same lines, I used to think that me being an empathetic and sensitive person was a fundamental inherent quality that helped me truly see others and their pain more deeply and clearly; this also made life a lot more painful for me because I felt the need to help people carry all of their pain. Turns out, while I may have empathetic tendencies, and I do love people greatly, alot of this sensitivity was also a trauma response developed in childhood. I had to learn to be hypervigilant when interacting with people in order to anticipate what might be coming, and to protect myself. Old habits that cut deep neural grooves die hard.
These, my revelations about magical thinking and hard core empathy, are just two examples of “answers” that came my way in my 42nd year. I’ve had many more. And if I’m honest, there’s this magical thinking side of me that hopes that 42 is the BIG year, where I completely “wake up”, shed the last of my baggage, and live out the rest of my life relatively free of any self-induced suffering.
But, that kind of thinking, I also recognize, completely misses the entire point. Another, perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve been learning, is that the REAL magic sauce is the “right here, right now.” A specific destination, or reaching year 42 and hoping for some spectacular life alterations, or seeking a final state of enlightenment….those things are always about clinging to some future ideas. The future is nothing but an illusion, a dream. Just as the past is nothing but memories and dreams. Neither exist outside of our minds. All that we truly have is this moment we are in right now.
The clip from HHGTTG is funny and so very true because it points out the absurdity in much of the way we as humans live. The characters asked for an answer concerning the point of life, the universe, and everything….and were told to come back in 7.5 million years for an answer. When they did come back, they were celebrating hard in anticipation of an answer that was going to suddenly cause everything to make sense and give them ultimate peace. But the exact opposite was true….the answer they received was unfulfilling and left them more confused than when they originally asked their question. Then they were told that to understand the answer they were given, they must ask the correct question, which would require yet another long enigmatic search.
The big takeaway from year 42 for me is this: ask the big questions, sit in them, and if it feels helpful or you are driven by curiosity, search for the answers. But don’t do that searching at the expense of living fully RIGHT NOW. How many of us spend the bulk of our lives reliving in our minds everything that happened in our pasts, or constantly imagining what could happen in the future…good or bad…so much so that we forget to actually live our lives? Or we become cemented in place, paralyzed with fear of all the “what-ifs?” Instead of joying in sitting next to a person we love and reveling in that time with them, we panic and fret that we will lose them and so spend that precious time trying to convince them not to leave? Or, we can’t fully be with the people and places we are with because we allow our minds to be tortured by words and actions of people from long ago that are not with us now? Or we fritter away our time developing contingency plans for all the terrible things that probably won’t happen? Or we escape to fantasy worlds instead of testing reality and questioning our thoughts/beliefs and discovering that we actually do live in a pretty benevolent universe.
The answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42….and the answer to 42 is…..just Be Here Now. Live Now. Experience all the things now. Embrace and stop fighting against reality. Love hard the people who are right in front of you, just the way they are, just as you are. Don’t miss out on living life because you are afraid of the things that have come before or might possibly come in the future.
It occurred to me just now that maybe the theme of baptism does in fact fit in this post. In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus sought out Jesus and answers to the big life questions. Jesus told him that he must be born of both water and the Spirit. It seems fairly clear that being born of water means being born as a physical person into the human predicament. But being born of the Spirit…this gets people hung up.
“Spirit” in Greek is Pneuma (πνεῦμα). This literally translates to breath. I like this so much because breathing is synonymous with life. The first thing all healthcare providers think about in an emergency is making sure that the patient’s airway is protected, because that balance of oxygen/carbon dioxide inflow, outflow, and distribution are critical to maintaining life. So many of the world’s meditation styles and practices focus on the breath. Practices like Stanislov Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork recognize the connection between breathing patterns and deep emotional and psychic healing.
Breathing is life. And being born of the Spirit, then, is being born of life. In other words, being born into Is-ness, Reality, the Truth of this Moment.
Being born of the Spirit means we allow ourselves to come into an existence where we stop struggling, where we stop trying to escape into what came before or what might come later, and we learn to simply love what is. A billion thanks to teachers like Byron Katie who are helping me to gradually understand these things.
Well, anyway, this is a baptismal theology that I can get on board with.
As a final note, the number 42 is apparently considered unlucky in Japanese, because is sounds like the Japanese word for dying. I also find this interesting, because in my 42nd year of life, I did so much work that felt like dying. To get to real life, you have to let go of the things that aren’t real and don’t bring life. Our egos and our scared inner children can balk at this, can’t they? Letting go of our old ways of doing things and operating in the world can be daunting at best and terrifying at worst.
But to harken back one last time to my native Christian language, the apostle Paul….who was a mystic in his own right despite being a bit patriarchal and misogynistic (but I’ll forgive him this), admonished us to leave behind our childish ways…to go deep….to mature in the way we move in the world.
We are grown ups now. We don’t have to create elaborate systems to help us survive the hard things and difficult people that we once were unable to escape. We possess within ourselves all the strength and love and wisdom we need to live this life well. It might feel like a difficult path to see these things. It might feel like we have to die before we discover what truly living is like. It might take us until we are 42 years old to actually feel like we are starting to “get it”. But that’s ok! Because 42 is the answer to for everything, when you’re 42. And 47 is the answer to everything when you are 47. And if you or I are lucky enough to live to 100, that will be splendid, because 100 will be the answer to everything.
The ultimate answer is to be where you are, NOW.