Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Meaning. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Prime Cymru, a Welsh development agency, has backed a company that sells fresh Welsh air in a bottle for £24 a go. John Gronow has collected air from the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia and put it up for sale on his website . It comes bottled in a presentation box with a certificate guaranteeing that it is genuine air from Wales. “There are many Welsh exiles around the world,” he said, “who long for something from the land of their fathers.”

The strength of the affection we feel for some people, places or things is often helpfully focused on a simple object. A photograph, letter or gift, even a bottle of air, can become a symbol of something we like to be reminded about and touching it or looking at it rekindles some of the joy of the original experience. Sometimes such mementoes reflect aspects of our past which have been important influences in making us who we are today.

For Christians, the bread and wine of communion has just such a value. But for all of us, the physical items we choose to have around us can express our emotional and spiritual values and roots. Let’s be grateful today for those objects which, though they often mean nothing to anyone else, can have such an important significance for us.

Arizona University analysed the sayings of 195 of the world’s key thinkers to discover the way humans explain their existence. The most popular reason for existing (17%) turned out to be to enjoy life. 13% including Napoleon and Stephen Hawking thought it was a “mystery” and 11% including Freud, that it was meaningless.

The film director, John Schlesinger, who died last weekend (July 25th 2003) was probably not included in the list. But in a speech accepting his BAFTA lifetime achievement award last year, he spoke of what had driven him. He spoke of cinema as his passion, of his longing to pass on some of his experience and skill and of his delight at the legacy of films he was leaving. But the theme that came through the speech most strongly was thankfulness. “I am so terribly grateful for the opportunities I have had”

Schlesinger had been suffering for the last 18 months from the effects of a major stroke which had prevented him from carrying out some of his final ambitions. Any reason we choose to explain our existence must take account of the crushing effect suffering and illness can have on human beings. But being thankful for life, even when it is severely restricted, seemed to remain possible for Schlesinger and could be another answer to the question of life’s meaning.

In spare moments today, we could ask ourselves what answer we would give to the question. Maybe it is delight in what we feel passionate about, or the life experience we enjoy passing on, that gives meaning to our existence. Maybe it is to enjoy all that life offers, and to be thankful for it.

Last night’s programme on British television about the former World Boxing Champion, Frank Bruno, revealed a man full of gentleness, humour and charm. Yet as he told his story, there was also deep sadness. The period of mental illness which followed his withdrawal from boxing seemed, at least in part, to have been caused by the vacuum created in his life by his absence from the ring. "When I came out of boxing, it was like bereavement. Every morning I had got out of bed at 6am to train, even on Christmas Day, and now I was getting up at 6am with nothing to do."

He apparently still savours the moment when he lifted the WBC crown at Wembley (he bought the ring in which it was achieved - sometimes even sleeping in it). Henry Cooper, with the benefit of his own experience, felt that some strategy should have been devised for a life beyond boxing but Frank seemed not only to have nothing to do, but to have nothing more to aim for. The eight-bedroom mansion where he lived alone since the break-up of his marriage must have echoed with an emptiness he also felt inside.

Today let’s wish Frank Bruno well, grateful for his openness and honesty about his illness. It seemed he has now begun to discover a sense of direction, something his struggle helped give him. In this respect, his experience matches that of many, and with Christian belief in the cross being the way to resurrection. New life and new purpose can emerge out of, and sometimes through, times of suffering. Perhaps today if we have a sense of purpose to our lives, let’s be glad we are so fortunate and if we’re struggling to find one, trust that the struggle itself is one way we might begin to discern it.

Peter Ash, of Lawford, Somerset, invented a hamster-powered mobile phone charger as part of his GCSE science project. He came up with the idea after his sister Sarah complained that Elvis was keeping her awake at night by playing for hours on his exercise wheel. “I thought the wheel could be made to do something useful so I connected a system of gears and a turbine,” he said. “Every two minutes Elvis spends on his wheel gives me about thirty minutes talk time on my phone.”

There are other kinds of annoying distractions that can also inspire a creative reaction. In Jesus’ parable about a woman pestering a judge to find in her favour, it was her thoroughly annoying badgering which led him to act justly in the end Lk 18.1-5. The apostle Paul found his ‘thorn in the flesh’, an irritant he gives no further information about, helped him keep an appropriate sense of his own vulnerability and need to depend on Christ.

Perhaps today, if there are aspects of our lives that are getting on our nerves, it might be worth checking whether the experience of them might be teaching us something or encouraging us into a course of action we might otherwise try to avoid. Sarah still suffers sleepless nights but at least now Peter gets his phone charged and earned a C grade for his project. Would that we could all find a value in what otherwise just seems irritating.